Bob Tasca raced to the No. 1 qualifying position in Funny Car Saturday at the Ford NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals presented by Tri-Cities Area Ford Dealers. Brandon Bernstein (Top Fuel) and Allen Johnson (Pro Stock) also will lead their respective categories into Sunday's noon eliminations as No. 1 qualifiers at the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series event.
Tasca set both ends of the Bristol Dragway track performance record with a powerful pass of 4.056 seconds at 314.31mph in his Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford Shelby Mustang. It is Tasca's second No. 1 qualifying position of his career and first since taking the top spot at the 2009 Gatornationals. He will face rookie Daniel Wilkerson in the opening round of eliminations.
Just before the final qualifying session a thunderstorm front moved through the Tri-Cities area and created cooler conditions, which in turn produced a few track record performances, including two for Tasca.
“I predicted this last night, although it didn't end up exactly the way I thought it would,” Tasca said. “In (the third qualifying session) we (dropped a cylinder) and it smoked the tires. We knew that we had a car that had run a 4.10 last night and (after the rain) we were thrilled to get another shot at it. By the time we ran we were seventh or eighth and when we pulled up I told Chris (Cunningham, crew chief) that we had nothing to lose. He said, ‘Don't worry, it's gonna go fast.' It's great having the track E.T. and speed record but we're here to take that trophy home. I knew we were going to at least run 4.08 or quicker. We've been waiting four years for that run.”
Southwest Virginia cattle rancher Matt Hagan was second with a 4.082 at 308.07 in his DieHard Dodge Charger, while series points leader Mike Neff, 2008 runner-up at Bristol and a finalist in the last four races, was third with a 4.085 at 311.99 in his Castrol GTX Mustang.
In Top Fuel, Bernstein held on to claim his first No. 1 qualifying position since 2008 in Memphis. Bernstein posted a track record time of 3.828 at 316.52 in his Copart dragster to earn his 14th top qualifying position and third at Bristol Dragway. He will face rookie Austin Lambright in the first round as he tries to end a winless drought that dates back to Richmond 2009.
Larry Dixon had moved into the top spot during the final qualifying session, however the Copart dragster proved to be quick enough to take the top spot back in a thrilling final run of the evening by Bernstein.
“This felt really great,” Bernstein said. “We knew that (Al-Anabi Racing's) Alan Johnson was going to throw everything after it, and I figured that my Friday night time wasn't going to stand up under the cooler conditions after the rain delay. But my guys, (crew chiefs) Todd Smith and Donnie Bender, told me that we were going to go for it, and my dad (team owner and NHRA legend Kenny Bernstein) just told me to make sure and keep it in the groove. We really feel that we have a real race car right now. There's a lot of satisfaction knowing that we can go fast when we really have to. It's a good feeling to have someone take the No. 1 spot away from you and then get it back.”
Defending world champ Dixon settled for second with a 3.831 at 319.37 in his Al-Anabi Racing dragster and the winner of the last two events, Spencer Massey, was third with a 3.852 at 321.73 in his Prestone/FRAM dragster.
In Pro Stock, local favorite Johnson, from nearby Greeneville, Tenn., claimed his first No. 1 qualifying position of the season, second consecutive at this track and 16th of his career when he drove his Team Mopar Dodge Avenger to a 6.668 at 206.89. Johnson, who won the most recent event in Englishtown, N.J., is looking for his second straight win of the season and first ever at his home track.
“Winning a Wally at Bristol, our hometown track, would really be something,” said Johnson, a nine-time NHRA tour winner. “It would rank right up there with the Wallys that we have won at our sponsor's race in Denver.”
Given the consistency of his new racecar, Johnson feels confident about his chances to make it two wins in a row during Sunday's eliminations. He will face Steve Kent in the opening round.
“I'm really happy with our new Dodge Avenger,” Johnson said. “We made four very good runs this weekend. We're easing into new waters with this car. We have a real quality product with this chassis, and it showed today because we were the quickest in both sessions.”
