NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals, June 16-18, 2017, Bristol Dragway, Bristol, Tennessee, USA

Tharpe, Millican Big Bristol Winners

photos by Tim Hailey, story by Hailey, NHRA and team reports

brought to you by Ben "Treating Media Right" Knight


I usually lead with bikes, but I had tis cool shot of Clay Millican and—hey—it is a popular win

Clay Millican piloted his Parts Plus / Great Clips dragster to his first career NHRA Top Fuel victory Sunday at the 17th annual NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals at Bristol Dragway. Millican has 52 IHRA wins.

Millican beat Leah Pritchett in the rain-delayed final

Millican, a Tennessee native, raced a 3.825-second pass at 316.38 mph to defeat Leah Pritchett, who raced a 3.881 at 307.09 in her Papa John's dragster. He became the 103rd different driver to win in Top Fuel. This was Millican's 254th NHRA Top Fuel start and the ninth final round of his career. 

“I love what I do,” Millican said. “There were times I ever wondered if this was going to happen. I don’t deserve this credit. I’m really happy for David Grubnic and all of the boys who work on this car and I mean that one-hundred percent."  Millican battled past Kyle Wurtzel, Brittany Force and Steve Torrence en route to the finals. Pritchett squared up against Troy Coughlin Jr., Scott Palmer and Shawn Langdon before falling to Millican in the final round. Millican is seventh in points while Pritchett moved from third to second with the runner-up finish. Torrence now has possession of the Top Fuel points lead.

With his helmet commorating his late cousin Josh, Tii Tharpe boils the hide and aims for the spot that Mark Conner's picked out for him.

Epping Top Fuel Harley winner Tii Tharpe is on a roll, qualifying number one right off the trailer at Bristol and beating teammate Jay Turner in the final. Tharpe's6.549 at 205.01  was one of his slowest of the weekend but good enough to defeat Turner, who dropped a cylinder and ran 7.603 at 134.20. 

Turner and the team were responsible for three bikes in the semis, including Coon Ass Randal Andras. Turner let Tharpe pick out which of his two bikes he wanted to ride this year—every regret that decision Jay now that Tii has two straight? "Nah, it's good business," grinned Turner, who has enough championships under his belt—including this years'—to focus on business.

Randal Andras' was one of three Turner-prepped bikes in the Bristol semis MORE PHOTOS

Veteran tuner Rex Harris was brought in specifically to work on Andras' bike

Tak Shigematsu's weekend was long but his raceday short MORE TF HARLEY PHOTOS

Tharpe and the whole Jay Turner team in the winners circle MORE TF HARLEY PHOTOS

Turner and long-time girlfriend Dorothy Olson flank Tharpe and his Wally-Mini-Me


Watch the interview with Tharpe, Turner and Mark Conner above

Ron Capps

Defending Funny Car world champion Capps raced to his fifth victory this season and 55th of his career in the NAPA Auto Parts Dodge Charger R/T. He won on a holeshot against Don Schumacher Racing teammate Jack Beckman in his Infinite Hero Foundation Dodge Charger R/T with a pass of 4.054 at 317.05.

“We’ve gotten a few lucky rounds, but it’s been preparation in the off season,” Capps stated. “We had runs on Sunday against four of the toughest cars, drivers and crew chiefs combined. You read down the list of people we had to beat in a new car that was prepared. There are not very many teams that are that prepared to pull a car out and have a quicker set-up than we were.” 

Capps ties John Force with most Funny Car victories at Bristol Dragway with four apiece on their resume. 

Before entering the final round, Capps defeated Alexis DeJoria, Robert Hight and teammate Matt Hagan. Beckman sailed past Cruz Pedregon, Courtney Force and teammate Tommy Johnson Jr. before seeing Capps for the second consecutive final round. Beckman defeated Capps in the finals at the event in Englishtown. 

Alex Laughlin and Floyd Knobbian Bo Butner burn out side-by-side for the Pro Stock Car final

In Pro Stock, Alex Laughlin clinched his first Wally of the season and second of his career with a perfect reaction time in the finals. He powered his Gas Monkey Energy Chevrolet Camaro to a 6.718 at 205.04 to defeat Bo Butner in his Jim Butner’s Auto Chevy Camaro. Laughlin is the eighth different Pro Stock winner this season. 

“We didn’t really have anything handed to us; we had some good matchups all day,” Laughlin stated. “I definitely feel like I had a point to prove. We have a competitive car on the starting line. I came into this weekend with the confidence to win.”

Laughlin raced past Alan Johnson, No. 1 qualifier Jeg Coughlin and rookie Tanner Gray before facing Butner in the final round. Butner lined up against Wally Stroupe and two-time world champion Erica Enders en route to his fourth final round appearance this season. 

