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Funny Car points leader Courtney Force looking for a first at Fitzgerald USA Thunder Valley Nationals

by Mike Haag | Posted on Wednesday, June 13th, 2018

Courtesy of the NHRA

BRISTOL, Tenn. – The victories continue to pile up for Courtney Force during an impressive 2018 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season and another one at this weekend’s 18th annual Fitzgerald USA NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals at Bristol Dragway would provide a noteworthy first for the surging Funny Car star.

Courtney Force. NHRA photo.

With her win over her legendary father, John Force, last weekend in Virginia, Force now has four victories in 2018 and strengthened her points lead in the loaded class in her 10,000-horsepower Advance Auto Parts Chevrolet Camaro SS. But what she doesn’t have in her standout career is a victory in Thunder Valley, something she hopes to change as Force pushes forward in 2018.

“This is just the beginning of the season and we just have to maintain our focus,” Force said. “So much credit goes to my team and the job that they have done. They have done incredible. I am trying to keep up with them and perform well as a driver. It’s been a great start and we are in the points lead right now and we stretched it a little more with the win in Richmond. Our focus is getting to Indy and having a cushion and locking into the (Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship). That is when we are really going to need this momentum. Right now, it is amazing and feels great but we really have to keep it all season long if we want to end up on top at the end of the season.”

Clay Millican (Top Fuel), Ron Capps (Funny Car), and Alex Laughlin (Pro Stock) were last year’s winners of an event that will be televised on FOX Sports 1, including final eliminations coverage starting at 7:30 p.m. (ET) on Sunday, June 17. It is the 11th of 24 events in 2018 and comes as the second in a rigorous stretch of four straight race weekends. But that type of workload is welcoming for Force, who has been spectacular from the start of the season.

Courtney Force. NHRA photo.

Adding Brian Corradi to a crew chief mix that also includes Danny Hood, Force has six No. 1 qualifiers to go with her four victories. It’s the best start Force, the winningest female in Funny Car history, has enjoyed in her career, and she has marveled about the way it has all come together. Force continues to improve as a driver and she has been strong on the starting line, while the team has meshed nearly flawlessly through the first 10 races in 2018.

“It was a great job by my Advance Auto Parts team,” Force said of her fourth win. “It was exciting to be in an all Force final and to see that PEAK team do so well. They have a good thing going over there. They had me nervous when I rolled up for the final round, and we had a great side-by-side race. But Brian Corradi and Danny Hood have just done a great job with this team and race car.”

Force will look to keep that going against the likes of Jack Beckman, defending world champ and John Force Racing teammate Robert Hight, Capps, Pomona winner Matt Hagan, and J.R. Todd, who has two wins in 2018. But grabbing that first Bristol win would be meaningful, especially if she can match up in the final round with her father on Father’s Day. John Force has four career wins in Thunder Valley, but Courtney was impressive from start to finish against him last weekend.

“My dad has his routine and I have grown up watching that routine,” said Force, who has 12 career wins. “I prepared myself that it was going to be a long tree and I just tried to play his game and not let it screw with me. He still made me wait but that is okay because we had a car for him.”

Clay Millican grabbed his first career NHRA Top Fuel win at Bristol a year ago, and now hopes for a third win in 2018. He’ll try to keep pace with points leader Steve Torrence, who has four wins this year. Other stars include Leah Pritchett, defending world champ Brittany Force, and Doug Kalitta.

Alex Laughlin won in Pro Stock last year and will try to become the ninth different winner in 2018. Points leader Greg Anderson is also looking for his first win, hoping to join a list that includes Jeg Coughlin, Bo Butner, Vincent Nobile, Erica Enders, Tanner Gray, Chris McGaha and Deric Kramer.

The E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series presented by J&A Service makes the sixth of 12 stops during its 2018 season in Bristol. The event also features thrilling competition in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series, showcasing the future stars of the sport, as well as the Mickey Thompson Tires NHRA Top Fuel Harley Drag Racing Series.

Those in attendance will have the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to interact with some of the biggest names in drag racing during the NHRA Legends Tour. This will feature meet-and-greets, autograph sessions, and a variety of other activities. Legends scheduled to attend the Fitzgerald USA NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals include Shirley Muldowney, Roy Johnson and Allen Johnson.

As always, fans can interact with their favorite drivers as they’re granted an exclusive pit pass to the most powerful and sensory-filled motorsports attraction on the planet. This unique opportunity gives fans direct access to the teams, allowing them to see firsthand the highly-skilled mechanics service their hot rods between rounds, and get autographs from their favorite NHRA drivers.

