Motorsports Recap And Behind The Scenes Access

Thunderin’ Thru The Tennessee Valley–It’s The Recliner Report!



Stop #11-18th Fitzgerald USA Thunder Valley Nationals, Thunder Valley/Bristol Dragway, Bristol, Tennessee


Let’s cut to the chase. Thunder Valley was HOT! Well, yeah, the track temperature was about 6,000 degrees, but here at the Recliner Report, we’re talking about the action at the Smoky Mountain stop on the 2018 NHRA Mello Yello Tour. Simply stated, it was on like Donkey Kong in Tennessee on this weekend, and all the folks at Fox 1 Sports were bringing the goods from moment one. This was definitely a multiple-can-of bean dip weekend for RR staffers, and fortunately, they were prepared. One guy even had a jalapeno version. Needless to say, he was popular with the chip crowd. They were lining up just for even the smallest scoop from the can. Lucky for him, it was the giant version, and it lasted, oh, about 72 seconds…

Back to Thunder Valley. The scene was epic, BUT, it could’ve been epic-er, (We’re creating a new language with this column) only something was missing, and man, it was big. We’re talking hugeamongous, which is pretty dang large.  See, there was no mosh. NONE! Nowhere to be found! We’ll come back to that later…

Still, despite the lack of rolling-around-the-lane-by-crazy-crew-guys insanity, there was tons to talk about. Here goes:

SALINAS HALTS PIZZA DELIVERY–Mike Salinas opened the event with a super-tight Top Fuel win over Leah Pritchett in the Papa John’s hot rod, proving that the “little guy” ain’t so little anymore. This wasn’t a fluke. Salinas brought his “A” game from moment one today, and it showed.

A LEGEND THAT WILL FOREVER BE REMEMBERED–A well-deserved tribute to Tom McEwen was shown. Thanks to this legendary figure, drag racing was introduced to a much wider audience through the 1970 Mattel “Snake vs Mongoose” campaign, and according to Don Prudhomme, their head-to-head matchups throughout the country involved the pair, “…playing for keeps. It wasn’t, ‘Hey, you win this race. I’ll win the next one.’ It wasn’t like that. I wanted to beat him every single time.” You can bet that McEwen felt the same way.

NAP TIME? FUGEDDABOUTIT–We’ve all heard the phrase, “There’s no rest for the weary”, and in the NHRA, that holds true, even for reigning champions. There are no laurels to nap on with this bunch of talented pilots, and though Brittany Force’s first-round Top Fuel loss to Doug Kalitta was her seventh in 11 events this season, there’s no quit in that Force family member. You can bet that no one will work harder to get back on the winning track.

DO MINI-VANS LAUNCH?–The “JEGS How It Works” segment showed us the procedures necessary to fire up a 10,000 horsepower Top Fuel motor. Forget cranking up your ‘ol Kia in the driveway. Tony Pedregon’s description of an engine going from zero to insanity on the starting line included words like “ignition” and “launch”. Land rockets, I’ll tell ya. Potential bombs on four wheels. There’s no wonder these drivers love the fast lane on the freeway, even though it’s about 250 miles too slow for their tastes…

WHEN SHIRLEY SPEAKS, YOU GOTTA LISTEN–The legendary Shirley Muldowney always has enough stories for a series of books, and she also had nothing but kind words for Tom McEwen when interviewed by Amanda Busick, when she recalled that on her first trip to California, “The Mongoose” asked her to autograph his copy of the Los Angeles paper’s Sports section, one which featured a photo of Shirley. Floored by his gesture, she returned the favor by buying a McEwen t-shirt and wearing it the rest of the weekend. Epic.

TEAM FORCE IN THE OTHER LANE? NO DIEHL FOR JEFF–Seeing Robert Hight in the opposite lane during first-round action was nothing new for Jeff Diehl. Sounds crazy, but in all 11 events this year, the “Nitro Surfer” has lined up in the initial frame against…you got it, a JFR-sponsored machine. With one win to his credit in 11 attempts, we’re betting that Diehl would rather glance over to see just about anything or anyone else on the other side, whether it’s a covered wagon, Safety Safari van, horse and carriage, kid on a tricycle…hey, Jeff’s not picky.

NOT FORCING AROUND–This Courtney Force girl…she don’t mess around. Here’s the proof: her first six years of racing included three wins in seven finals. How about 2018? The dudette has flipped the switch, taking home four Wallys in six finals. She must love musicals, ‘cause “Hello, Wally” has been shown a bunch in the California kid’s home this year!