The 2017 Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season continues at the 11th annual Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals June 22-25 at Summit Racing Equipment Motorsports Park. 

EARLIER: Tii is #1, Tak is well-done

Epping NHRA Top Fuel Harley winner Tii Tharpe's off the trailer 6.38 held up through three rounds for number one qualifier on a tricky track at Bristol's Thunder Valley. He'll face Armon Furr in round 1 of eliminations.

Jay Turner—who owns the bike that Tharpe rides—sits a close second with a 6.39. The Bulldog will race Tak Shigematsu to start his raceday.

And third? Randal Andras, who pits with Tharpe and Turner. MORE TF HARLEY PHOTOS

What ties these men together and enables their success is a super team of sorts, assembled by Turner that normally includes former Ray Price mastermind Jeremy Hoy. Jeremy's not around this weekend, everyone telling me he's attending a "dance recital." I assume that's for his daughter, so that's very charming that the Nitro Harley supertuner has to miss a national event for his daughter's dance recital. But he's still in touch, tuning "via satellite," this weekend I'm told.

But also on the ground for the team this weekend is Rex Harris—also a heavyweight smart guy in the nitro V-Twin world who—if memory serves me right—worked with Bill Furr during a string of his success back in the day, and who is probably getting tired me bringing up the time he threw his phone into the fountain at the Sam's Town Casino Hotel in Vegas.

The main point of all this is three riders, three bikes, one team, locking out the top three qualifying positions.

Andras will race Rich Vreeland in E1.

Look closely and you'll see the red plug wire laying on Tak Shigematsu's right hip, sending a shocking amount of current through the Japanese tough guy. Just ask Korry Hogan what that's like. Tak qualified seventh and faces Turner in E1.

Tak gettin' wild on an earlier run. "We're tryin' t get a blower to work," barked Tak's builder/tuner Don "DJ" Johnson—AKA Nitro Moses. He's been working on this Pro Charger set-up for a while now, in it's second year I think. I asked DJ about the time Tak and Tommy Grimes ran side-by-side 6.teens at Valdosta—with no blower and a long time ago. "Seven years," said DJ. "That was a special day—a rare alignment of the planets. The track, the air—everything was there. These bikes make so much torque, that tire is always on the edge of spinning—especially in conditions like these."

Some call him the "Nitro Santa," some the "Nitro Moses," take your pick or make up a new one. Either way, Jersey nitro legend Don "DJ" Johnson had the line of the weekend. Talking about the Houston race, Johnson said "Tak had two Japanese friends workin' with us and Harri (Finnish wrench Haari Haapalahti) had one of his buddies there from Finland. They're all talkin' Finnish and Japanese, and Sandra Alberti asks me 'How's it going this weekend?' I said 'I don't know, I feel like a black guy at a Bar Mitzvah!''

Been a while since I've seen this trio at the track together

Speaking of Pro Mod, 98 years combined racing experience between these legends—Mike Castellana and Rickie Smith.

Dennis "The Menace" Fisher just missed the TFH cut with a 7.14, but let's put that in perspective. Fisher's ET would have qualified him15th in Funny Car and in the show on raceday.

Jake Stordeur hazed the tire on this pass but eventually qualified fourth, matching him up with Mike Beland on raceday.

Rich Vreeland qualified sixth, but he already has a win under his belt this weekend. Vreeland’s team won Bristol's trap shooting event. Turner, Tharpe and Chris Smith also competed.

Steve Torrence claimed the No. 1 qualifying position in Top Fuel Saturday evening at the NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals at Bristol Dragway.  Tim Wilkerson (Funny Car) and Jeg Coughlin Jr. (Pro Stock) were also No. 1 qualifiers in their respective categories at the 11th event of 24 on the 2017 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series schedule. 

Torrence’s pass of 3.772-seconds at 319.29 mph in his Capco Contractors dragster during the fourth qualifying session secured his second No. 1 qualifier of the season and 15th of his career. 

“It’s been a really tricky weekend,” Torrence stated. “I think it will be a driver’s race tomorrow. I feel like we’re going to have to go out and earn the round wins and if you make it to the final you’re going to have to work hard. These 11,000 horsepower beasts don’t want to go down hot tracks and it takes a lot of finesse from crew chiefs and drivers have to be on their job.”

Torrence will square up against Chris Karamesines in the first round of eliminations Sunday afternoon.

Doug Kalitta is second after a pass of 3.781 at 326.71 in his Mac Tools dragster and Leah Pritchett is third in her Papa Johns dragster with a run of 3.795 at 288.03.

