Brittany Force (Top Fuel), Del Worsham (Funny Car), Shane Gray (Pro Stock) all No. 1 qualifiers for Bristol finals

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Brittany Force (Top Fuel), Del Worsham (Funny Car) and Shane Gray (Pro Stock) will go into Sunday’s final eliminations of the Ford NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals at Bristol (Tenn.) Dragway as top qualifiers in their respective classes.

In pursuit of her first career win in Top Fuel, Force qualified No. 1 on Friday’s rain-shortened session, and then came back on Saturday to earn her second No. 1 qualifying spot in 2014 with a 3.828-second pass at 317.94 mph.

The daughter of 16-time NHRA Funny Car champion John Force, Brittany Force is in just her second season in Top Fuel, but knows what a win Sunday would mean not only for her career but also her father.

She’ll face 82-year-old drag racing legend Chris Karamesines in the first round of Sunday’s Top Fuel eliminations.

“(Winning) would be the ultimate Father’s Day present to my dad,” Brittany Force said in a NHRA media release. “I love coming here to Bristol. It’s one of my favorite tracks by far.”

Force added, “I’m excited for race day, and I would love to end up in the winner’s circle. I think it’s pretty awesome to be running alongside the legendary Greek (Karamesines’ nickname).”

J.R. Todd is the No. 2 qualifier (3.835 seconds at 315.12 mph), while seven-time Top Fuel champ and five-time Bristol winner Tony Schumacher qualified third (3.854 seconds at 330.47 mph).

In Funny Car, Worsham broke track records for both elapsed time (3.992 seconds) and speed (319.45 mph) on Friday and retained his No. 1 spot Saurday, the 15th of his NHRA career and the second straight year he has qualified No. 1 at Bristol, where he’s a two-time winner.

Every race seems like we’ve gotten stronger and stronger,” Worsham said. “Hopefully (Sunday) we can maintain that strength. It should be a great race against my good friend Jeff Arend (in the first round of eliminations).”

Tim Wilkerson qualified No. 2 (career-best elapsed time of 4.013 seconds at 317.72 mph) and three-time Bristol winner Ron Capps qualified third (4.024 seconds at 316.38 mph).

In the hunt for his first win of the season, Gray also set new Bristol track ET (6.621 seconds) and speed (208.78 mph) records in Pro Stock. He’ll face Curt Steinbach in Sunday’s first round of eliminations.

“I wouldn’t be sitting here if it wasn’t for my crew,” Gray said. “We definitely have the equipment to do what we did today. I’m not going to worry too much until (Sunday) and have some fun.”

Reigning Pro Stock champ Jeg Coughlin qualified No. 2, while points leader Erica Enders-Stevens qualified No. 3.

 

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Here’s the first-round pairings for Sunday’s final eliminations of the 14th annual Ford NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals at Bristol Dragway:

Top Fuel — 1. Brittany Force, 3.828 seconds, 317.94 mph  vs. 16. Chris Karamesines, 4.485, 190.08; 2. J.R. Todd, 3.835, 315.12  vs. 15. Terry McMillen, 4.444, 238.93; 3. Tony Schumacher, 3.854, 330.47  vs. 14. Billy Torrence, 4.161, 240.25; 4. Antron Brown, 3.873, 313.07  vs. 13. Richie Crampton, 3.939, 266.58; 5. Spencer Massey, 3.876, 312.93  vs. 12. Clay Millican, 3.909, 261.42; 6. Steve Torrence, 3.879, 317.34  vs. 11. Bob Vandergriff, 3.904, 321.12; 7. Shawn Langdon, 3.880, 316.75  vs. 10. Khalid alBalooshi, 3.900, 315.42; 8. Doug Kalitta, 3.890, 318.32  vs. 9. Leah Pritchett, 3.898, 309.13.

Did Not Qualify: 17. Pat Dakin, 5.489, 246.48.

 

Funny Car — 1. Del Worsham, Toyota Camry, 3.992, 319.45  vs. 16. Jeff Arend, Dodge Charger, 6.460, 100.70; 2. Tim Wilkerson, Ford Mustang, 4.013, 317.72  vs. 15. Bob Tasca III, Mustang, 5.349, 306.81; 3. Ron Capps, Charger, 4.024, 316.38  vs. 14. Tony Pedregon, Camry, 4.621, 192.66; 4. Robert Hight, Mustang, 4.074, 315.27  vs. 13. Justin Schriefer, Chevy Camaro, 4.333, 285.17; 5. Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 4.074, 306.60  vs. 12. Cruz Pedregon, Camry, 4.127, 299.86; 6. Courtney Force, Mustang, 4.077, 313.07  vs. 11. Jack Beckman, Charger, 4.123, 308.99; 7. John Force, Mustang, 4.099, 306.81  vs. 10. Alexis DeJoria, Camry, 4.121, 305.29; 8. Matt Hagan, Charger, 4.111, 308.99  vs. 9. Chad Head, Camry, 4.118, 313.22.

