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Millican, Prock, Enders & M. Smith Power to Provisional No. 1 Spots at Super Grip NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals

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Top Fuel veteran Clay Millican made the quickest pass on Friday at Bristol Dragway, racing to the provisional No. 1 qualifier at the 23rd annual Super Grip NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals.

Austin Prock (Funny Car), Erica Enders (Pro Stock) and Matt Smith (Pro Stock Motorcycle) are also the provisional No. 1 qualifiers at the eighth of 20 races during the 2024 NHRA Mission Foods Drag Racing Series season.

Millican went 3.786-seconds at 325.06-seconds in his 11,000-horserpower Parts Plus/Rick Ware Racing dragster in Thunder Valley, holding off points leader Justin Ashley under the lights to take the top spot. Millican, whose first career NHRA win came at Bristol Dragway in 2017, is seeking his first No. 1 qualifier of 2024 and 26th in his career. Friday also marked another special moment at Millican’s favorite and home track on the NHRA tour.

“It’s always something at this place,” Millican said. “This team has absolutely been incredible. We were struggling a little after testing, and then the next thing you know we start going rounds, go to a final at Charlotte, go to the semis last week. I’m excited to do this for a lot of reasons. When you qualify No. 1 against the monsters that we’re racing against these days you’ve accomplished something. But this is the first time I’ve qualified No. 1 with Mr. Rick Ware present. We are here because this guy loves drag racing. The biggest thing he hasn’t been a part of yet is a win on Sunday, so that’s on my agenda, just in case you’re wondering.

“I would love to be the No. 1 qualifier right here at Bristol. That would be awesome. When it comes to raceday, last year I would have told you I wanted it hot on raceday, but I think we have a car now that it doesn’t matter.”

Points leader Ashley also dipped into the 3.70s with a 3.795 at 322.42, putting him second, and Antron Brown’s 3.809 at 321.27 slots him third.

Austin Prock continued to roll in qualifying, blasting to the top of the Funny Car field with an impressive run under the lights, going 3.958 at 317.34 in his 11,000-horsepower Cornwell Tools Chevrolet Camaro SS. Should that hold, the Funny Car points leader would gain his sixth No. 1 qualifier in the first eight races, a remarkable feat for the first-year Funny Car driver. He advanced to the final round last weekend in Epping, finishing as runner-up to his boss, John Force, and moving to the points lead in the process.

Prock made two strong runs on Friday and can continue that momentum on Saturday with the Mission #2Fast2Tasty Challenge.

“This place is very tough to navigate, for sure. It’s kind of a driver’s racetrack. You have to be on your game all the way to pulling the parachutes,” Prock said. “This is up another level, stressful for the crew chiefs, but if you’re a race car driver you sure do enjoy a place like this. 

“When I heard a .95 over the radio, that was the number they were calling and it ended up being good enough. It ended up working out for us, and the entire day was great for this Cornwell Camaro. We have the Mission #2Fast2Tasty Challenge tomorrow, so we’ll be focused. We want to win that medal at the end of the day for sure.”

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Alexis DeJoria jumped to the second spot with a 3.973 at 319.90 and Ron Capps, who has won back-to-back races in Bristol, is third after going 3.976 at 320.74.

In Pro Stock, Erica Enders returned to the site of her 2023 turnaround and put on a show, going low in each session, including a 6.631 at 206.92 that put her Johnson’s Horsepowered Garage/Melling Performance/Scag Power Equipment car in the top spot. Enders, the defending event winner in Bristol, is now on track to put up her second straight top qualifier and fourth this season, and she hopes to break through with her 50th national event victory as well.

Thunder Valley might be the perfect place to do it, as Enders’ turnaround last year came in Bristol. She went on to win her sixth world championship and she’ll look to win for the 50th time this weekend.

“I feel like we’re getting a better handle on our race car,” Enders said. “It was a nice run and was better on the graph. I like the four-qualifying run format better, you can track more things, purse is a little bigger on Sunday. I had a very fast race car and that’s translating to here so far as well. 

“I love what I do and the people that I do it with. These moments don’t last forever, so you have to take advantage of them. I realize how blessed I am that I get to do what I love for a living and have done pretty well at it. I feel like we have a lot more left to accomplish.”

Greg Anderson is currently second thanks to his run of 6.636 at 206.45 and Jeg Coughlin Jr. is right behind with his 6.639 at 206.45.

Making the quickest run of both sessions in Pro Stock Motorcycle, six-time world champion Matt Smith made a strong statement on Friday, taking the No. 1 spot with a run of 6.788 at 198.52 on his Denso Auto Parts/Matt Smith Racing Buell. Smith is attempting to pick up his second No. 1 qualifier this season and the 54th in his career, but Friday’s two stellar runs also give him a strong shot to possibly unseat Gaige Herrera and end his incredible streak.

Herrera has won eight straight races – tied for the most in PSM history – and 31 consecutive rounds, and a win would tie the defending world champion with Bob Glidden for the most consecutive wins (9) and round wins (35) in NHRA history. Smith, though, has other plans.

“I think we showed at Chicago that we’ve been testing a lot and getting our program back better,” Smith said. “It showed here again. I messed up tuning the bike on Sunday in Chicago and came here to redeem myself. My Denso bike is pretty fast, and I’m pretty happy with what we’ve done so far. 

“I’m focused, head down. I’m like a hound dog, I’m a hunting dog right now, on the ground trying to find that 60-foot and make it better and better. We are getting better, and we’ll continue to try to work hard and make our bike as fast as possible.”

Chase Van Sant is currently second after going 6.827 at 196.36 and Herrera is third with a 6.830 at 197.77.

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Qualifying continues at 12:30 p.m. on Saturday at the Super Grip NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals at Bristol Dragway.

This story was originally published on June 7, 2024. Drag Illustrated

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