Scotty Pollacheck grabbed the No. 1 Pro Stock Motorcycle spot at the NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals at Eastern Tennessee speed palace Bristol Dragway. A cold front and rain delay made for dark, cool conditions by the time the bikes took the track for round 3 of qualifying, and Pollacheck’s tuner Matt Smith nailed it just right on Scotty’s purple Denso/Strutmaster/MSR Buell. But it was a fine line and many overpowered the track, including Matt himself, apparently, on his own Red Rocket.
“It’s so awesome to be here at Bristol and to be No. 1,” Pollacheck said. “To come here, someplace I’ve always seen on TV and I’ve always to come to because it looks so awesome, and end up with the No. 1 spot on the final qualifying run was pretty special. It was a good team effort and it was a good pass. It was a little surprising, but Matt told me that if I rode it well, it would go an .85.”
And indeed it did—a 6.859 at 197.80—for Scotty’s third No. 1 qualifier this season and fourth in his career. He’s after his second win of the season and starts off with an easy one—a first round bye in the short field.
Defending world champ and current points leader Smith improved on his run from Friday, qualifying second with a 6.865 at 197.54. Ironically, his wife Angie’s finger injury will likely improve his E1 chances—as if he needed improvement. Angie has indicated that she will see what she can do with her splattered digit in the morning, but she’s paired with Matt in E1. Sooooo, it would seem little point in pushing things…
Finally with a 4V Suzuki in her frame rails, Karen Stoffer jumped to third after going 6.867 at 189.26 and claiming quickest Suzuki honors for herself, White Alligator Racing, and that manufacturer based in Brownsburg. She’ll face Lance Bonham on Blake Gann’s original G2 Buell.
In what was otherwise a frustrating day for that Brownsburg outfit, Andrew Hines qualified 4thwith a 6.906 at 195.56. But those frustrations will carry into raceday, with Hines facing teammate Angelle Sampey in E1.
Chris Bostick looked to have his hands full of a whole lotta George Babor-built, Monster 4V horsepower and will start out from the fifth spot on his Hunt Brothers, Mike Mullaney-built Hayabusa against MSR racer Charlie Poskey.
Fellow Monster 4V Suzuki campaigner Steve Johnson failed to improve on his Friday run as he blew the tire off at the hit both passes on Saturday. He’s sixth in the order and faces Ron “Rat” Tornow and his Victory Bagger.
Kelly Clontz had a great day, making the NHRA big screen for good news instead of her Norwalk crash. She sits seventh and faces her rookie year nemesis Flyin’ Ryan Oehler.
That leaves 8th Eddie Krawiec facing 9thJoey Gladstone—both having unusual mid-pack qualifying efforts.
First round for the bikes is scheduled for 12:30 pm and the temperature is forecast to be 53 degrees—but a sunny 53, or at least as sunny as the track gets in the canyon of Thunder Valley.
Pro Stock Motorcycle — 1. Scotty Pollacheck, EBR, 6.859, 197.80 vs. Bye; 2. Matt Smith, EBR, 6.865, 197.54 vs. 15. Angie Smith, EBR, 8.952, 102.32; 3. Karen Stoffer, Suzuki, 6.867, 194.41 vs. 14. Lance Bonham, Buell, 7.313, 183.74; 4. Andrew Hines, Buell, 6.906, 195.56 vs. 13. Angelle Sampey, Suzuki, 7.262, 169.66; 5. Chris Bostick, Suzuki, 6.913, 193.27 vs. 12. Charles Poskey, Suzuki, 7.175, 190.83; 6. Steve Johnson, Suzuki, 6.942, 193.60 vs. 11. Ron Tornow, Victory, 7.084, 189.58; 7. Kelly Clontz, Suzuki, 6.965, 191.13 vs. 10. Ryan Oehler, EBR, 7.042, 193.13; 8. Eddie Krawiec, Buell, 6.966, 196.36 vs. 9. Joey Gladstone, Suzuki, 6.966, 193.35.
Top Fuel points leader and three-time defending world champ Steve Torrence powered to the track record on Saturday, making the quickest run in Bristol history to qualify No. 1. In all, five of the six possible track records were broken during qualifying on Saturday at Bristol, which is hosting its first NHRA playoff races in track history.