Tim Wilkerson makin' his CP/Carillo parts work hard for #1 qualifier

Wilkerson sits atop the Funny Car class with his pass of 3.895 at 328.22 from Friday night in his Levi, Ray & Shoup Ford Shelby Mustang. This is his first No. 1 qualifier of the season and 19th of his career. “It’ll be an interesting day tomorrow,” Wilkerson said. “This place is really trying. Don’t think you’ve heard one crew chief say, ‘Wow. This is the easiest thing in the world.’ I’m very optimistic of how we can run tomorrow. I told my guys I hope I’ve got them worn out by the time four o’clock rolls around tomorrow.” 

Wilkerson will face Bob Bode at the starting line in the first round. 

Robert Hight qualified second in his Auto Club of Southern California Chevy Camaro SS with a pass of 3.918 at 324.28. Matt Hagan ran a time of 3.925 at 326.00 in his Sandvik Coromant Dodge Charger R/T to qualify third. 

Shane Molinari secured the No. 1 qualifier Saturday at the NHRA J&A Service Pro Mod Drag Racing Series portion of the NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals at Bristol Dragway. This weekend’s Pro Mod Racing, presented by Real Pro Mod Association, is the seventh of 12 events this season.

Molinari’s pass of 5.837 seconds at 256.70 mph in his S&T Truck Repair Inc. ’68 Firebird during the final round of qualifying secured him lane choice during the first elimination session Saturday afternoon. He defeated Jim Whiteley in the first round with a 5.934 at 227.50. “We’re just going to make another lap (tomorrow) and see what happens,” Molinari said. “We’re going to go A to B, that’s it; that’s what we’re trying to do."

Sidnei Frigo, who bettered Pete Farber, will be Molinari’s next opponent in eliminations on Sunday.

The No. 2 qualifier, Troy Coughlin, also advanced to the quarterfinals after defeating Mike Janis with his pass of 5.842 at 254.86 in his JEGS Mail Order ’15 Corvette. Coughlin will line up against Bob Rahaim in the second round.

In Pro Stock, Coughlin’s pass of 6.694 at 204.85 in his JEGS.com / Elite Performance Chevy Camaro from Friday stood strong through Saturday to clench his third No. 1 qualifier of the season and 23rd of his career. “It feels great to stay on the pole after Friday night’s run,” Coughlin said. “Couldn’t be more proud of the entire JEGS.com team; they’ve been really thrashing. We’d love nothing more than to turn this green hat into a yellow hat with our first race win this season.”

Bo Butner is seeded second with a pass of 6.697 at 205.72 in his Jim Butner’s Auto Chevy Camaro. Two-time world champion Erica Enders ran a 6.704 at 205.66 to qualify third in her Elite Performance Chevy Camaro.

EARLIER: Tharpe Leads Day 1 at Bristol

I didn't get a good shot Friday of qualifying leader Tii Tharpe, so here's #3 Mike Beland instead

Epping NHRA Top Fuel Harley winner Tii Tharpe keeps the momentum rolling and sits number one with a 6.38 at 217 after Friday's 6:30 pm qualifying session at the 17th annual NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals at Bristol Dragway. "It is the first day, so we'll see what tomorrow does," said Tharpe. "But I'll take it. A .38, feels good, especially in this air—4000 feet.I couldn't ask for a better pass, it was on a string. Just hold it wide open and try not to die."

What's most liable to die on a TF Harley is one of their two cylinders, and many bikes struggled to keep both lit and the bike under power. Fifteen bikes are in the Valley and Arizona winner Rickey House brings up the back end of the field with 7.80.

Arizona winner Rickey House torquing some body English MORE TF HARLEY PHOTOS

I wonder if Paul Ray is thinking about getting back on a Nitro Harley....MORE PHOTOS

Kevin Boyer sits just outside of the field MORE TF HARLEY PHOTOS

Doug Kalitta

Doug Kalitta is the current Top Fuel No. 1 qualifier Friday evening. Kalitta piloted his Mac Tools dragster to a 3.781-second pass at 326.71 mph during the second round of qualifying. This is the only track on the current NHRA Mello Yello Series schedule where Kalitta does not have a No. 1 qualifier. “That was definitely the run to put one down,” Kalitta said. “It was a good solid run and felt good the whole way. I was really hoping that would contend for low qualifier. This is the one place I haven’t had the low qualifier so I hope to check that off the list.”  

Steve Torrence currently is second in his Capco Contractors dragster with a run of 3.802 at 317.42. Leah Pritchett is third in her Papa John's dragster after a pass of 3.817 at 274.33. Current world champion and Top Fuel points leader Antron Brown is 15th in his Matco Tools dragster with a 4.910 pass at 151.34. 