 

Pro Stock — 1. Shane Gray, Chevy Camaro, 6.621, 208.78  vs. 16. Curt Steinbach, Camaro, 6.848, 200.80; 2. Jeg Coughlin, Dodge Dart, 6.621, 208.62  vs. 15. Kenny Delco, Chevy Cobalt, 6.843, 201.82; 3. Erica Enders-Stevens, Camaro, 6.631, 208.17  vs. 14. Larry Morgan, Ford Mustang, 6.822, 205.22; 4. Jason Line, Camaro, 6.636, 208.55  vs. 13. V. Gaines, Dart, 6.690, 207.30; 5. Allen Johnson, Dart, 6.636, 207.85  vs. 12. Dave Connolly, Camaro, 6.681, 206.35; 6. Rodger Brogdon, Camaro, 6.643, 207.94  vs. 11. Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.678, 207.53; 7. Vincent Nobile, Camaro, 6.644, 207.53  vs. 10. Shane Tucker, Cobalt, 6.669, 206.86; 8. Jonathan Gray, Camaro, 6.659, 207.85  vs. 9. Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.669, 207.43.

Did Not Qualify: 17. John Gaydosh Jr, 6.883, 201.22.

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Formula One embrace the United States

Verstappen Perez United States
Jared C. Tilton / Getty Images
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Last week, Red Bull Racing revealed its new car, the RB19, and a new relationship with Ford Motor Co. in an event in New York City complete with drivers Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and team principal Christian Horner.

It’s the first Formula 1 team to launch in the United States for 2023, but even that small move of the needle reflects a major shift in the attitude of both F1’s management and their teams – and the extent to which the American audience has fully embraced the sport.

“It’s something fantastic and unique, for the sport to be able to break it into the U.S,” Perez told NBC Sports. “The market is huge and it’s a huge opportunity for everyone involved, for the drivers, for the team. It’s always a huge market.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Sergio Perez finished fourth in the Unites States Grand Prix, but he was first with the fans.  – Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

In 2023, Formula 1 will race three times in the United States and five times in North America. The Circuit of the Americas will host their 11th consecutive race in October before heading south to Mexico City. Miami returns for a second time in May on a temporary street course around the Hard Rock cafe and the third addition is in downtown Las Vegas in November.

With the Canadian Grand Prix on the schedule for June and the Brazilian Grand Prix in November, American fans are now in the ballpark of Europeans, who have eight events on the continent and one in England.

In 2022, Verstappen won every race in North America. He was kept from sweeping the hemisphere only by George Russell, who won in Brazil. That fact is less remarkable when one considers that Verstappen won 15 times in the season – nearly two-thirds of the races on the schedule.

By the time Formula arrived in Austin for Round 20 of 23, Verstappen already had wrapped up his second consecutive championship.

“Sometimes it can be hard to replicate the season, but I think it’s the same as with the car, right? You always try to improve it,” Verstappen told NBC Sports. “And I always look at the little details that even when you have had a good race, you could have done better. And then of course you also learn from the bad races. So we always try to look for these little improvements and general experience you gain year after year.

“You try to do better, but of course it also depends a lot on the package you have.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Max Verstappen United States Grand Prix win was one of 15 for the drivers and 17 for Red Bull.
(Gongora / NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Now Verstappen’s thoughts inevitably will turn to establishing a dynasty, and America will again play a pivotal role.

“I just enjoy what I’m doing,” Verstappen said.  “After the years in Formula One, when you have to be on top of your game and you gain a lot on your experience – in that sense nothing really can get to you anymore. Every year you just try to do the best you can. But a lot depends on the material around you. It’s always a bit of a guess. Start the season as fit as you can be and be well prepared. But if you don’t have the car, you’re not going to win the championship.”

Perez added two wins to Red Bull’s total, at Monaco and the Marina Bay Street course. With two of the US 2023 races on street courses, Perez hopes to close the gap on Verstappen and potentially be his principle rival for the championship.

“The strategy is clear; it is to maximize the potential of the car – and we believe we have a good car, but how good?,” Perez said “We don’t know what the competition is doing. We just give our best in building this car and we hope that it’s good enough to get us to win races.

“I think we have to work together as a team. At the same time. We both want to win the championship. It’s just having good compromise. The competition will be really strong out there, so we really need everything we possibly can get from each other.”

Formula One returns to the United States for Round 6 and the Miami Grand Prix on May 7.