Schumacher, Prock, Jeg Coughlin Jr., Herrera are Bristol NHRA Braggarts!

Herrera, Schumacher, Prock, Jeg Coughlin Jr. celebrate in Bristol's Winner's Circle
Herrera, Schumacher, Prock, Jeg Coughlin Jr. celebrate in Bristol’s Winner’s Circle

No one is happier than Tony Schumacher to finally ease his way past 86 NHRA Mission Foods Drag Racing Series Top Fuel victories and into his 87th win. In Sunday’s earlier-than-planned final eliminations to avoid weather complications, Schumacher achieved his first win in 37 races in a pedalfest that closed out the 23rd annual Super Grip NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals at Bristol Dragway. Prevailing against reigning champion Doug Kalitta, the eight-time titleholder won the eighth of 20 races in this quickly evolving season.

In earning his seventh win at beautiful Bristol Dragway, one week after a second-place result in the New England Nationals final round, Schumacher scored the win for new partner Waltrip Brewing Co. and full-season backer Leatherwood Distillery, both local purveyors of alcoholic beverages. It was a final round rematch for the duo, earning the ninth victory for Schumacher’s Tennessee-local JCM Racing organization, as he moved up three spots in the points standings from eighth to fifth. While he had issues in qualifying during all four sessions, Schumacher’s crew chiefs Mike Neff and Jon Schaffer found something, he said, that they thought could help the 12th qualifier in a 16-car field.

Eight-time Top Fuel champ Tony Schumacher earned his 87th win on Sunday – NHRA photo

It was cooler on Sunday than it had been in the two lead-up days of qualifying, and with the day beginning at 10, rather than noon, setups required a steady hand to make the most of the conditions. After Schumacher slipped past rookie Jasmine Salinas in the first round, then won a tight race against Shawn Langdon in the second round, he recorded a better reaction time to slay No. 1 qualifier Clay Millican and set up yet another final round against Kalitta. “The competition in Top Fuel right now is the best I’ve ever seen,” Schumacher said. “Doug and I were 12th and 14th [qualifiers] in the final round there. It’s epic. That was an ugly one in the final, but it’s such a great thing to get that win. We didn’t qualify well,” he admitted, “but we raced well.”

Austin Prock’s dream season continued in the Thunder Valley Nationals, as the third-generation drag racer earned his second Funny Car win of the season in his fifth final round in these eight races. The 28-year-old was No. 1 qualifier in his John Force Racing Chevrolet Camaro SS, beat his boss John Force in the Mission #2Fast2 Tasty Challenge, went to the race’s Winner’s Circle and extended his points lead over Force, serving as a substitute for Robert Hight, currently on medical leave. “I’m so blessed to have this opportunity,” Prock said. “I mean, John Force taking a risk with me, and all these partners, great partners of ours that believed in me, that gave me a shot to [realize] my dream.”

Austin Prock qualified No. 1, won the bonus race and the main event – John Force Racing photo

After qualifying No. 1, winning the bonus race, Prock set out to complete his flawless weekend by defeating three Dodge Chargers to reach the final round: John Smith, two-time champ Cruz Pedregon and four-time reigning champ Matt Hagan, meeting Kalitta Motorsports’ J.R. Todd and his Toyota GR Supra in the final round. Even with a slower reaction time, Prock’s Jimmy- and Thomas Prock-tuned Camaro made up the difference at the 60-foot mark. His 3.989-second blast would usurp Todd’s 4.022 at the timing lights. “Every time we went up there the thing was a car to contend with,” Prock admitted, “and we ended up sweeping it. I’m super proud of that. None of these guys are easy anymore, they’re so tough – but we ended up getting it done!”

In always-competitive Pro Stock, KN Titan Racing’s five-time titleholder Greg Anderson was the weekend leader until the final round, when he had to contend with fellow five-time Pro Stock champ Jeg Coughlin Jr. of Elite Motorsports, making his full-time return to the class after a couple of years racing strictly sportsman competition. In earning his 67th career victory and third at this track, the veteran Coughlin moved to fourth in the points tally. “It was quite a team battle as we started the day off. Pro Stock in today’s day and age reminds me a lot of the late ‘90s and early 2000s, where fields are separated just by a couple of hundredths of a second,” Coughlin noted. “When the field is that tight, it does put it on the driver’s shoulders to drive well, get a good start and bang through the gears efficiently – and not make any mistakes,” he reminded.

