BRISTOL, TN – October 14, 2021 – (Motor Sports NewsWire) – Bristol Dragway might be close to home for defending Funny Car world champion Matt Hagan, but there’s nobody who feels more at home in Thunder Valley than his Don Schumacher Racing teammate, Ron Capps. The veteran standout in the NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series has won a Funny Car-best five times at the fan-favorite facility and coming off a victory last weekend in Dallas, Capps heads into Bristol with plenty of momentum for this weekend’s 20th NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals.
The race will take place during the Countdown to the Championship playoffs for the first time in event history and that may be music to Capps’ ears considering his success at the track. He posted back-to-back wins at Bristol Dragway in his 11,000-horsepower NAPA Auto Parts Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat Redeye in 2017 and 2018, and grabbing a sixth victory this weekend would tie him with Tony Schumacher for the most in NHRA history at the track. More than anything, a victory would also further heat up the championship duel between Hagan and Capps, as Hagan currently leads his teammate by just 33 points.
“It’s good to head to Bristol during the Countdown this year because I’ve won a lot there,” Capps said. “For whatever reason, I’ve done well there. I’m really glad to see it on the calendar this weekend. I hope we still have that mojo there and I know we have a great running car. It’s going to be cooler conditions than what we’re used to at Bristol, so I’m excited to go there. The fans there are always great, and if we can find that mojo we’ve always had there, we can certainly use it right now.”
All the stars in Top Fuel, Funny Car and Pro Stock Motorcycle will be in attendance in Thunder Valley as championship hopefuls look to grab a crucial victory at a race that will be televised on FOX Sports 1 (FS1), including live final eliminations coverage starting at 2:00 p.m. (ET) on Sunday, Oct. 17. It is the fifth of seven races in Funny Car and Top Fuel in the Countdown to the Championship and is also the first race at the picturesque track since 2019. Capps is one of many excited to be headed back to Bristol, especially as he remains in the thick of things while racing for a second world championship.
He slipped past Hagan on a holeshot last weekend in Dallas, but Hagan won the prior race in St. Louis as the two teammates appear destined to duke it out over a championship this season. Capps, though, isn’t about to count out John Force or Cruz Pedregon, who are 113 and 115 points behind Hagan, respectively. As competitive as the class has been — with the points lead changing hands at eight straight events before last weekend — Capps knows he can’t let up. Factor in additional standouts like J.R. Todd, Bob Tasca III, Robert Hight and Tim Wilkerson, and Capps believes he will have to be on point to win again in Bristol.
“You don’t want to feel like you’ve got a breather,” Capps said. “You want to keep the intensity up and keep pushing. We’re going to have to get all those qualifying points in Bristol. Matt has developed into one of the best in Funny Car, so racing him, you’ve got to be on your game. It was good to gain a little ground on Hagan (in Dallas), and it’s nice to get right to Bristol and get it on. It’s going to be a lot of fun and we want to finish as strong as we can. We’ve got a great race car and I really don’t want to be the weak link.”
In Top Fuel, rising star and reigning NHRA Rookie of the Year winner Justin Ashley has been a clear standout in his first appearance in the Countdown to the Championship. He’s advanced to two final rounds in four playoff races, including last weekend when he picked up a huge victory by knocking off points leader and three-time defending world champ Steve Torrence in the championship round at his home track in Dallas.
It sent the second-year driver into third in points and full of confidence heading into Bristol. It will be the first time Ashley has ever raced at Thunder Valley, but he’s eager for the opportunity. His team, led by standout tuner Mike Green, has made impressive improvements during a critical time of the season and Ashley is hungry to put together a strong finish. It will be hard to catch Torrence, who leads Brittany Force by 52 points and Ashley by 121, but the young standout is still thinking big. He’ll also have to contend with the likes of Mike Salinas, Billy Torrence, Antron Brown and Leah Pruett in Bristol, but Ashley has enjoyed how his team has raised their game in the Countdown to the Championship.
“It’s so rewarding to be able to perform like this in the Countdown,” Ashley said. “It’s about getting hot at the right time. You want to set yourself up for a good Countdown in the regular season, but once you’re in, all bets are off. That’s the time to perform and that’s when the best teams step up. It’s really satisfying to step up at the right time, right now.”
Pro Stock Motorcycle will make its first official appearance at Bristol Dragway. The two-wheeled category ran exhibition races in 1999 and 2000 at Thunder Valley, meaning this will be the first weekend with championship points on the line. Defending world champ Matt Smith enters as the points leader, but he’ll face plenty of big-time competition from the likes of Steve Johnson, who trails Smith by just eight points, Angelle Sampey, Eddie Krawiec, Angie Smith and Scotty Pollacheck.
The event also includes the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series, where the future stars of the sport earn their racing stripes, as well as the popular Top Fuel Harley category. The E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series presented by J&A Service will also compete during the weekend at the penultimate event of its 2021 season. Jose Gonzalez is the current points leader as he seeks his first world championship. The popular and fan-favorite Southeast Nostalgia Pro Stock Association will be in action over the weekend as well, making exhibition runs on Friday and Saturday.
As always, fans are granted an exclusive pit pass to the most powerful and sensory-filled motorsports attraction on the planet at Bristol Dragway. This unique opportunity gives fans a chance to see teams in action and service their hot rods between rounds, and get autographs from their favorite NHRA drivers.
Fans also will want to visit NHRA’s popular Nitro Alley and Manufacturers Midway, where sponsors and race vendors create a carnival atmosphere, with interactive displays, simulated competitions, merchandise, food and fun for the entire family.
NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series qualifying will feature one round at 5:00 p.m. ET on Friday, Oct. 15 and the final two rounds of qualifying on Saturday, Oct. 16 at 12:30 and 3:30 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11:30 a.m. ET on Sunday, Oct. 17.
Television coverage on Fox Sports 1 (FS1) includes qualifying action from 7:00-8:00 p.m. ET on Friday and 1:00-2:00 p.m. on Sunday, with live action during eliminations to follow from 2:00-5:00 p.m. ET.
To purchase reserved seats, visit www.thundervalleytix.com or contact Bristol Dragway at (423) 989-6900. Kids 12 and under are admitted free in select areas with a paid adult. For more information about the NHRA, visit www.NHRA.com.
Headquartered in Glendora, Calif., NHRA is the primary sanctioning body for the sport of drag racing in the United States. NHRA presents national events featuring the NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series, NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series, E3 Spark Plugs Pro Mod Drag Racing Series presented by J&A Service, Constant Aviation Factory Stock Showdown and Top Fuel Harley Series. NHRA provides competition opportunities for drivers of all levels in the NHRA Summit Racing Series and the NHRA Drags: Street Legal Style. NHRA also offers the NHRA Jr. Street program for teens and the Summit Racing Jr. Drag Racing League for youth ages 5 to 17. With over 120 Member Tracks, NHRA allows racers to compete at a variety of locations nationally and internationally. NHRA’s Youth and Education Services (YES) Program reaches over 30,000 students annually to ignite their interest in automotive and racing related careers. NHRA’s streaming service, NHRA.tv, allows fans to view all NHRA national events as well as exclusive features of the sport. In addition, NHRA owns and operates four racing facilities: Atlanta Dragway in Georgia; Gainesville Raceway in Florida; Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis; and Auto Club Raceway at Pomona in Southern California. For more information, log on to www.NHRA.com, or visit the official NHRA pages on Facebook, YouTube and Twitter.
Source: National Hot Rod Association