If ever there was an event that has become markedly better with age, the BTE World Footbrake Challenge would certainly qualify, having just shattered the all-time attendance record at the 17th running of this fabled event. The 713 entries not only represented the largest turnout in the event’s history, but also Bristol Dragway’s highest car count ever for a single class.
[Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared in DI #184, the State of Drag Special Issue, in September/October of 2023.]
The record number of pre-entries gave a clue that this year’s gathering would be monumental, prompting co-promoters Jared Pennington and Steve Stites to rearrange the schedule (along with boosting the payouts) before the race ever began.
The historic event, presented by Coalburg Racing Promotions, kicked off eliminations with a gambler’s race on Thursday, June 29. In the end, Devin Dudley got past Rodney Finchum to score the $5K payday. Three more races with raised payouts were scheduled throughout the weekend, including another gambler’s race, with an increased purse of $15K to win, slated for Friday. An early-morning thunderstorm delayed the start of eliminations on Friday and the curfew of 1:00 a.m. was observed, so the 45 remaining entries resumed their eliminations after the fourth round of Saturday’s main event.
It was a short night of rest, as things got kicked off at 8:00 a.m. with gates open and tech beginning shortly after the sun began to peek over the mountains. Things were moving along at a rapid clip midday on Saturday until another thunderstorm, this one fiercer than the last, ripped through the facility with sideways rain that left a mangled heap of canopies in its wake.
As damaging as it was, the storm was over rather quickly, as often is the case at Bristol, but the robust number of entries still in contention made it pretty much impossible to restore the track and finish eliminations, so Saturday’s eliminator was deemed a rainout, and a combined $50K-to-win main event was slated for Sunday. The day wasn’t a total loss by any stretch, and Friday’s carryover was completed late on Saturday, as Todd McKinney held off Cody Barnhart to collect a $15K payday.
The final prize of the weekend was the largest, with $50K to win still on the line for Sunday’s last eliminator. The final day would bring yet another rain shower to deal with, along with a top-end oil spill, bringing the conclusion within 15 minutes of the 1:00 a.m. curfew, but it was completed in dramatic fashion as Taylor Bowling scored the hefty prize after he turned in a magnificent driving performance against Charlie Lockhart. Bowling’s .006 reaction time was tough to overcome, and his finish line navigating was stellar, running dead on his dial-in. Lockhart was chasing hard, but broke out by .008 of a second.
Jared Pennington reflected on the historic weekend, saying, “Racers, you have done something simply incredible. On behalf of Steve [Stites], our staff, the folks here at Bristol, and our great sponsors, we can’t say thank you enough. What an amazing response from the best group of racers on earth. Footbrakers, you’re absolutely amazing. We are so thankful for each and every one of you.”