O'Reilly NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals
By Rob Geiger, NHRA.com
A wild and wacky day that featured major upsets from the start ended with Doug Kalitta, Gary Scelzi, and Warren Johnson in the winner's circle of the fifth annual O'Reilly NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals presented by Q at Bristol Dragway in Kalitta needed a holeshot over first-time finalist Rod Fuller to get the Top Fuel trophy by just five-thousandths of a second. Scelzi posted the fastest Funny Car pass in
A wild and wacky day that featured major upsets from the start ended with Doug Kalitta, Gary Scelzi, and Warren Johnson in the winner's circle of the fifth annual O'Reilly NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals presented by Q at Bristol Dragway in
Kalitta needed a holeshot over first-time finalist Rod Fuller to get the Top Fuel trophy by just five-thousandths of a second. Scelzi posted the fastest Funny Car pass in
Having raced to three finals this year including the last two in a row, Kalitta proved he has the best car in the class at the moment, running a 4.593 at 322.50 mph to Fuller's quicker but losing 4.588 at 327.35 mph. The difference was at the starting line when Kalitta left exactly one-hundredth of a second ahead of his rival, .072 to .082.
"What a final," Kalitta said. "I was a little concerned because I like to go in deep when I stage, especially in the final, but this time the first bite was more than usual so I didn't try for any more. It's always good to win on a holeshot, but to do it when I was probably pretty shallow is really something.
"I usually don't look at the points during a race. I save that for during the week. But I knew Tony went out in round one and I knew we had better do all we can to take advantage of the situation because they don't give you many chances.
"I'd like to think we have one of the best cars in the class, but I can't say it's the best car just yet. There are too many other great cars out there. I do have confidence in our ability to win any race we enter."
Kalitta had to work to get to his 21st win in 43 final rounds. He used up a good portion of his race day luck in the opening round when his Mac Tools rail took the win despite a 6.87-second pass. Fortunately for Kalitta, opponent Bruce Litton had already red-lighted with a -.052 start. He then got another red-light win against teammate Dave Grubnic (-.162) before roaring to an impressive 4.56 against first-time semifinalist Scott Palmer. His starting-line prowess in the final sealed the deal.
Fuller, a veteran Sportsman racer with a long string of final-round wins, had an interesting run to his first Pro-level final when he drove his David Powers Homes/Valvoline dragster past Mitch King, John Smith, and Scott Weis. Smith had upset Scott Kalitta along the way, and Weis had taken out Cory McClenathan and low qualifier Brandon Bernstein. His runner-up effort earned him a spot in the top 10.
The victory moved Scelzi from eighth to fourth place in the rankings. He's now just 63 behind front-runner Whit Bazemore, his Don Schumacher Racing teammate who lost in the first round.
"Zippy [crew chief Mike Neff] was so focused today," Scelzi said. "This win is his baby. Normally we get these sheets after each round that show the incremental times and you see what other cars have done at certain points on the track and you try to improve. We didn't get those sheets today for some reason and I said I wished I could see one, and Zippy just said, 'I don't care. I'm just racing the track.' That was his attitude all day no matter who was in the other lane.
"Everyone gets nervous when you see the big upsets and you see all the tire smoke like we did today. If you went up there weak, this track was gonna get you. There were so many upsets that no one knew who was gonna win. It could just as easily be Arend and Fuller up here as me and Doug.
Scelzi's 47th chance at a national event trophy came after he drove his Mopar/Oakley Dodge Stratus R/T past Gary Densham, Tommy Johnson Jr., and first-time semifinalist Jack Wyatt, who doubled his win total on the day.
Arend's second final and first since his win at the 1996
Stevens' error might not have mattered anyway as Johnson zoomed through a 6.756-second, 203.89-mph quarter-mile run to collect the 800th round-win of his career. Stevens legged out his pass and crossed the stripe in 6.777 seconds at 203.22 mph.
"I have a sign on the side of my car that says, 'Old age and treachery will win out over youthful exuberance every time,' and I think that might have been the case today," Johnson said. "I think Richie got a little anxious over there. But [Stevens' crew chief] Bob Glidden has those two cars running great, and Richie and [his teammate] Jeg Coughlin are talented drivers, so I think they'll be in the mix for the championship. Those two cars, me and Kurt, and certainly Dave Connolly, plus you can throw in [Jim] Yates as a spoiler, are the cars to beat, in my opinion.
"It would be ideal to go out on top of my game. You always see people in various sports try to come back and get that one last bit of glory, but it's hard to do. I just want to be able to say we gave it our best shot."
Stevens carried lane choice into his eighth final by virtue of his semifinal performance being one-thousandth of a second quicker than Johnson's. Stevensí Team Mopar Dodge Stratus R/T was extremely consistent, running consecutive 6.75s against defending series champ Greg Anderson, former points leader and low qualifier Connolly, and V. Gaines.
On the other side of the ladder, Johnson raced his GM Performance Parts Pontiac past heavyweights Allen Johnson, Jason Line, and his son, Kurt Johnson, to reach his class-record 146th final round.
Series champion Mike Ashley claimed his third Pro Modified win in as many weeks by taking out Zach Barklage in the final. The win was Ashley's second at Bristol. He won his first national event victory here in 1990.
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