Looking for peaks in Thunder Valley

The list of drivers who have yet to score wins in the 2016 Mello Yello Drag Racing season is a surprising who's who of NHRA stars, all seeking victory at Bristol's Thunder Valley, this weekend. Anne Proffit reports.

Looking for peaks in Thunder Valley
Funny Car winner John Force
Alex Laughlin, Shane Gray, Vincent Nobile, Jeg Coughlin Jr.
Jack Beckman
Del Worsham
John Force
Cruz Pedregon, Tim Wilkerson
Pro Stock winner Erica Enders-Stevens
Jack Beckman
Del Worsham
Tony Schumacher

As the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series marches towards its halfway mark – next week’s Summit Racing Nationals in Norwalk, Ohio is the 12th of 24 races on the docket – there are some interesting facts to mark about some of its prior and reigning champions.

As the drag racers approach the Thunder Valley Nationals at Bristol Motor Speedway, a wonderful venue where sound ricochets through the valley, Doug Kalitta has the points lead in Top Fuel with three wins, Ron Capps holds the top spot in Funny Car again clutching three Wally trophies and Jason Line currently owns Pro Stock with five wins; teammate Greg Anderson, also on five wins, is in hot pursuit.

What’s intriguing about this upcoming race isn’t who’s in the lead but who has no victories thus far in the season. For instance, in Top Fuel, eight-time champ Tony Schumacher is winless on the season and has had a tough time getting his dragster as far as the semifinals.

Even 16-time Funny Car champ John Force hasn’t held a Wally trophy since last season, when he earned a single win. Two-time Funny Car titleholder Cruz Pedregon hasn’t won this year and neither has Jack Beckman, the 2012 champ in Funny Car. Reigning Funny Car champ Del Worsham is also on the no-win list.

Pro Stock being so totally dominated by KB Racing’s Line/Anderson juggernaut, means that reigning two-time champion Erica Enders, five-time Pro Stock titleholder Jeg Coughlin Jr, and Enders’ teammate and 2012 champ Allen Johnson haven’t been on the victory podium so far this year. Pro Stock Motorcycle champs Matt Smith and LE Tonglet are still searching for their first wins as well.

Between these 10 drivers/riders there are 40 championships. If any of them are going to win a title in 2016, getting into gear is a necessity, even though all but two remain in the top 10 of the point standings, thereby in the running for the late-season six-race Countdown to the Championship.

Schumacher stands fifth in Top Fuel, Beckman is second in Funny Car while Worsham is fifth. Cruz Pedregon’s tough season has him outside the top 10 in this 50th anniversary of professional Funny Car competition. Allen Johnson holds fourth-place points in Pro Stock, Coughlin is eighth and Enders is 10th in the factory hot rod class.

Tonglet holds seventh-place points in Pro Stock Motorcycle but Smith, together with wife Angie are having one of those character-building years with their Victory motorcycles and lie outside the top 10.

Of these 10 still looking for a win, Schumacher and Force have the most success in Thunder Valley, Schumacher with five and Force notching four career wins at this beautiful venue. Force’s 1999 (non-points) Winston Showdown victory in the famed Superman Funny Car still takes precedence for its uniqueness as, for the first time in NHRA competition history, his flopper faced Bob Vandergriff Jr’s dragster to earn the victory.

During this Father’s Day weekend, Force is being inducted as a Legend of Thunder Valley, which he certainly is. What remains to be seen is whether the greatest Funny Car driver of all time will, in fact, be a winner in 2016. And what about the others on this very successful list? Will their day come this Sunday in Thunder Valley?

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Capps, Torrence and Line race to qualifying leads Friday at Thunder Valley Nationals

Capps, Torrence and Line race to qualifying leads Friday at Thunder Valley Nationals
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