Jeg Coughlin Jr. and his Elite Motorsports team celebrate in the Winner’s Circle – Elite Motorsports photo

While Anderson was the No. 1 qualifier and remains second in the points standings, “Greg and I have been in so many elimination rounds, side by side. To see them make a mistake and have a hiccup after the stellar runs they’ve put down was amazing.” Anderson crawled to a 20-plus-second result while Coughlin Jr. had a solid 6.707-second pass. To get to his final round, Coughlin Jr. had to get past three of his Elite Motorsports teammates from his No. 3 qualifying slot. First he removed Jerry Tucker, then he took out Epping winner and nephew Troy Coughlin Jr., then had to match up against six-time, reigning champ and teammate Erica Enders. She had trouble on the track while Coughlin jr. earned his win with a 6.720-sec pass.

This just in: Gaige Herrera won in Pro Stock Motorcycle with his Vance & Hines Suzuki Hayabusa3, but did not take the No. 1 qualifying slot this past weekend. That went to North Carolina’s Matt Smith, whose Buell looked to be the quickest motorcycle on the grounds throughout qualifying and much of eliminations. Still, Herrera earned his ninth straight event win and 35th consecutive round victory in the final round, against Matt Smith Racing’s Jianna Evaristo on her Buell. This was the Scrappers Racing rider’s second final round appearance; in her first she was a winner at Pomona, inadvertently helping Andrew Hines to his sixth title.

Gaige Herrera can’t stop breaking records – NHRA photo

In earning his ninth straight win, Herrera passed Dave Schultz for most consecutive victories in Pro Stock Motorcycle wins, and he tied Pro Stock legend Bob Glidden for the most consecutive round wins. With only 14 motorcycles in the lanes, Herrera still couldn’t beat teammate Richard Gadson or Chase Van Sant in qualifying, taking the fourth-best spot in time trials, as three Suzuki riders trailed Matt Smith’s 200.05mph qualifying speed. And it wasn’t easy for Herrera on Sunday, as he defeated 2023 event winner Steve Johnson’s Suzuki, John Hall’s Matt Smith Racing Buell and Matt Smith before meeting Evaristo, avenging his 2023 loss to Johnson in the finals.

“It was a good day, but kind of weird starting from the fourth position. We struggled a little bit here in Bristol,” Herrera said. “It’s a beautiful facility but it’s seemed to have my number. The semifinal (against Smith) was probably the highlight of my career so far. Matt was running well all weekend – what a day! To be mentioned with Dave Schultz and Bob Glidden, it’s a lot to take in,” Herrera said humbly. “It’s obviously real, but it doesn’t feel real, what’s been accomplished in such a small time. But I’m enjoying the ride and trying to look at every little milestone that passes.”

Kris Thorne was elevated to Pro Mod winner with J.R. Gray’s disqualification – NHRA photo

Although J.R. Gray initially raced to the win in the fifth Congruity NHRA Pro Mod Series battle at Bristol Dragway, against former champ Kris Thorne, NHRA later announced Gray’s disqualification after he was found to have bypassed a safety device. Thorne was named the winner several hours later.

In Saturday’s Mission #2Fast2Tasty Challenge bonus race, a matchup of Epping’s semifinalists, local racer Clay Millican defeated Shawn Langdon in Top Fuel, Austin Prock took the Funny Car win over John Force, Erica Enders won her third bonus race of the season against Dallas Glenn and Matt Smith continued his Saturday magic at Bristol, defeating wife Angie to take the bonus to go with his No. 1 qualifier.

NHRA’s Mission Foods Drag Racing Series takes the Father’s Day weekend off, but returns to action, together with the Congruity NHRA Pro Mod Series on June 22-23, with the Virginia NHRA Nationals at Virginia Motorsports Park in Richmond, VA.

About Anne Proffit 1280 Articles
Anne Proffit traces her love of racing - in particular drag racing - to her childhood days in Philadelphia, where Atco Dragway, Englishtown and Maple Grove Raceway were destinations just made for her. As a diversion, she was the first editor of IMSA’s Arrow newsletter, and now writes about and photographs sports cars, Indy cars, Formula 1, MotoGP, NASCAR, Formula Drift, Red Bull Global Rallycross - in addition to her first love of NHRA drag racing. A specialty is a particular admiration for the people that build and tune drag racing engines.

2 Comments on Schumacher, Prock, Jeg Coughlin Jr., Herrera are Bristol NHRA Braggarts!

  1. Way to go Tony, your father would have been proud. He was a pioneer in drag racing. Dave Schultz was my Pro Stock Motorcycle Hero and held the win streak record for many many years. Records are made to be broken.

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