Twenty years from now when we talk about the 2018 Thunder Valley Nationals, one of the most talked about things will be how hellishly hot it was all weekend. We will also talk about how three former World Champions walked away with wins.
When you roll into the Thunder Valley Nationals in Bristol, there is always a chance that you are going to be dealing with some serious heat. This is the third season in a row that E3xtreme has had the privilege of covering the event, and this was by far some of the most extreme weather that we have experienced when talking about heat. At times during the weekend, the actual sir temperature was in excess of 90 degrees and track temperatures exceeding 140 degrees at some points. Anyone who has been at a track in the Midwest or the South during the summer knows exactly what I am talking about.
Adding to the heat that the drivers and crew were having to deal with was the physical condition of the track surface. We spoke to racers that were beyond upset with what they described as the worse track surface they have raced on in a long time. A bumpy back country road might have been a good way to describe the surface. Combine the bumpiness, the heat, and the change in traction compound percentages this season and it was a recipe for some very interesting racing over three days.
Friday, we saw two rounds of qualifying, one of which was under the lights for the nitro cars. Clay Millican was the quickest on the property at the end of the day when he cracked off a 3.817 pass. It would prove to be good enough to last all the way until Sunday in Top Fuel and put him at the head of the field. Just like any time in drag racing though, a great qualifier doesn't mean you are going to go on to win the race. That is exactly why we race on Sunday and not on paper. Clay's #1 spot would only take him to the second round of eliminations, where he fell to eventual event runner-up Mike Salinas and his Scrappers backed ride.
The Eight-time Top Fuel World Champion has certainly had his struggles this season. Even though he has been near the front in the points chase this season, a win has eluded the team. That was all erased by the time they loaded up after the Bristol race though. Tony, along with his Co-Crew Chief Phil Shuler & Crew Chief Mike Neff made sure that the Scrappers ride of Mike Salinas did not get his first Wally. Mike fell off the pace and Tony secured his Top Fuel record 84th career win. Tony stated:
"We try to be the best we can, try to be a machine and just replicate what we do best. I was definitely prepared to do my best on that last run today because he had run very, very close to us. I didn’t expect it to be an easy round by any means. So, great job for the Army team. It was Father’s Day, which makes it a big moment day and those are the kinds we’ve been the best at over the years.”
Tony wasn't the only DSR pilot to take home a Wally this weekend in Bristol. Ron Capps, the driver of the Napa backed Mopar captured his 58th Funny Car win (Second all time in the class). Ron didn't go into Sunday eliminations in a great spot based on his qualifying effort. Ron's team qualified at #11 and had to single-handedly dismantled 2/3rds of the John Force Racing Team. In the first round, he started off by defeating the 16-time World Champion John Force. Round two had Ron facing off against another JFR car, this time it was Robert Hight, and another round win for Ron. Once the Napa team reached the semi-finals, they had to get around J.R. Todd in his DHL backed Toyota. J.R. was a touch off pace, and Ron took advantage of it, which sent him into the finals against Bob Tasca and his Ford Mustang. Bob had the advantage off the line, but it was Ron at the top end taking the win, and yet another Wally to his collection. Ron stated:
“Tobler looked so down on himself (on Saturday morning). We didn’t run well the night before, and he just had that look. Those are the times you have to play cheerleader, and that’s what I think my job is. I said ‘Tobler, you’re going to find it today. Today is going to be like tomorrow (Sunday). You were the bar for the last three years. You were the one who went out and made other crew chiefs want to retire in these hot conditions,’ and he did. He found that clutch disc problem and away we went.”
Wrapping up our pro class coverage was the high winding, electronic fuel injected, naturally aspirated, manually shifting pro stock hot rods. This time it was the #1 and #2 qualifiers meeting in the final round at the Thunder Valley Nationals. It was a showdown between the mail order parts companies. Jegs vs. Summit Racing were going to go head to head. Greg Anderson was fighting to garner his first Wally of the season, and Jeg Coughlin was looking to continue his winning ways. Greg had laid down a qualifying pass that no one could match. He managed to get around Wally Stroupe, Vincent Nobile, and Tanner Gray, before getting an opportunity to win the event. Jeg had an equally rough path to the finals. Though Jeg had a "bye" the first round as Tommy Lee wasn't able to make the call because of his top-end accident on Saturday, he still had to get around Chris McGaha and Drew Skillman. In the finals, it was Jeg who had the better light and carried it all the way through to the stripe. Jeg's 6.709 was good enough to hold off Greg's 6.741. This is Jeg's second career victory at Bristol and his 60th overall career win.