RECLINER REPORT RIDDLE–Which very well-known NHRA driver has gone an entire season without a race win? A hint: you’ve gotta cross a couple of these to have a shot at winning. Talk amongst yourselves, and the answer is below. Hey, no skipping ahead to find it! You might miss the donkey story…

THAT’S LIKE, SIX MORE THAN 12, DUDE–Let’s say you play checkers against a friend on a weekly basis. Your pal beats you every now and then…actually, he defeats you for 18 consecutive years. Nope, not consecutive times…years. Would you rather: 1) Smile and say, “I’ll getcha next time”, 2) Keep practicing and hoping one day to come out on top, or 3) Take the board, burn it, then smash each checker into tiny dust particles and dump the whole mess over the side of a bridge? OK, if you said #3, a therapist might have been a slightly better choice, but we’d all get it if you went smasharama on the game pieces. Anyway, Pro Stock driver Tim Freeman must have the patience of like…I dunno…geez, who knows? Why? Because after 18 years, he captured his very first victory, a win over Alex Laughlin. And, his top end interview with Amanda Busick featured a guy with class and modesty. No jumping, screaming, whooping, or hollering. Freeman is one dang cool cat. No therapy needed.

NOTHING BUT THE BOTTOM OF THE NET–Pro Stock driver Tommy Lee finished up a qualifying session a bit behind his opponent, but quickly made up the difference between the two at the top end after his parachutes failed to deploy. Moments later, Lee found himself in the welcoming arms of the net at the end of the sandtrap, and thankfully, walked away moments later giving a double thumbs-up to the camera. The real emotions came through in the pit area, as Lee was tearfully hugged by family members. Dudes, this is real-life stuff, and thanks to the huge safety precautions in place, Lee was able to avoid a possible tragedy on this Father’s Day.

NEXT STOP, WWE–Following his first-round Funny Car loss, Matt Hagan joined Dave Rieff and Tony Pedregon in the TV booth as a guest commentator, and it was easily apparent that this dude, a guy who wrangles with cows for a living, can more than likely tell those bovine, “Hey bud, this is how it works on my farm”, ‘cause that guy is jacked. Those horned critters have gotta be telling each other, “Man, I’m not messing with him. He’ll send me to the packing plant if I don’t mind my manners.” Anyway, Thunder Valley holds a special place in Hagan’s heart, as it was the first place he was exposed to anything and everything nitro, and though he’d probably rather not be booth-bound for any period of time, it’s cool hearing the inside scoop from the folks that guide these missiles for a living.

RECLINER RIDDLE #2–Remember getting your first ticket? OK, OK, so no one out there EVER saw the flashing reds at anytime. Then, for the couple of you who were asked to asked to whip out the license and registration, this one’s for you: which NHRA fast guy got his initial citation…at the age of nine? Oh yeah…he actually did! Keep reading…

HEY, DON’T THEY JUST SAT IN THE AC ALL DAY?–So, on many occasions, we see the Fox 1 cameras cut to the pit area to feature the choreographed dance taking place between crew members quickly thrashing out the complete rebuild of an engine between rounds, and in this particular shot, the guys in Scott Palmer’s crew were dancing away. Then, a closer look revealed something sorta strange…it was Scott himself, team owner and driver, up to his elbows in the greasy, dirty stuff while joining his guys for the turnaround. Some folks think it’s all chocolates and soft pillows for a team’s star attraction, but Palmer proves he’s in it to win it at every turn of the wrench. Epic.

TASCA ENDS THE DROUGHT–Bob Tasca took down four-time winner Courtney Force in their Funny Car semi-final matchup, his first since Seattle…in 2013. Tasca is a guy who could light up Cleveland with all his energy. He must’ve practically been glowing following the victory. Dude was pumped!

YOU WEIGH HOW MUCH?--Bruno Massel’s “NHRA 101” schooled viewers on the bodies of the Pro Stock machines, so it’s time for the first-ever “Recliner Report Math Lesson For Those Readers Who Hate Math But Will Actually Find This Little Problem To Be Quite Entertaining.” That’s just the short version of the title. The long one involves words like “quotient” and “parameters.” But, because the staffers want you to come back each week, they went short form on you. Anyhoo, here goes: how much do you believe the super-light carbon fiber bodies weigh in raw form from the manufacturer? The choices are:

  1. 30-35 pounds
  2. 50-70 pounds
  3. 80-100 pounds
  4. Over 100 pounds

And the survey says…#1! Yep, believe it or not, those big ‘ol bodies hide it well, coming in at a weight much lower than seems possible. Think about it: you could make some bucks betting your buddies on whether or not you could lift one of ’em by yourself. That could lead to some serious dinero…

DUDE’S A WILDMAN–Yep, those drivers party it up all night on the Saturday night before Final Eliminations on Sunday. Well, maybe, but don’t say that to Tanner Gray. He went to the races. Yep, the 19-year-old headed out with his mom to Hickory, North Carolina following Saturday’s fiesta to check out his younger brother Taylor compete in a NASCAR Late Model Series event. Arriving back in Thunder Valley around 1:30am, the guy was bright-eyed and bushytailed for Sunday’s final dances. Man…1:30am…then the dude is up to drive 200-plus mph. That would take most of us like…six soft drinks, a double espresso, and two bags of chocolate before even thinking about opening the eyelids. Wow.

