Jason Scruggsâ€™ first time racing in Bristol ended up being just as memorable as he had hoped.
The two-time Pro Extreme world champion felt right at home as the American Drag Racing League (ADRL) made its debut at historic Bristol Dragway, running a 3.649 at 206.57 miles per hour to take the top qualifying spot at the ADRL Springs Drags III.
With resounding praise for Bristol coming from all ADRL drivers on Friday, it was Scruggs who put on the ultimate show in Thunder Valley.
â€œI love this place and this was a good day,â€ Scruggs said. â€œThis is the first time Iâ€™ve raced here and itâ€™s just an awesome facility. Itâ€™s one of the top-notch facilities we run at. Itâ€™s just a really neat place.â€
Other top qualifiers among the more than 150 competitors through three rounds include Doug Riesterer (Pro Nitrous), Alan Pittman (Mickey Thompson Extreme 10.5), Casey Stemper (Pro Extreme Motorcycle), John DeFlorian (Extreme Pro Stock), Mike Castellana (Aeromotive Fuel Systems Pro Modified), Chris Holbrook (SuperCar Showdown) and Chuck Mohn (Summit Racing Equipment Top Sportsman).
The final qualifying round at Bristol Dragway takes place at 12 p.m. on Saturday with eliminations to follow.
Scruggs delivered the best run of Friday, but he had plenty of company in the class as the powerful Pro Extreme cars echoed throughout Thunder Valley.
Bubba Stanton (3.651), who delivered a huge career-best, and Mick Snyder (3.652) are close, while Todd Tutterow and Von Smith both ran 3.69s.
It should set a memorable day of eliminations when the ADRL crowns champions in Bristol for the first time.
â€œToday went very well for us, but the competition is just so tight in this class,â€ Scruggs said. â€œThe top three cars are within a few thousandths (of a second) and any car can step up. Weâ€™re going to have to be on our game (on Saturday).â€
DeFlorian could barely wrap his mind around racing in Bristol, let alone finishing Friday as the No. 1 qualifier. The longtime Jerry Haas Race Cars employee went 4.091 at 176.05 mph under the lights, become the No. 1 qualifier for the first time in his ADRL career in what was a loaded 23-car Extreme Pro Stock field.
â€œThat run was spectacular and Iâ€™m just absolutely blessed to be doing this,â€ DeFlorian said. â€œItâ€™s just unbelievable. Sonnyâ€™s (Racing Engines) has given us tremendous power and the car is just amazing. Weâ€™ve worked hard to get this car right.â€
Brian Gahm, racing in Bristol for the first time in more than a decade, momentarily took over the top spot with a 4.103, but DeFlorian delivered the best performance in the short span of the new 2012 Camaro that shows more and more potential with each race.
â€œWeâ€™re thrilled right now and this is a banner day for me. Iâ€™ve raced for a long time and had success and been on a lot of good teams, but this is absolutely the pinnacle,â€ DeFlorian said. â€œWeâ€™re obviously very excited right now.â€
Riesterer has been a No. 1 qualifier before, but Fridayâ€™s performance in Bristol was among the top in his ADRL tenure.
He delivered consecutive runs in the 3.70s â€“ becoming the first Pro Nitrous driver to reach the 3.70s in 2012 â€“ that was capped off by a perfect 3.771 at 194.94 mph.
â€œIâ€™ve always wanted to come here. This is a pretty cool place,â€ Riesterer said. â€œWe tried some stuff at the beginning of the year and struggled with it, so weâ€™re happy with this.â€
Returning to the venue that has yielded a number of strong runs over his standout career, Alan Pittman delivered the best of his ADRL career, running an outstanding 3.841 at 199.35 mph.
Pittman inched closer to the 200-mph mark heâ€™s desperately seeking after swapping out his old motor for the one teammate Terry Leggett used in his Pro Extreme car just last month.
The move now has Pittman on track for his second straight ADRL win.
â€œItâ€™s teamwork to start with. We thought it would be a little faster, but itâ€™s performing even better than we thought,â€ Pittman said. â€œIt definitely makes more power, thereâ€™s no doubt about that.
â€œItâ€™s a pleasure to be here and as far as the way weâ€™re running, we just couldnâ€™t be happier.â€
Stemper waited until his final run to take control in Pro Extreme Motorcycle. Japel Heard was the surprise top qualifier through two rounds, running a 4.133, but Stemper turned it on with a new motor in what was his first appearance in Thunder Valley, running 4.124 at 170.21 mph. Stemper is also looking for back-to-back victories.
â€œIt feels good to be in the No. 1 position against, but thereâ€™s definitely a lot more in it,â€ Stemper said. â€œThis is our first full weekend with the new motor and it seems to be really strong.
â€œThis is just an awesome facility. Itâ€™s definitely Thunder Valley and itâ€™s definitely an awesome experience.â€
Like Stemper and Pittman, Castellana is hoping for a second straight win in Aeromotive Fuel Systems Pro Modified. Driving only this 2012 RJ Race Cars Camaro â€“ and leaving the other 2012 RJ Race Cars Pro Nitrous Camaro to teammate, crew chief and close friend Shannon Jenkins â€“ Castellana went 3.88 at 188.31 mph.
Jenkinsâ€™ 3.83 has him in fourth in Pro Nitrous, while Castellana remains hot in the Pro Modified car while trying to hold off the likes of Pat Musi (3.904), Rickie Smith (3.905) and Raymond Commisso (3.907).
â€œThe more I drive this car, the more confident I get and the more I learn about this car,â€ Castellana said. â€œShannon is testing a lot of stuff in the Pro Nitrous car, too. Weâ€™re happy with that run. Itâ€™s pretty much what we felt it should run in these conditions.â€
In the Summit Racing Top Sportsman class, Chuck Mohnâ€™s 4.10 at 173.99 mph put him in the top spot, just edging out Mark Malcuitâ€™s 4.103. The wildest ride of the day also came in the class when Lizzy Musi ran into trouble during the third round of qualifying.
Her ’68 Camaro car got loose at the tail end of the run, it turned sideways and the front end of the car hit the left wall. Air got underneath the car at that point and turned it around, causing it to topple over the left wall and into the grass at about the quarter-mile mark on the track.
It was a wild scene, but, with the safety team quickly en route, Musi was able to get out of the car under her own power and suffered no serious injuries.
In the new SuperCar Showdown class, Chris Holbrook will try to keep his spot as the No. 1 qualifier for the second straight race. Holbrook went 5.828 at 118.98 mph, though Bo Butner arguably stole the show with a massive wheelstand during the second round of qualifying.
In Pro Junior Dragster, Tyler Allen was the No. 1 qualifier, running a 7.908.
(Photos by ADRL/Richards)