Aaron Stanfield took down Erica Enders in one of the craziest final rounds in Pro Stock class history, while Justin Ashley, Ron Capps and Jerry Savoie also scored victories in the Thunder Valley Nationals at the historic Bristol Dragway.
Stanfield and Enders arguably had the top two cars in the Pro Stock class, but the final round was anything but a display of power. After an even start, Stanfield rattled the tires and seemed to send Enders to his fourth straight win.
Then fate intervened.
Enders’ Melling/Elite Camaro’s engine soured, spewing large volumes of smoke from the exhaust. Enders continued to press the throttle as Stanfield quickly put his J3 Energy Camaro back in gear to begin the chase. It wasn’t pretty, but Stanfield eventually won with an elapsed time of 8.033 to Enders’ 8.801. The victory snapped Enders’ winning streak at 14 rounds, dating back to the Gatornationals in March.
“As a team we did a good job today,” Stanfield said. “I let go of him and he jerked at the top of the low gear so I stopped. So, I could see smoke coming out of his and Big Al’s car. [Lindsey, crewman] He was on the radio telling me to go, go, go. I started it up again and tried to get there. He sure didn’t go according to plan. Sometimes it happens like this.
“We haven’t had the best luck since the No. 1 spot,” Stanfield said. “We thought about going under the radar and not participating in the polls because it has been bad luck for us in the past. this is the best gift i can give my dad [Greg] On father’s day. My dad and I love being here in Bristol.”
Stanfield qualified in first place with a 6.638 and made consistent runs on race day as he passed Wally Stroupe, Fernando Cuadra Jr. and Kyle Koretsky. The race against Koretsky was perhaps the most competitive round of the day with Stanfield winning 6.63 to 6.69.
Despite the loss, Enders now has a 19-3 record in knockout rounds and remains the runaway leader in the points battle with a nearly triple-digit lead over Stanfield, who remains solidly in second place.
Ashley opened the season with a win at Pomona and also made it to the finals at Houston and Epping. The former rookie of the year earned his fourth career win when he defeated Shawn Langdon in the final round. Closing out the event with a thrilling side-by-side race, Ashley surged ahead for a 3,813-3,841 victory.
“Happy Father’s Day to all the dads who make this possible,” Ashley said. “[Crew chiefs] Tommy DeLago and Mike Green did a good job all day. We are very privileged and blessed to be here.”
“This track in Bristol has a lot of history,” Ashley said. “When you look up and see all the famous names [in the Legends of Thunder Valley]. Is awesome. beat steve [Torrence] in semi it was great. I have a lot of respect for Steve and a lot of respect for that team. I was lucky to get the win.”
Ashley certainly struggled in qualifying. In fact, her No. 14 starting job was one of the worst of her career, but the Phillips Connect team made the necessary adjustments Sunday to get into the winner’s circle.
After a frustrating final round loss to Mike Salinas in the Epping final, Ashley survived a tough first round battle as he outpointed Josh Hart, 3,824 to 3,827. He then bested Doug Foley and defending champion Steve Torrence to reach the final round. Against Torrence, Ashley was particularly impressive with 3,816 which was one of the best streaks of the day.
For Langdon, the news wasn’t all bad as he won the Super Comp title at Bristol. The runner-up finish also represented a huge improvement for the DHL team who had only been to the semi-finals once in eight previous events this season.
Capps’ push to his 70th victory seemed unlikely in the first round after he suffered a body-destroying explosion in his win against Paul Lee. The NAPA team, led by Dean “Guido” Antonelli and John Medlen, quickly regrouped, made the necessary adjustments, and Capps bounced back with an outstanding performance that culminated in a 3,984-4,075 victory against Tim Wilkerson in the final.
Entering his first year as a team owner, Capps probably didn’t imagine he’d visit the winner’s circle twice in the first nine races of the year. The reigning world champion also continued to put pressure on Matt Hagan and Robert Hight, who had been threatening to make the points battle a two-horse race. Capps has other ideas.
“We qualified at No. 9, which wasn’t our best by far,” Capps said. “I was on a hot run in Q3 and the parachutes came out. That was a stroke of luck. It could have happened in the first lap and we would have been dust. Then in the first round I tried to take the wheels off. Just as I hit the gas, it went boom. All of Toyota’s safety work paid off because we had minimal damage. It could have been much worse.”
“Running 3.98 in the final was amazing,” said Capps. “This is a very demanding track every time we come here. I think this is like NASCAR and its [Southern 500] in Darlington. It’s hot, humid and demanding. You can’t stop thinking about it for a second.”
After switching bodies, Capps knocked out Robert Hight with a 4.031 and then improved to a 4.016 in his semifinal win against Alexis DeJoria. Capps’ 3.984 in the final was the only three-second run of the day in Funny Car, largely due to the warm temperatures and altitude of the Bristol Dragway track.
Jerry Savoie narrowly missed out on making the Pro Stock Motorcycle final after damaging an engine in the semis, but the White Alligator team hammered away. They chose to replace his four-valve engine with their old two-valve combination and Savoie was rewarded with his 14th career win after opponent Angelle Sampey ran out of red lights. The final numbers included a 6,909 for Sampey and a 6,929 for Savoie.
“We blew up the engine at round three and thanks to the NHRA and Vance & Hines for waiting for us,” said Savoie, who was forced to miss the most recent event in Richmond after breaking a toe. “Usually I don’t let things get to me and I trust my team, who made an engine change in 32 minutes.”
Savoie is known to get emotional after wins (and losses) and this race was no exception, landing on Father’s Day.
“This is for my dad, Blue, who we lost years ago,” Savoie said. “His blood runs through my veins and he gives me the need for speed. I am 63 years old and to be here running with all these young men and beautiful girls is incredible. I just wanted to win a race and now I’m 14 and a championship I’ve been blessed. This was an amazing weekend and I don’t think I could ask for anything more. I said I wouldn’t cry, but I’ll be damned if I don’t come downstairs and cry.”
The NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series is back in action next weekend, June 23-26, with the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals in Norwalk, Ohio.