HEY, WHAT’S MY NEW NICKNAME?–Greg Anderson’s semi-final victory in Pro Stock sent him to his 152nd final round ever, passing the one-and-only Warren Johnson in the process. If Johnson was “The Professor”, then Anderson also needs a nickname. The staffers worked on trying to create one, but got easily distracted by some leftover queso found in the fridge. They weren’t sure if the green stuff on top was chilies or not, so after one big knife scrape later, the chips were ‘a dippin’. Isn’t that special?

LIKE FATHER, LIKE FATHER–Jeg Coughlin’s first-ever Pro Stock win took place on Father’s Day at the Springnationals in Columbus. An added bonus? Jeg Sr. was also at the track that day. Fast forward to 2018: Father’s Day. Thunder Valley. Jeg Jr. wins his 60th Pro Stock event. Guess who was in attendance? Uh-huh. Dear old dad. Anyone want to wager on Jeg Sr.’s whereabouts the next time this same situation takes place? Cool stuff.

AND THEN A PARTY BROKE OUT–Dudes, wherever Ron Capps was Sunday night, we can promise you a party was taking place, ‘cause following his victory in the Final Round of the Funny Car category, Capps had the roof vent open on his hot rod, and he was halfway out of his ride…before it came to a stop after making the curve at the top end. According to Amanda Busick, Capps could be heard whooping it up on the drive in. His first words when handed the Wally? “I missed you.” And, we can promise you that the golden guy will be well cared for, as he received a huge hug, a shot of Mello Yello, and then another hug from Capps. Dedicated to Tom McEwen, the Wally was then told that he would be forever living in the home of Don Schumacher. Capps then quoted NASCAR star Clint Boyer, who once told him, “You gotta celebrate like this is your last”, bringing all the staffers to tears and even causing one to scream, “Ron, please call! I”ll bring queso!” He was quickly calmed after being handed an extra Twinkie and two scoops of queso without the weird green stuff on top. All ended well.

AND LATER, EVEN MORE PARTIES BROKE OUT–Tony Schumacher versus Mike Salinas in the Top Fuel Final had been labeled as “David versus Goliath”, and on this day, Goliath evened the series at one apiece after Schumacher defeated the independent upstart. The Sarge’s 84th victory was his first with new crew chief Mike Neff, and his first since Gainesville…in 2017. Speaking of Neff, the win came on the 15th birthday of his daughter, his mom’s birthday, and the special day of his primary sponsor, the US Army. That’s gotta be one heckuva cake…

ANSWER FOR RECLINER RIDDLE #1–Which well-known driver hasn’t experienced a win in a year? Jason Line. Yep, he may have crossed a bunch when starting a race, but hasn’t crossed while in the lead on any, at least in a final, in quite awhile. Oh, and we were just joking about not skipping ahead to in case you might miss the donkey story. There’s just a lot of cool stuff in the column, and we didn’t want you to miss it!

ANSWER FOR RECLINER RIDDLE #2–Which driver received a ticket at age nine? Cruz Pedregon. Nope, not for hot rodding it on his banana bike, but for backing up…in a truck. Must’ve been a slow day for the local police that day. For going in reverse? Seriously? Dude was hard-core, even in elementary school…

DUDE, WHERE’S THE MOSH?–Earlier, we mentioned that no mosh took place at Thunder Valley. That’s just wrong. Moshes are important, necessary, and essential to raceday. Also, it’s fun to watch guys go flying about six feet in the air before landing on a 143-degree asphalt lane. If anyone needs an example to get started, a recent staffer mosh is pictured below. This one took place when it was announced that only one Twinkie remained…

Man, with track temps at around 6,000 degrees, Thunder Valley was a great way for folks to lose weight during the weekend. That’s some serious hot…anyway, the nitro circus heads 453 miles straight north to Norwalk, Ohio for next week’s Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals. According to our “Maps” app, tolls are required on the fastest route, so have your roll of quarters handy. Till then, keep reclining!




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