Defending event winner Mike Edwards was second with a 6.678 at 206.42 in his Penhall/Interstate Batteries Pontiac GXP, while current national record holder Rodger Brogdon was third with a 6.696 at 206.45 in his Racers Edge GXP.
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Top Fuel -- 1. Brandon Bernstein, 3.828 seconds, 316.52 mph vs. 16. Austin Lambright, 4.324, 287.84; 2. Larry Dixon, 3.831, 319.37 vs. 15. Rod Fuller, 4.309, 286.62; 3. Spencer Massey, 3.852, 321.73 vs. 14. Pat Dakin, 4.057, 296.76; 4. Doug Kalitta, 3.856, 320.66 vs. 13. Chris Karamesines, 4.038, 301.00; 5. Antron Brown, 3.864, 317.12 vs. 12. Bob Vandergriff, 3.906, 312.57; 6. Del Worsham, 3.865, 312.78 vs. 11. David Grubnic, 3.905, 314.09; 7. Terry McMillen, 3.879, 16.45 vs. 10. Morgan Lucas, 3.902, 314.02; 8. Tony Schumacher, 3.887, 318.92 vs. 9. Shawn Langdon, 3.889, 316.15. Did Not Qualify: 17. Troy Buff, 7.051, 103.06.
Funny Car -- 1. Bob Tasca III, Ford Mustang, 4.056, 314.31 vs. 16. Daniel Wilkerson, Mustang, 4.270, 285.53; 2. Matt Hagan, Dodge Charger, 4.082, 308.07 vs. 15. Paul Lee, Chevy Impala SS, 4.238, 296.89; 3. Mike Neff, Mustang, 4.085, 311.99 vs. 14. Tony Pedregon, Impala SS, 4.189, 300.80; 4. Jack Beckman, Charger, 4.087, 311.70 vs. 13. Jim Head, Toyota Solara, 4.168, 303.57; 5. Tim Wilkerson, Mustang, 4.087, 306.53 vs. 12. Melanie Troxel, Solara, 4.151, 305.91; 6. Robert Hight, Mustang, 4.090, 311.20 vs. 11. Ron Capps, Charger, 4.122, 305.98; 7. Johnny Gray, Charger, 4.101, 309.63 vs. 10. Jeff Arend, Solara, 4.119, 302.48; 8. John Force, Mustang, 4.114, 311.63 vs. 9. Cruz Pedregon, Solara, 4.116, 307.51. Did Not Qualify: 17. Brian Thiel, 4.291, 287.17.
Pro Stock -- 1. Allen Johnson, Dodge Avenger, 6.668, 206.89 vs. 16. Steve Kent, Pontiac GXP, 6.753, 205.19; 2. Mike Edwards, GXP, 6.678, 206.42 vs. 15. Richard Freeman, GXP, 6.752, 205.04; 3. Rodger Brogdon, GXP, 6.696, 206.45 vs. 14. Warren Johnson, Chevy Cobalt, 6.739, 205.35; 4. Erica Enders, Cobalt, 6.700, 206.04 vs. 13. Larry Morgan, Ford Mustang, 6.737, 204.63; 5. Ron Krisher, GXP, 6.705, 205.91 vs. 12. V. Gaines, Avenger, 6.736, 205.22; 6. Greg Anderson, GXP, 6.711, 205.26 vs. 11. Greg Stanfield, GXP, 6.729, 205.29; 7. Vincent Nobile, Avenger, 6.716, 205.88 vs. 10. Ronnie Humphrey, GXP, 6.719, 205.91; 8. Shane Gray, GXP, 6.716, 205.47 vs. 9. Jason Line, GXP, 6.717, 205.66.Did Not Qualify: 17. Steve Spiess, 6.765, 203.34; 18. Buddy Perkinson, 6.768, 203.55; 19. Robert Patrick, 6.779, 202.97; 20. Kurt Johnson, 6.784, 203.06; 21. Bob Benza, 6.795, 203.25; 22. Frank Gugliotta, 6.838, 202.12; 23. John Gaydosh Jr, 6.984, 198.52.