NEFF LOOKING TO GO ONE MORE STEP IN THUNDER VALLEY: When Funny Car driver Mike Neff thinks of his first appearance as a driver at Bristol Dragway, it isn't his first career no. 1 qualifying position. He doesn't remember his second consecutive final-round appearance as a driver or that he had to defeat such legendary drivers as Tony Bartone, Ron Capps and John Force Racing teammate Robert Hight to get there. The one thing that Neff remembers more than anything is watching his first career win slip through his hands after his Ford Mustang exploded in the final round of the NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals.
Neff could only watch as winner Melanie Troxel drove past him at half track after Neff took a commanding lead right off the start. "I'm saying, 'Let's go! Let's go!,'" said Neff, describing the chaos of that final round one year ago. "[NHRA Official Starter] Rick Stewart is in front of us motioning to go, but when we couldn't get the body up [crew chief John], Medlen couldn't get in there and arm all the switches, which I didn't know he armed those things. I'm just saying, 'go let's go.' So naturally none of the system worked, and that is why it backfired (exploded)."
Even with his explosion, Neff's no. 1 qualifier and final-round appearance moved him to seventh in the point standings and helped him secure his spot in the Countdown to 1 playoffs by the end of the regular season. Right now Neff is tied for 10th in the point standings with teammate Hight. Another visit to the final round at the ninth annual NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals, May 15–17, at Bristol Dragway, would help propel the sophomore driver further up in the points, as well as set him up in a good position to grab his first career win as a driver. Joining Neff will be drivers in the Top Fuel, Funny Car and Pro Stock categories in the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series.
FOOD CITY TO SPONSOR RETURN OF NIGHT QUALIFYING AT NHRA THUNDER VALLEY NATIONALS: Food City will sponsor the return of night qualifying to Bristol Dragway Friday, May 15, during the ninth annual NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals. Food City Qualifying Under The Lights At Thunder Valley brings NHRA's nitro-powered machines to the line in prime time for an awesome show of power and performance.
Those who have witnessed it know that nighttime qualifying adds an extra mystique to an already exciting show. Fans are in for a treat when nitro-powered, 7,000hp engines blast cars down the dragstrip at more than 300 mph.
FULLER MAKES 2009 DEBUT IN CHICAGO: Top Fuel pilot "Hot Rod" Fuller will make his 2009 NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series debut at the 12th annual United Association Route 66 NHRA Nationals—a track where he's been to three of the last four final rounds in the Top Fuel class. After missing the first half of the season when then team owner David Powers announced he'd be pulling out of drag racing, Fuller rejoined the tour with fellow racer and team owner Bob Vandergriff Jr., who will turn over the reins of his Top Fuel dragster to Fuller for the Chicago race. Patten Cat Industries will join the team as the official sponsor of the car for the Chicago race.
"The fact that I was born in Chicago and now have the opportunity to drive for Patten Cat—a dealer that has been in business in northern Illinois for more than 75 years—has made it worth the wait to get back out on the circuit," said Fuller.
NHRA THUNDER VALLEY NATIONALS, BRISTOL DRAGWAY, MAY 15–17: NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing heads back to Thunder Valley and the Mountains of Northern Tennessee for the eighth of 24 events on the 2009 schedule. Defending event winners include Tony Schumacher (Top Fuel); Melanie Troxel (Funny Car); and Dave Connolly (Pro Stock).
O'REILLY NHRA SUMMER NATIONALS, HEARTLAND PARK TOPEKA, MAY 29–31: Heading to the heartland of America, the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series makes its ninth stop on the 2009 tour. Defending event winners include Hillary Will (Top Fuel); John Force (Funny Car); and Ron Krisher (Pro Stock).
UNITED ASSOCIATION ROUTE 66 NHRA NATIONALS, ROUTE 66 RACEWAY, JUNE 4–7: NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing returns to the Windy City for the 10th stop on the 2009 season. Defending event winners include Tony Schumacher (Top Fuel); Tony Pedregon (Funny Car); Kurt Johnson (Pro Stock); and Chris Rivas (Pro Stock Motorcycle). For tickets, call 815/727-RACE or online at www.ticketmaster.com.
HE SAID, SHE SAID
"A GAMBLING MAN?": Two-time Bristol Dragway winner and third-place driver in the Top Fuel point standings Brandon Bernstein on what a third win at Bristol Dragway could mean: "If the cards fell just right, we could take the point lead again. We're only 44 points out of the lead and 26 out of second place. It isn't going to be easy, but if we could put the magic together, it isn't that much of a long shot."
INSIDE THE NUMBERS
5: That's the number of times the track record for both speed and time have changed in Pro Stock at Bristol Dragway since the first national event was held there in 2002. Below is the current track record in Pro Stock:
Warren Johnson (6.674 seconds, 207.43 mph)
DID YOU KNOW...
...that of his 44 Pro Stock wins, four-time world champion Jeg Coughlin has only one win in one final round appearance at Bristol Motor Speedway? Coughlin enters the event on a four-consecutive final-round appearance streak and off a recent win in St. Louis, Missouri.
For more information, visit www.nhra.com.