Saving his best for last, Torrence closed out qualifying with a stellar run of 3.667-seconds at 331.28 mph in his Capco Contractors dragster, giving him his fourth No. 1 qualifier this season and 31st in his career. It was the third time the track record was set in Thunder Valley already this weekend in Top Fuel, with Brittany Force doing it on Friday and Mike Salinas following with a 3.668 at 329.83 in the opening round of qualifying on Saturday. Torrence, though, topped everyone and will open eliminations against Cameron Ferre as he attempts to win a fourth straight world title. Torrence is also seeking his 50th career Top Fuel victory.
“That run was really big for us,” Torrence said. “We’ve been picking at that over the last few races. It’s something you just don’t get overnight and you really have to work at going mid-3.60s.
“The track here is great and it’s exceptional. On that run, the car was super quick early and it really pulled hard out the back. That was a confidence builder for tomorrow, so you’ve got to go out and be able to throw down. We’re in the thick of this championship and we’re going to have to give it our best shot every time.”
Salinas finished in the second spot, while Force improved to a 3.672 at 333.58, setting the track speed record as well on Saturday.
Top Fuel — 1. Steve Torrence, 3.667 seconds, 331.28 mph vs. 14. Cameron Ferre, 11.398, 70.10; 2. Mike Salinas, 3.668, 329.83 vs. 13. Antron Brown, 4.572, 172.45; 3. Brittany Force, 3.672, 333.58 vs. 12. Lex Joon, 4.271, 199.64; 4. Billy Torrence, 3.672, 329.58 vs. 11. Doug Kalitta, 4.203, 221.78; 5. Justin Ashley, 3.688, 330.80 vs. 10. Shawn Langdon, 3.763, 329.91; 6. Leah Pruett, 3.691, 327.11 vs. 9. Spencer Massey, 3.761, 322.19; 7. Josh Hart, 3.696, 330.88 vs. 8. Clay Millican, 3.711, 326.87.
In Funny Car, Alexis DeJoria celebrated a big moment as she claimed her first No. 1 qualifier since 2016, going 3.907 at 326.79 in her Bandero Premium Tequila/ROKiT Toyota Camry. It was a big step forward for DeJoria, earning her fifth career No. 1 spot in the process. The standout run to close out qualifying also puts DeJoria in a good spot to try and claim her first win of the season, as the team looks to finish the 2021 campaign on a good note. She’ll open eliminations against Paul Lee on Sunday at a track that has always been special for her.
“This track has a lot of good memories for me,” DeJoria said. “It was the place of my first final round I went to with Del (Worsham) back in 2012, and to come back here with our team and get a No. 1 qualifier at this track is huge. This alone is so gratifying and means so much, and it kind of feels like a win. It’s just a huge weight lifted off our shoulders. We’ve got three races left and we haven’t won a race yet, so it’s crunch time and we’ve got to do it now.”
Ron Capps qualified second, going 3.945 at 325.61 and points leader Matt Hagan will start raceday from the third spot, going 3.958 and breaking the track speed record with a run of 330.31.
Funny Car — 1. Alexis DeJoria, Toyota Camry, 3.907, 326.79 vs. 14. Paul Lee, Dodge Charger, 6.006, 112.69; 2. Ron Capps, Charger, 3.945, 325.61 vs. 13. Blake Alexander, Ford Mustang, 5.732, 139.11; 3. Matt Hagan, Charger, 3.958, 330.31 vs. 12. J.R. Todd, Camry, 5.703, 122.17; 4. Tim Wilkerson, Mustang, 3.965, 295.27 vs. 11. Bob Tasca III, Mustang, 5.653, 124.13; 5. Robert Hight, Chevy Camaro, 3.968, 323.50 vs. 10. Cory Lee, Mustang, 4.195, 282.95; 6. John Force, Camaro, 3.968, 322.73 vs. 9. Jim Campbell, Charger, 4.004, 303.16; 7. Cruz Pedregon, Charger, 3.975, 320.13 vs. 8. Dave Richards, Mustang, 3.983, 315.27.
In the E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series presented by J&A Service, Rickie Smith drove to the No. 1 position in his nitrous-powered Camaro, going 5.708 at 250.64 under the lights on Saturday to close out qualifying. Points leader Jose Gonzalez is second after his run of 5.733 at 250.32.
story by Tim Hailey and NHRA, photos by Hailey