Courtney Force launches from the starting during qualifying for the Ford NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals Saturda at Bristol Dragway in Bristol, Tenn. (NHRA Images)
BRISTOL, Tenn. — Track temperatures soared under a bright sun on Saturday afternoon at Bristol Dragway, creating slick conditions that sent any chance of grabbing the pole slip-sliding away for the stars of the NHRA.
As a result, Spencer Massey, Mike Edwards and Del Worsham all maintained the top qualifying spots in their respective divisions, making them the prohibitive favorites in Sunday’s final eliminations at the Ford NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals. But with a similar forecast on tap for Sunday, the ability to get a handle on the slippery track ultimately will separate the winners from the losers.
With his first Top Fuel pole of the season and his first ever at Bristol Dragway all but wrapped up, Massey used his two qualifying sessions Saturday to get a head-start on Sunday’s eliminations.
“We wanted to come in here and have good data, get down the racetrack, so we can have a good day tomorrow,” Massey said. “Today it was a little tricky conditions because it’s hot. Everyone was struggling to get down the racetrack.
“We backed it down enough to where we only ran a 3.94, but it went down the racetrack. Tomorrow is going to be very similar conditions, so I’m excited. I have confidence.”
Massey will square off against Doug Herbert in the first round after Herbert managed to snag the final qualifying spot in the 16-car field after sitting out for more than a year. Steve Torrence, who missed out on the pole by four-thousandths of a second on Friday night, held on to the No. 2 seed.
The marquee matchup in the first round will be Tony Schumacher, the fifth seed, squaring off against his Don Schumacher Racing teammate Antron Brown, the No. 12 qualifier.
In the Funny Car division, Worsham stayed at the top of the heap, but plenty of cars in the class showed the ability to get down the track during the heat of the day. Worsham used his two runs Saturday to experiment with some different setups, including a run down the track with a Top Fuel engine in his car.
But even though he wasn’t able to make a stellar pass Saturday, Worsham was still bullish about his chances after securing his first pole at Bristol Dragway and the first No. 1 qualifying spot for a Kalitta Motorsports Funny Car since 1988.
“That run last night was awfully special,” Worsham said. “The run held up today. The track was just hot and the odds of someone running four flat today were slim. Luckily nobody did.”
Despite holding the No. 1 qualifying spot, Worsham’s first-round matchup is hardly a breather. He’ll face off against former Funny Car champion Robert Hight right out of the chute.
“First round tomorrow is going to be a great matchup,” Worsham said Saturday. “Any time you come to one of these races, you say anyone can win a race. But tomorrow our first-round matchup is truly what could be a final-round matchup.”
Another doozy of a matchup will happen right off the bat when John Force and his daughter Courtney square off in the first round on Father’s Day. Courtney Force locked down the No. 6 qualifying spot while her father wound up No. 11.
While Massey and Worsham secured their first poles of the season, Edwards hammered down his ninth top qualifying spot this year to lock up the 50th pole of his long career.
“That’s a goal that I’ve been trying to reach for a long time,” Edwards said. “To come away with 50 No. 1 qualifiers in this class, especially with today’s competition, I’m so happy.
“That was one of my goals starting out this year was to reach 50. We did it a little faster than I thought we were going to do it.”
Edwards is gunning for his fifth consecutive win at Bristol Dragway, but he said he’s not taking anything for granted against such a deep Pro Stock field. Greeneville’s Allen Johnson, the defending points champion in the division, is the No. 2 qualifier.
NHRA Ford Thunder Valley Nationals Pairings
After Saturday qualifying; final eliminations Sunday
At Bristol Dragway
1, Spencer Massey, 3.775 seconds, 326.79 mph vs. 16, Doug Herbert, 5.145, 289.57; 2, Steve Torrence, 3.779, 324.51 vs. 15, Leah Pruett, 4.744, 161.48; 3, Clay Millican, 3.787, 326.48 vs. 14, Chris Karamesines, 4.033, 293.54; 4, David Grubnic, 3.792, 321.12 vs. 13, Morgan Lucas, 3.864, 317.57; 5, Tony Schumacher, 3.795, 325.77 vs. 12, Antron Brown, 3.838, 317.05; 6, Khalid alBalooshi, 3.824, 324.20 vs. 11, Doug Kalitta, 3.837, 317.72; 7, Shawn Langdon, 3.826, 303.71 vs. 10, Bob Vandergriff, 3.836, 321.04; 8, Brittany Force, 3.828, 319.98 vs. 9, J.R. Todd, 3.835, 318.47. Did Not Qualify: 17, Terry McMillen, 5.794, 307.16; 18, Troy Buff, 6.800, 300.60; 19, Pat Dakin, 6.993, 302.21.
1, Del Worsham, Toyota Camry, 4.008, 314.83 vs. 16, Robert Hight, Ford Mustang, 6.849, 294.37; 2, Jack Beckman, Dodge Charger, 4.012, 317.05 vs. 15, Blake Alexander, Charger, 6.150, 288.09; 3, Matt Hagan, Charger, 4.049, 317.05 vs. 14, Tony Pedregon, Camry, 4.414, 293.79; 4, Tim Wilkerson, Mustang, 4.061, 315.56 vs. 13, Cruz Pedregon, Camry, 4.177, 295.40; 5, Ron Capps, Charger, 4.066, 310.84 vs. 12, Chad Head, Camry, 4.136, 301.54; 6, John Force, Mustang, 4.071, 307.93 vs. 11, Courtney Force, Mustang, 4.129, 309.56; 7, Bob Tasca III, Mustang, 4.082, 310.70 vs. 10, Johnny Gray, Charger, 4.127, 298.73; 8, Alexis DeJoria, Camry, 4.096, 312.42 vs. 9, Jeff Arend, Charger, 4.109, 302.69.
1, Mike Edwards, Chevy Camaro, 6.632, 208.23 vs. 16, JR Carr, Ford Mustang, 6.798, 205.16; 2, Allen Johnson, Dodge Avenger, 6.645, 207.85 vs. 15, Lewis Worden, Mustang, 6.754, 204.32; 3, Erica Enders-Stevens, Camaro, 6.651, 207.43 vs. 14, Larry Morgan, Mustang, 6.739, 204.79; 4, Shane Gray, Camaro, 6.654, 207.62 vs. 13, Steve Kent, Camaro, 6.736, 205.76; 5, Jason Line, Camaro, 6.661, 206.95 vs. 12, Vincent Nobile, Avenger, 6.700, 206.48; 6, Jeg Coughlin, Avenger, 6.661, 206.92 vs. 11, Rickie Jones, Camaro, 6.691, 206.99; 7, Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.671, 206.57 vs. 10, Greg Stanfield, Camaro, 6.689, 205.91; 8, Rodger Brogdon, Camaro, 6.680, 207.05 vs. 9, V. Gaines, Avenger, 6.686, 206.51. Did Not Qualify: 17, John Gaydosh Jr, 6.978, 198.23; 18, Kurt Johnson, 7.359, 200.77; 19, Warren Johnson, 10.531, 201.31.