BRISTOL, Tenn. — With a hot, slick track likely waiting for the competitors during today’s final two qualifying sessions at the NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals, Friday night was a time to get while the getting was good.
Nobody got more than Antron Brown, Ashley Force Hood and Mike Edwards, who earned provisional pole positions in their respective division under the lights at Bristol Dragway.
The track temperatures, which had soared to close to 140 degrees under the hot June sun, dropped about 30 degrees once the sun finally set. That allowed the crews to swing for the fences, tuning the dragsters for some aggressive runs.
In the Funny Car division, Force Hood put herself in position to pick up her second consecutive pole at Thunder Valley with a 4.151-second run in the second qualifying session. It was enough to edge out Cruz Pedregon, who posted a 4.159 ET.
“We looked at data from other races and it worked out for us,” Force Hood said. “I don’t know how close we were to the edge, but it felt like a nice, smooth run.”
Force Hood said the run that put her on the pole was set up by a good effort in the first session. She struggled to a 4.289 ET on the slick track, but it was good enough to put her in second behind Bob Tasca III, giving her a later draw in the second session.
“The run earlier today, we didn’t run that stellar, but everyone struggled and we finished up second,” Force Hood said. “That really helped us for tonight because the temperature dropped four degrees during that session.
“It helped us to be at the back of the pack. If you can get the first run good, it sets you up for the night session, which sets you up for the weekend.”
While Force Hood is hoping to ride the momentum into the weekend, she knows her run Friday won’t help her much in the steamy conditions she’ll likely face during the final eliminations.
“Sunday’s conditions won’t be anything like tonight,” she said. “It’s fun to run well in the Friday night session, but we’d be just as happy if we could get some good runs tomorrow in the heat because that’s what’s going to help us on Sunday.”
Matt Hagan, Del Worsham and Jack Beckman rounded out the top five qualifiers.
Nobody likes a slick track as much as Brown, but he took full advantage of a cool track on Friday night to grab the provisional pole in Top Fuel.
“Our team is playing a little catch-up right now,” Brown said. “We just want to keep doing well like this and carry it into race day. It was tough because you go from a slippery, slimy track today to a track that was tight like nails.
“I’m glad I drive the car, not tune it — trust me.”
Brown’s 3.856 ET outpaced Cory McClenathan, who posted a 3.879. Larry Dixon, Brandon Bernstein and Bob Vandergriff completed the top five heading into today’s final two sessions.
Slick tracks were Brown’s bread and butter last season as he surged during the summer. He’s hoping to return to form now that the heat is on.
“It’s about that time again,” Brown said. “We like it when it gets hot. We won a lot of races and went to a lot of final rounds when it was hot and slimy.”
Mike Edwards continued his dominance in Pro Stock by grabbing another provisional pole. Greeneville’s Allen Johnson led after the first session, but Edwards struck back with a 6.725 ET to grab the top slot. Johnson, who has been challenging Edwards of late, settled for fourth.
“He’s definitely closed the gap on me,” Edwards said. “We’re just so close. AJ and that whole team are doing a tremendous job.”
Kurt Johnson ran second, posting a 6.735 ET, and Ron Krishner settled for third with a 6.736.
Edwards, who toiled for years before finally winning a title last season, said he is enjoying every moment of his hot streak.
“I’m truly living my dream,” he said. “When you start saying stuff like that, seven wins and number one qualifiers, I’ve been doing this a long time, and I never dreamed I could do that. I’m just blessed.”