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50 Greatest Moments

50 Greatest Moments

Thunder Valley has been carved out by countless memories over the past 50 years. As we celebrate our 50th anniversary, we invite you to take a look back at Bristol Dragway's 50 greatest moments from 1965-2015. From the first pass made down Bristol International Dragway's straight-strip by Shirl Greer in 1965, to the closest final round finish in NHRA drag racing history in 2012, Thunder Valley is home to some of the greatest moments in the sport.

  • 1964 - 1965 Bristol International Dragway co-founders, Larry Carrier and Carl Moore executed plans to clear away trees, carve out the valley and build the $1 million facility.
  • In the months before the track was completed, officials announced NHRA would sanction and hold it’s marquee event, The Spring Nationals, at Bristol Dragway. (From left to right: Wally Parks, Buster Couch, Carl Moore, Larry Carrier, Hal Hammrick)
  • 1965-Governor Frank Clement proclaimed Bristol Dragway as “Drag City USA.” 50 years later the Drag City U.S.A. monument still stands at Bristol Dragway.
  • Bristol International Dragway opens in June 1965, hosting the first NHRA national event in the southeast and only the second east of the Mississippi River.
  • Shirl Greer made the first ever pass down Bristol International Dragway’s track. From that moment on, Greer was a force to be reckoned with during weekly events while winning two Funny Car national event titles in Bristol.
  • NASCAR Champion, Richard Petty, wins the B/Altered class during the inaugural event.
  • Chris “The Greek” Karamesines recorded Bristol’s first 200 MPH run during the 1965 Spring Nationals
  • Maynard Rupp won the inaugural Top Fuel title (7.59 sec. at 203.16 MPH), against the dragster of Connie Kalitta
  • Connie Kalitta ups the Top Fuel speed record to 209.72 mph at the 1965 Spring Nationals - much faster than experts expected and giving Bristol instant credibility.
  • Co-champions were crowned at the 1965 Spring Nationals in Comp when the final-round battle between Pete Shadinger and Glen Blakely was interrupted by a malfunction in the timing equipment. The two drivers split the purse, points and trophy.
  • During the 1965 Spring Nationals Bill Shrewsbury debuted the incomparable “Hurst Hemi Under Glass” ‘65 Barracuda. The car made some of the first ever wheelstanding runs at a national event.
  • Jimmy Nix would become the second Top Fuel winner at Bristol International Dragway as he drove his Chrysler Digger to victory in 1966.
  • 1967 - Wally Parks dubs Bristol International Dragway, “Thunder Valley”
  • Tommy Grove wheels an outdated Mustang to NHRA’s first ever Funny Car Eliminator Title at the 1967 Spring Nationals, defeating 1965 Top Fuel winner, Maynard Rupp.
  • Bob Mauravez drove under the alias of Floyd Lippencott because his father said he would disown him if he raced. It was an unfortunate winner’s-circle appearance on ABC’s Wide World of Sports after the Freight Train’s ’67 NHRA Spring Nationals win that blew Bob’s cover.
  • Gene Snow and his “Rambunctious” Dodge Challenger became the first Funny Car driver to win both Bristol races in a single season, winning the 1970 AHRA Spring Nationals and All-American title.
  • Stunt pilot Art Sholl took off and landed between the mountains at Thunder Valley and also flew upside down towards the control tower during the 1970 Spring Nationals.
  • With three IHRA wins, including the first IHRA sanctioned event in 1971, as driver in his Funny Car, eight NHRA Pro wins and four runner-up finishes as an owner at the famed Bristol Dragway, Don Schumacher earned his place as one of Thunder Valley’s legends.
  • The Sox & Martin team swept Bristol in 1971, winning the Spring and All-American Nationals. Ronnie Sox earned Bristol wins over four decades.
  • In 1971, after past disagreements with NHRA and AHRA, Carrier and Moore created the IHRA, with the world headquarters being in Bristol, TN.
  • After Art Arfons recorded the sport’s first 5-second run at 5.96 seconds, The “Super Cyclops” jet dragster blew large chunks of the asphalt starting line through the ground-floor windows of the control tower.
  • “Big Daddy” Don Garlits won 3 times in Bristol, claiming the ’72 IHRA Spring Nationals and sweeping both the ‘73 National events at Thunder Valley.
  • Gene Fulton pulled into the 1973 All-American Nationals, in the “White Wagon,” covered in mud from the drive North to Bristol. After ridicule from his competition, he drove to victory, earning his first of eight career victories at Bristol Dragway.
  • Dale Pulde rode the War Eagle to wins at Bristol during the ‘77 Spring Nationals, ‘79 Spring Nationals, ’82 Summer Nationals, and the ‘85 Spring and Fall Nationals.
