Bristol, TN

Thunder Returns to the Valley

John M. Dabbs
Drag racingEloy Carrasco/Unsplash

NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals

The NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals are on the 2021 NHRA schedule for October 15, 16 and 17, 2021. Bristol Dragway and NHRA officials announced the event this week. The NHRA celebrates it 20th anniversary at Bristol's Thunder Valley this year. The weekend at Northeast Tennessee's premier drag strip is the site of NHRAs playoff race for the Camping World Drag Racing Series Countdown to the Championship.

The no-show no-go

The event's hiatus from Bristol left too much quiet in the previously thundering valley. The NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series has been here since June 2019, as they canceled events because ofthe pandemic. Speedway Motorsports welcomes the return to the iconic track.

“We can’t wait to hear the roar of nitro-powered engines rumbling once again at historic Bristol Dragway as we welcome fans back to an NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series event and celebrate our 20th anniversary of NHRA racing at Thunder Valley,” “We anticipate a lot of championship drama in the top classes taking place during the NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals as one of the final three races on the 2021 schedule.”- Jerry Caldwell, executive vice president and general manager, Bristol Dragway.

Pro Returns
Ready to RollGlenn Hansen/Unsplash

Big boys are coming back. Motorcycle competiion will make their inaugural entrance for points at Bristol. You see the favorite categories here this fall:

  • Pro Stock
  • Pro Stock Motorcycles
  • Top Fuel
  • Funny Car categories
  • Pro Mod
  • Mountain Motor Pro Stock
  • Lucas Oil Series sportsman classes

The lineup couldn't be better for the ground quaking experience.

“We couldn’t be happier to bring Bristol back on board for the 2021 season. The NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals is a staple on the NHRA circuit. The fall date will give us the opportunity to allow more loyal NHRA fans into the facility. To have the event as a Countdown race is an added bonus for both NHRA fans and competitors.” - Glen Cromwell, NHRA President.

Enter the dragons
50th NHRA World Finals - Pomona, CaliforniaATOMIC Hot Links/Flickr

The fire-breathing monsters will headline the event. Top Fuel 11,000-horsepower nitro machines and Funny Cars will breath life to the NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals. Mike Salinas and Bob Tasca III (2019 winners) are expected to return, defending their titles.

Three-time Bristol winner Doug Kalitta and defending Top Fuel world champion Steve Torrence (the 2013 Bristol winner) will be drivers to watch. Five-time Bristol Funny Car winner, Ron Capps, has the chance to be the winningest pro category racer at Bristol Dragway. Four-time Funny Car winner and 2019 Bristol runner-up John Force will be determined to see if he can move into a tie with Capps on the Bristol Funny Car wins list.
GarageGlenn Hansen/Unsplash

Pro Stock

With times near the 6.45 seconds range and speeds of 215 miles-an-hour, the Pro Stock category (factory hotrods) is always a fan-favorite. Greg Anderson and Erica Enders each have two wins at Thunder Valley. They'll be looking for their third win. This would put them within a single win of Mike Edwards. Edwards is on the Bristol all-time wins list.


Pro Stock Motorcycles have not raced at Bristol for championship points. They've raced here twice for exhibition events. Matt Hines won Bristol exhibition events in the two-wheel class in 1999 and 2000. This will be their first time running for points at Bristol Dragway. The gasoline-burning PSMs can reach speeds greater than 200 mph.

The only cyclist to race bikes before at Bristol are three-time world champion Angelle Sampey, and fellow competitor Steve Johnson. Defending champion Matt Smith, and points leader Ryan Oehler, will be the other two motorcycle riders to watch at Bristol. 


The unpredictable Pro Mod series is in the lineup, and the Mountain Motor Pro Stock class. Pro Mods, known for their mix of vehicles and wide-ranging engine options, present challenges to drivers as they face off against each other.

Ted Jones, a legend at Thunder Valley, formed the concept for the Mountain Motor Pro Stock Class in the 1980s at Bristol. It features sedans with 800 CID engines, carbs, and hood-scoops that put out around 2,000 horsepower.

You'll also see familiar classes in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series, including Stock, Super Comp, Super Stock, Super Gas and Top Dragster. The event will be covered on FS1, with qualifying Saturday and eliminations on Sunday.


The Thunder Valley weekend includes one round of pro qualifying (Friday at 4:30 pm), two pro qualifying rounds (Saturday at 12:00 pm and 3:30 pm). Pro eliminations will begin at 12:00 pm on Sunday.

Bristol Dragway

"Thunder Valley" is located in Bristol, Tennessee off of state highway 394, just outside of Bluff City. The drag strip is located on Bristol Motor Speedway campus. Bristol Dragway celebrates its 55th anniversary in 2021. There are numberous events scheduled events at the dragway this year, including:

  • the NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals
  • Bristol Chevy Show
  • Thunder Valley Mahem
  • Street Car Takeover
  • the DER Bracket Series
  • Thunder Valley Street Fights
  • BTE World Footbrake Challenge races
  • Sparco Fall Fling
  • AMRA Thunder Valley Nitro Nationals
  • NHRA Jr. Drags Eastern Conference Finals

The Bristol Dragway can transform into a premier outdoor concert venue - Thunder Valley Amphitheater. The Thunder Valley Amphitheatre presented by Ballad Health, has more more than 50 event days this season. This year, award winning group ALABAMA is scheduled to make their 50th anniversary tour stop (rescheduled form 2019 and 2020 due to weather, and COVID).

The Bristol Dragway is one of the busiest drag racing facilities in the nation. Check their website or for more information or tickets.

As Dale Earnhardt, Jr. said - "It's Bristol baby!"

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An outdoor enthusiast with a passion for travel and adventure. John is a professional consultant and photojournalist.

Bristol, TN

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