Fans also will want to visit NHRA’s popular Nitro Alley and Manufacturers Midway, where sponsors and race vendors create a carnival atmosphere, with interactive displays, simulated competitions, merchandise, food and fun for the entire family.

Mello Yello Drag Racing Series qualifying will feature two rounds at 4:30 and 7:30 p.m. on Friday, June 15 and the final two rounds of qualifying on Saturday, June 16, at 1 and 3:30 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for noon on Sunday, June 17.

To purchase general-admission or reserved seats, call Bristol Dragway at (423) 989-6900. Tickets also are available online at www.bristoldragway.com. Kids 12 and under are free in general admission areas with a paid adult. For more information about the NHRA visit www.NHRA.com.

FITZGERALD USA NHRA THUNDER VALLEY NATIONALS

WHAT: 18th annual Fitzgerald USA Thunder Valley Nationals, the 11th of 24 events in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series. Drivers in three categories – Top Fuel, Funny Car and Pro Stock – earn points leading to 2018 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series world championships. Competition in the E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series and the NHRA Lucas Oil Series also will be featured at this event.

WHERE: Bristol Dragway, Bristol, Tenn. From Interstate 81 North, take Hwy. 11E. Take the Virginia Exit 3 and Hwy. 11E will take you directly to the dragway. From the I-81 South, take Tennessee exit 69 and go south on Hwy 394 directly to the dragway.

COURSE:   Championship drag strip; Track elevation is 1,475 feet above sea level; Track direction is southwest to northwest.

WHEN: Friday through Sunday, June 15-17

SCHEDULE: 
FRIDAY, June 15 – LUCAS OIL SERIES qualifying
E3 SPARK PLUGS NHRA PRO MOD DRAG RACING SERIES qualifying at 4:15 and 6:45 p.m.
MELLO YELLO SERIES qualifying at 4:30 and 7:30 p.m.

SATURDAY, June 16- LUCAS OIL SERIES eliminations 
E3 SPARK PLUGS NHRA PRO MOD DRAG RACING SERIES qualifying at 12:15 and 2:45 p.m.
MELLO YELLO SERIES qualifying at 1 and 3:30 p.m.

SUNDAY, June 17 – Pre-race ceremonies, 11 a.m. 
MELLO YELLO SERIES eliminations begin at noon.
E3 SPARK PLUGS NHRA PRO MOD DRAG RACING SERIES eliminations at 1:15 p.m.

TELEVISION: 
FRIDAY, June 15, FS1 will televise one hour of live qualifying highlights at 6 p.m.  (ET)
SATURDAY, June 16, FS1 will televise one hour of qualifying highlights at 9 p.m.  (ET)
SUNDAY, June 17, FS1 will televise three hours of finals coverage at 7:30 p.m. (ET) 

2017 EVENT WINNERS:   
Clay Millican, Top Fuel; Ron Capps, Funny Car; Alex Laughlin, Pro Stock.

MOST VICTORIES: 
Tony Schumacher, 5, TF; Mike Edwards, 4, PS; Ron Capps, 4, FC; John Force, 4, FC; Doug Kalitta, 3, TF

TRACK RECORDS: 
Top Fuel – 3.745 sec. by Tony Schumacher, June ’15; 331.04 mph by Larry Dixon, June ’15.
Funny Car – 3.884 sec. by Ron Capps, June ’16; 329.42 mph by Del Worsham, June ‘16
Pro Stock – 6.621 sec. by Shane Gray, June ’14; 209.26 mph by Bo Butner, June ‘16.

NATIONAL RECORDS:  
Top Fuel – 3.628 sec. by Clay Millican, Feb. ’18, Pomona, Calif.; 336.57 mph by Tony Schumacher, Feb. ‘18, Phoenix
Funny Car – 3.793 sec. by Robert Hight, Aug. ’17, Brainerd; 339.87 mph by Robert Hight, July ’17, Sonoma, Calif.
Pro Stock – 6.455 sec. by Jason Line, March ’15, Charlotte, N.C.;  215.55 mph by Erica Enders, May ’14, Englishtown N.J. 

TICKETS: For tickets call Bristol Dragway at (423) 989-6900. Tickets also available at www.bristoldragway.com.     

About the Author

Mike Haag has covered motorsports in San Antonio and South Texas for more than 30 years. In addition to working for the San Antonio Express-News for nearly 28 years, Mike also has co-hosted TrackSmack with Dawn Murphy for 15 race seasons. In addition to being a writer, Mike also teaches English at Floresville High School.

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