  • The track’s only “California Fire Up” was in 1977 during the IHRA Funny Car and Sports Nationals. 32 Funny Cars on property were started simultaneously.
  • Bobby Hilton, Billy Meyer and Warren Johnson (near lane) win the richest payouts in drag racing history up to that point - $20,000, $20,000 and $10,000, respectively, at the 1980 Spring Nationals.
  • 1981 – Raymond Beadle and the “Blue Max” Funny Car scored Bristol’s first 5-second Funny Car run at 5.98 seconds, at the Spring Nationals.
  • Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, Rickie Smith racked up win after win in Thunder Valley. After claiming his first International Hot Rod Association national event title at the 1980 Summer Nationals, Smith would roll into Bristol’s victory lane eight more times. Smith’s ten victories give him the most of any driver to race in Thunder Valley and there would be more to come.
  • In only six Bristol races Lee Shepherd would reach five finals and earned four victories, including this victory in 1984 as he received his $10,000 winner’s check from Larry Carrier.
  • Dale Pulde and Mike Hamby assembled their new Funny Car in the Bristol pits in the days leading up the 1985 Spring Nationals, qualified first and won the event en route to an IHRA world championship.
  • Don Prudhomme records the fastest nitro speed in all of drag racing - 266.27 mph - during the 1985 Spring Nationals, at a time when IHRA dropped Top Fuel and NHRA struggled to draw full fields.
  • Bob Glidden wins a Goliath vs. David matchup over Buddy Ingersoll’s controversial turbocharged Buick V-6 Pro Stocker in the final round of the 1985 Fall Nationals. Ingersoll’s combination was outlawed weeks later.
  • Mark Oswald walks away from a fiery top-end crash at the 1985 Fall Nationals that ended his bid for a third consecutive Funny Car world championship.
  • Gordy Hmiel and Scott Shafiroff ended a nearly two-year debate of who would be the first 6-second Top Sportsman car. They ran 6.98 at the 1988 Fall Nationals and garnered months worth of publicity.
  • Doug Herbert accomplished a lot at Bristol Dragway in the 1990’s including 6 IHRA Top Fuel titles and the first 300 MPH pass down Bristol Dragway which came in 1997 at the Spring Nationals.
  • Harold Denton won Pro Stock at the 1991 Spring Nationals some six months after Bristol owner and car owner Jim Ruth succumbed to cancer. It was also the team’s first win and incredibly emotional.
  • Bristol International Dragway celebrates 25 years of existence in 1989.
  • Tony Schumacher’s first competitive Bristol appearance was behind Wayne Knuth’s “Odyssey” jet powered dragster during the 1994 Super Chevy Show.
  • SMI Chairman Bruton Smith (right) talks with NHRA’s Denny Darnell (left) and Dallas Gardner during the 1998 announcement Bristol would return to NHRA. Smith bought Thunder Valley from the Ruth brothers two years before.
  • With help from Kenny Bernstein (on bull dozer) the original Bristol Tower was demolished in 1998.
  • Bristol Dragway opens it’s gates again in 1999 with a state of the art $18 million facility.
  • 1999 – John Force wins the first Winston Showdown, knocking out a quartet of top fuel dragsters to earn the $200,000 top prize and showcasing Bruton Smith’s dramatically improved “Thunder Valley.”
  • Jeff Byrd was instrumental in bringing NHRA back to Bristol in 1999 for the Winston Showdown and holding the first NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals in 2001, during the association’s 50th anniversary season.
  • A series of suites and new chair back grandstand seats were added above the existing grandstands in 2005.
  • John Force wins 2007 Thunder Valley Nationals months after the tragic testing death of teammate Eric Medlen.
  • In 2007 Thunder Valley welcomed Pinks All Out and a huge crowd to the facility.
  • 2007 – The inaugural “Legends of Thunder Valley” class was Wally Parks, Larry Carrier, Rickie Smith, and Don Garlits. A few more legends have been added including: Sox & Martin, Jeff Byrd, Bruton Smith, Dale Pulde, Shirl Greer, Gene Fulton, and Don Schumacher.
  • Melanie Troxel upsets heavily favored Mike Neff in the 2008 Thunder Valley Nationals Funny Car final to become the first woman to claim Wallys in NHRA’s two nitro classes.
  • 2012 - Mike Edwards defeats Allen Johnson in the closest final round in NHRA history, giving Edwards his fourth straight Pro Stock victory in Thunder Valley, robbing prohibitive favorite, A.J. of a long-sought Bristol victory.
  • In 2013 five track records were shattered under the Friday night lights during the Thunder Valley Nationals with NHRA’s top three classes toppling previous marks, including both the E.T. and MPH records for Top Fuel by Spencer Massey.
  • For a more in depth look at the history of Bristol Dragway check out dragway historian, David McGee’s book, Bristol Dragway: Images of Sports.