Shawn Langdon gets pushhed back in front of Troy Coughlin Jr. on the Jumbotron during Friday night's qualifying

Tim Wilkerson powered his Levi, Ray & Shoup Ford Shelby Mustang to a 3.895 pass at 328.22 to take the lead in the Funny Car class. It's been over a year since Wilkerson secured a No. 1 qualifier, his last came at the NHRA SpringNationals in 2016. “It’s hard to make a fast car slow and we’ve got a pretty fast car,” said Wilkerson, who has had first round exits at the past three consecutive races. “One run doesn’t make a hero though so we’re going to go out and try to do some good tomorrow.”

John Force Racing currently holds the second, third and fourth spots. Robert High sits in second after a pass of 3.918 at 324.28 in his Auto Club of Southern California Chevrolet Camaro SS. Courtney Force is third in her Advance Auto Parts Chevrolet Camaro SS with a run of 3.952 at 324.90 and her father, team owner and 16-time world champion John Force is fourth in his PEAK Chevy Camaro with a 3.983 at 322.96. 

Jeg Coughlin Jr. currently holds the Pro Stock top spot after running a 6.694 at 204.85 in his JEGS.com/ Elite Performance Chevrolet Camaro. “We had a great start here in the mountain today,” said Coughlin Jr., a five-time Pro Stock world champion. “It feels great to get a jump on the weekend. Our team is strong, prepared and communicate really well.”  

Bo Butner, in his Jim Butner's Auto Chevrolet Camaro, is sitting second with a 6.697 pass at 205.72 and two-time world champion Erica Enders is in third with a pass of 6.704 at 205.66. 

Troy Coughlin is the provisional No. 1 qualifier at the NHRA J&A Service Pro Mod Drag Racing Series portion of the NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals at Bristol Dragway. This weekend’s Pro Mod racing, presented by Real Pro Mod Association, is the seventh of 12 events on the 2017 schedule.

Coughlin raced a 5.854-second pass at 254.33 mph in his JEGS Mail Order ’15 Corvette.

"Coming into Bristol from Englishtown, having a pretty good race there, and becoming number two in the first session was pretty exciting,” Coughlin said. “We figured we might be able to pick it up a bit and then the air got a little better, the track got a lot better. We were able to utilize a little bit more of the power that we're trying to manage.”

Jonathon Gray is qualified second with a 5.878 pass at 254.33 in his IDG ’68 Camaro and points leader Mike Castellana is third with a 5.880 pas at 246.44 in his Al-Anabi Racing late model Camaro. Defending world champion Rickie Smith is currently fifth. 

Overheard during the fireworks display:

"I've got two DUI's"

"I've gone five years without getting arrested!"

Backslaps and congratulations all around.

Friday's results after the first two of three rounds of qualifying for the 17th annual NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals at Bristol Dragway, seventh of 12 events in the NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series.  Qualifying will continue Saturday for Saturday's first round of eliminations.

Pro Modified -- 1. Troy Coughlin, Chevy Corvette, 5.854, 254.33; 2. Jonathan Gray, Chevy Camaro, 5.878, 246.44; 3. Mike Castellana, Camaro, 5.880, 246.17; 4. Shane Molinari, Pontiac Firebird, 5.882, 255.77; 5. Rickie Smith, Camaro, 5.884, 246.57; 6. Michael Bowman, Chevy Chevelle, 5.899, 249.49; 7. Michael Biehle, Ford Mustang, 5.907, 251.49; 8. Sidnei Frigo, Corvette, 5.913, 249.81; 9. Pete Farber, Dodge Daytona, 5.926, 244.47; 10. Khalid alBalooshi, Camaro, 5.936, 246.26; 11. Steve Matusek, Camaro, 5.947, 245.58; 12. Bob Rahaim, Camaro, 5.948, 246.26; 13. Steve Jackson, Camaro, 5.952, 240.72; 14. Mike Janis, Camaro, 5.956, 240.21; 15. Steven Whiteley, Cadillac CTS-V, 5.962, 245.54; 16. Jim Whiteley, Camaro, 5.968, 244.03.  Not Qualified: 17. Larry Morgan, 5.989, 246.93; 18. Danny Rowe, 5.990, 242.15; 19. Todd Tutterow, 5.994, 238.81; 20. Harry Hruska, 6.017, 246.80; 21. Von Smith, 6.036, 241.84; 22. Doug Winters, 6.053, 237.88; 23. Dan Stevenson, 6.062, 244.47; 24. Chuck Little, 6.121, 238.13; 25. Shannon Jenkins, 6.176, 195.36; 26. Clint Satterfield, 6.511, 226.70; 27. Ruben Tetsoshvili, 7.383, 118.09; 28. Chip King, 7.736, 119.53.