Story By: NHRA – BRISTOL, TN – In terms of feeling right at home, Bristol Dragway might be the perfect location for standout Mike Salinas. The surging Top Fuel driver has won the last two races at Thunder Valley, has been to the last three final rounds and has found an impressive comfort level at the picturesque facility.
He’ll try to keep those good feelings going at this weekend’s NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals in Bristol, which is back on Father’s Day Weekend and will feature all four professional categories (Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle) for the first time ever. Salinas is one of many eager to rumble in the Tennessee mountains, bringing plenty of previous and current success to the race in his 11,000-horsepower Pep Boys/Scrappers Racing dragster.
In addition to the consecutive wins in Bristol, Salinas has posted three victories during the 2022 NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series season, including at the most recent race in Epping, giving him plenty of momentum heading to one of his favorite tracks on the NHRA tour.
“Bristol has been really good to us, and I love that place,” Salinas said. “The mountains, the way the track is set up and the people there, it’s just awesome. It’s been a really good place to us, and we love going there. We’re very excited about where we’re going, and we have so much more left for this season as we continue to grow.
Salinas (Top Fuel), Alexis DeJoria (Funny Car) and Angelle Sampey (Pro Stock Motorcycle) all picked up wins last year in Bristol, while this year’s race will be broadcast on FOX broadcast network and Fox Sports 1 (FS1). The Father’s Day weekend race is the ninth of 22 races during the 2022 season and the first portion of the season couldn’t have gone much better for Salinas.
The three wins have helped catapult him to second in points, where he trails Brittany Force, who also has a trio of victories this year, by just 30 points. It’s already been an outstanding year for Salinas, who has praised the efforts of new crew chief Rob Flynn and his talented team, but he’s searching for more. Facing off against the likes of Force, four-time defending world champ Steve Torrence, Antron Brown, six-time Bristol winner Tony Schumacher, veteran Doug Kalitta, Pomona winner Justin Ashley, Austin Prock, Leah Pruett and Clay Millican, Salinas has his eyes on a Top Fuel championship.
“Rob Flynn and this team, it’s like a dream team,” Salinas said. “You’ve got some of the old school and the new school. We’ve had the recipe for a great product and what they’ve done is change the recipe to match their needs. It’s their tune-up now. They’re running the car a different way and the experience and ideology Rob brings to the table is amazing. The car is running really well. I’m getting more runs under my belt and l’m learning stuff all the time. We hold ourselves to a higher level to run well, we’re running smooth and fast, and there’s so much more left in the tank.”
In Funny Car, defending event winner DeJoria is thrilled for her return to Thunder Valley. She was impressive there last fall, qualifying No. 1 and rolling to the victory in her 11,000-horsepower Bandero Tequila/ROKIT Toyota GR Supra en route to one of the best weekends in her standout career. It’s no surprise it came at Bristol, either, as the facility has always been near the top for DeJoria when it comes to her favorite tracks.
Racing there on Father’s Day weekend could be perfect timing for a breakout weekend, too. DeJoria and her team, led by standout tuner and legendary driver Del Worsham, are currently eighth in points in the loaded Funny Car field, but she sees huge potential in the new Toyota GR Supra. It won’t be easy against a class loaded with top-tier talent like points leader Matt Hagan and Robert Hight, who each have three wins this year, defending world champ Ron Capps, 16-time world champ John Force, Cruz Pedregon and J.R. Todd, but DeJoria believes she’s due for a big weekend.
“I’m really excited about heading back to Bristol,” DeJoria said. “Bristol has always been one of my favorite tracks. Every round counts right now and we’ve had some bad luck the last few races. We’re just building right now and hoping we can come on strong. (Bristol) was my first final, so there’s just a good vibe there. I love the track, the fans there, the acoustics and just everything about it. There’s so much about the track is really special. A lot of good things have happened there in my career, so it has a special place in my heart.”
Pro Stock will make its first appearance at Thunder Valley since 2018 and the last time a current driver in the category won in Bristol came in 2015 when Erica Enders picked up the victory. Enders, a four-time world champion, has had a terrific start to the 2022 campaign, picking up three straight wins. Others looking to win at Bristol include defending world champion Greg Anderson, who is seeking his 100th career win, Aaron Stanfield, rookie Camrie Caruso and 2021 NHRA Rookie of the Year Dallas Glenn.
Pro Stock Motorcycle made its official debut at Bristol last year and put on an impressive show, with Angelle Sampey and Karen Stoffer facing off in a thrilling final round. Sampey got the win and she’ll look for her first in 2022 against the likes of points leader Steve Johnson, who has two wins this year, defending world champ Matt Smith, Eddie Krawiec, Angie Smith, Joey Gladstone, and Jimmy Underdahl.
The event also will feature thrilling competition in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series, which features some of the sport’s top drivers, as well as the Constant Aviation Factory Stock Showdown category. After nitro qualifying on Friday, fans will also be treated to a spectacular fireworks show. On Saturday, a special autograph session featuring NHRA stars will take place at 6 p.m. ET at the Guest Welcome Village, while fans can also attend Nitro School on Saturday prior to the second round of qualifying to learn more about how the cars operate and reach their thrilling speeds.
Bristol Dragway will host the special pre-race ceremonies that introduce and celebrate each of the drivers racing for the prestigious Wally on Sunday and includes the SealMaster Track Walk at 11 a.m. The final can’t-miss experience of any NHRA event is the winner’s circle celebration on Sunday after racing concludes, where fans are invited to congratulate the event winners of the NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals.
As always, fans also get an exclusive pit pass to the most powerful and sensory-filled motorsports attraction on the planet in Bristol. This unique opportunity gives fans a unique chance to see teams in action and service their hot rods between rounds, get autographs from their favorite NHRA drivers and more. Fans can also visit NHRA’s popular Nitro Alley and Manufacturers Midway, where sponsors and race vendors create an exciting atmosphere that includes interactive displays, simulated competitions, merchandise, food and fun for the entire family. The new Pep Boys midway display will include tire change challenges, oil change challenges, a slot car track and much more, adding even more excitement to the midway.
NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series qualifying will feature one round at 7 p.m. ET on Friday, June 17 and the final two rounds of qualifying on Saturday, June 18 at 1:30 and 4:30 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 12 p.m. ET on Sunday, June 19. Television coverage includes live qualifying action on FS1 at 8 p.m. ET on Friday, 11 p.m. on Saturday, and then live eliminations action at 3 p.m. ET on FOX on Sunday.