NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals celebrates 50 years

Erica Enders in the red Pro Stock car.

Photos by Allen Earl | Claiborne Progress John Force, 16-time funny car champion.

For 50 years now, drag racers from all over the world have gathered in Bristol to take part in the National Hot Rod Association’s Thunder Valley Nationals. The event got its name from the way sound thunders between two mountains on either side of the track.

The best of the best have competed there including Conrad Kalitta, Don Garlits, Don Schumacher, Gene Fulton, John Force and many other legendary and talented drivers. The event features the very best drivers the sport has to offer each season.

Lately, the Thunder Valley Nationals have become a Father’s Day tradition. Thousands of fans make the voyage from all over the nation and world. The event celebrates the holiday by holding special contests, a track walk and more.

This season’s Thunder Valley Nationals started June 19 and lasted through June 21. Hot weather greeted the fans and competitors during the first day with the threat of storms. Luckily they held off. On day two, the weather became a factor and slowed the pace to a crawl at times due to pesky, but cooling rain showers. Qualifying went into the night but the professional program was completed.

The final day fans were eager to find out who would hold up the coveted “Wally” — a trophy all racers seek at any NHRA event. This trophy was named after founder Wally Parks in 1969.

After the echoes from the professionals had stopped, three drivers had the privilege of holding up the Wally. Erica Enders won the Pro Stock final over Chris McGaha. Ron Capps and Matt Hagan met up in the Top Fuel funny car final, with Hagan lifting up the Wally in celebration. Richie Crampton bested Larry Dixon during the Top Fuel dragster final.

Just as soon as the three drivers were placed in the Mello Yello transport vehicle to go to victory circle an announcement came over the intercom warning fans of impending severe weather. As most fans were reaching their vehicles, mother nature let loose with high winds, heavy rains, thunder and lightning along with pea-sized hail. The event ended with the thunder of mother nature echoing through the valley much like it began with 10,000 horsepower of man-made thunder.

This event to a first-time fan is a thrill he or she will never forget, no matter their age.

Reach Allen Earl at 423-254-5588 or on Twitter @pitchadude.

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