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Funny Car Rising Star Daniel Wilkerson on Cusp on Win Approaching Super Grip NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals

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Daniel Wilkerson has already enjoyed a great start to his first full season in the NHRA Mission Foods Drag Racing Series, sitting sixth in Funny Car points after a final round in Charlotte and back-to-back semifinal appearances at the last two races.

But the rising star in the loaded Funny Car ranks and the son of former standout Tim Wilkerson can take another big leap at this weekend’s 23rd annual Super Grip NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals at Bristol Dragway.

With Tim now tuning and Daniel driving the 11,000-horsepower Scag Power Equipment/Summit Racing Equipment Ford Mustang, the team has made consistent improvements all year. It’s put Wilkerson on the verge of a victory as he has set career-best marks at seemingly every race.

In Epping, he went 3.899-seconds at 329.91 mph to qualify a career-best fourth in Funny Car, making him even more excited to race in Thunder Valley and at Bristol Dragway, a facility he has always enjoyed.

“I love Thunder Valley. The setting is amazing and it’s unique,” Wilkerson said. “The race track is tricky, though, (but) I think we have something for this year. My family is coming again so hopefully we can take some winner’s circle pictures with everyone this weekend. I’m so very honored to be able drive this SCAG Power Equipment, Summit Racing Equipment Ford Mustang. Tim has been doing a great job making our hot rod fast and consistent.”

Justin Ashley (Top Fuel), Ron Capps (Funny Car), Erica Enders (Pro Stock) and Steve Johnson (Pro Stock Motorcycle) took home titles last year in picturesque Thunder Valley and this year’s race will again be broadcast on FS1, including eliminations beginning at 7 p.m. ET on Sunday. It is the eighth of 20 races during the 2024 season and the fan-favorite Mission #2Fast2Tasty Challenge also takes place on Saturday featuring semifinalists from last weekend’s NHRA New England Nationals.

Wilkerson will be part of that bonus event for the third straight race, taking on points leader Austin Prock in a semifinal rematch from Sunday. Wilkerson will look to extract some revenge after Prock slipped by him in a thrilling side-by-side duel between a pair of young guns in the Funny Car category.

The other matchup features Epping winner John Force and Gainesville winner J.R. Todd, with the specialty race winner having a chance for a double-up weekend. Wilkerson would love for that to be him, though he will have to navigate a loaded field that also includes reigning world champ Matt Hagan, Bob Tasca III, defending event winner Capps, whose seven wins are the most for any driver at Bristol Dragway, and former Bristol winner Alexis DeJoria.

But Wilkerson has enjoyed the team’s race-to-race progress, and the father-son dynamic has brought out the best in both the tuner and driver, which could mean Wilkerson’s first career victory is on the horizon.

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“This SCAG Power Equipment, Summit Racing Ford Mustang team has found some consistency, maybe a little luck, too, but Tim has been making good decisions and the car has been responding,” Wilkerson said. “All the hard work is paying off. It’s been fun. We’ve picked up round wins and continue to hit some of my career bests.”

In Top Fuel, Ashley, the current points leader, is after his third straight Bristol win against a star-studded field that includes reigning world champ Doug Kalitta, Antron Brown, Steve Torrence, Clay Millican, Shawn Langdon, Brittany Force and Top Fuel rookie Tony Stewart.

Enders, the reigning Pro Stock world champ, is after consecutive Bristol wins and also her 50th career national event victory this weekend. To do so, she’ll have to get past the likes of points leader Dallas Glenn, Greg Anderson, who has two wins this season, Jeg Coughlin Jr., Aaron Stanfield and Epping winner Troy Coughlin Jr.

Johnson, a veteran in Pro Stock Motorcycle, claimed his win over Gaige Herrera in 2023. Herrera, who won 11 events last year, went on to win the title in dominant fashion and is undefeated thus far in 2024. Other contenders include six-time champion Matt Smith, former champ LE Tonglet, John Hall, Hector Arana Jr. and Angie Smith.

The Super Grip NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals also will feature thrilling competition in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series, featuring some of the top racers in the country, as well as the Congruity NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series presented by LearnEV+, Flexjet NHRA Factory Stock Showdown and Johnson’s Horsepowered Garage Mountain Motor Pro Stock. The weekend includes an appearance from the Legends Nostalgia Nitro Funny Cars as well. After final qualifying on Saturday, fans will also be treated to a special autograph session and fanfest at the Bristol Dragway Welcome Tent in the midway.

Fans will also be invited to the Nitro Alley Stage all weekend, which features Nitro School, meet and greets, music and much more. Race fans at Bristol Dragway can enjoy the special pre-race ceremonies that celebrates each of the drivers racing for the prestigious Wally on Sunday and includes the fan favorite SealMaster Track Walk. The final can’t-miss experience is the winner’s circle celebration on Sunday after racing concludes, where fans are invited to congratulate the Bristol event winners.

As always, fans also get an exclusive pit pass to the most powerful and sensory-filled motorsports attraction on the planet in Bristol. They can 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.

NHRA Mission Foods Drag Racing Series qualifying will feature two rounds at 4:45 and 7 p.m. ET on Friday, June 7, and the final two rounds of qualifying on Saturday, June 8 at 12:30 and 3:15 p.m. Eliminations will begin at 12 p.m. ET on Sunday, June 9. Television coverage includes qualifying action at 7 p.m. ET on Friday and 12:30 p.m. on Sunday on FS1, leading into eliminations coverage at 7 p.m. ET on Sunday.

To purchase tickets to the NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals, fans can visit www.NHRA.com/tickets. For more information on NHRA, please visit www.NHRA.com.

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This story was originally published on June 5, 2024. Drag Illustrated

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Since 2005, DI has informed, inspired and educated drag racers from every walk of the racing life - weekend warrior and street/strip enthusiasts to pro-level doorslammer and Top Fuel racers. From award-winning writing and photography to binge-worthy videos to electric live events, DI meets hundreds of thousands of racers where they live, creating the moments that create conversations.