The Jr. Dragster Scene
By Paige Teel
Editor's Note: Some of you may wonder, why Jr. Dragsters in a nostalgia drag racing publication. Our response is that these are our next generation of nostalgia drag racers. Expose them to our great sport now and let them know that they have options for their future in drag racing. Of course, we think nostalgia drag racing is their best option. Enjoy what our next generation racers are currently doing and encourage their pursuit of our sport.
Every July, Bristol, TN hosts the largest gathering of Jr. Drag Racers in the country. More than 600 racers, ages 8-17, come to Thunder Valley every year in hopes of collecting many win lights, creating many lasting memories and possibly taking home a portion of the near $50,000 purse. We aren’t just a bunch of kids racing down the track competing against each other. We are all part of one large family enjoying our passion. Those 7 days of racing are some of the most cherished moments for me and many others. Racing was scheduled to start July 19th and run through July 26th this year. This event has typically started the 3rd weekend of July since we started going 4 years ago.
The determination, competition, and thrill of drag racing is now capturing kids as young as 5 years old and their families, with NHRA’s recent changes to the age limit. Since the age changes were just recently lowered, this year’s race still contested the previous age categories of 8-17. I am guessing that next year they will add the 6 and 7 year-olds to the lineup as the 5 year-olds are only able to make single timed runs down the strip. This will likely boost the car count even more next year.
The week starts off with a very long drive to the track, for some. At last count, I heard there were more than 30 states as well as Canada and Puerto Rico represented at Thunder Valley. Everything from pickup trucks and tag trailers to massive motorhomes and stacker trailers start lining up at the track as early as Monday to be one of the first to get in to the track on Friday at noon. The race weekend started off with the Huddleston Performance Jr. Dragster Nationals presented by Mike Bos on Saturday and Sunday. That was followed up with Huddleston Performance Fun Races on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. The week of racing capped off with the Eastern Conference Finals (ECF) presented by Viperizer. The ECF started on Thursday and crowned individual and team winners on Saturday. The age groups are determined by the age you are January 1st of the current year. Although I turned 12 the month before the race, I competed in the 11 year-old age group. I was one of 20 racers representing Crossroads Dragway out of Terre Haute, IN. A track can take up to five, 10 person teams and each 10 person team will collectively earn points by winning rounds in an attempt to win the team competition and bring home a NHRA Wally for the overall team champion. Individual winners in each age group also win a Wally, as well as $2,500 cash. Not a bad pay day if you ask me.
”Liquid Sunshine,” as one announcer put it, cancelled the Saturday’s Huddleston Performance Index races and Sunday’s age group races were also significantly impacted by a persistent rain. When you have 600-plus racers, their families and friends and can’t get on the track; you have to find something to pass the time. There were many activities to be part of even though we were not racing on the track. We had water gun fights, raced RC cars and competed in practice tree races, along with participating in trivia contests and photo scavenger hunts. The Bristol staff also organizes tours of the stock car track, which is very cool. We did the tour last year and really enjoyed it. We even went up and checked out Bruton Smith’s personal suite. I am sure there were many other fun activities that I missed seeing or hearing about. This group of families and racers definitely know how to have a good time. On Sunday, we were able to get in one time run and one round for all classes while dealing with the rain and the problems it presented. This ended at approximately midnight on Sunday with the remaining rounds to be concluded on Monday.
Monday’s event also had on schedule the Outlaw 330 class, which is heads up racing on a pro tree to the 330-foot mark. These are the “Pro’s” of Jr. Drag racing. To run in the Outlaw class you must be 13 years old. There seems to be a mixture of purposed built Outlaw cars along with some typical bracket type cars running Outlaw engines and clutches. American Outlaw 330, whose website is located at www.americanoutlaw330.com, is a recent group that has worked to try to come up with one common set of rules that all of the traveling series will use. This will hopefully standardize the rules and keep the class continuing to grow and be around for a number of years. The minimum weight for the most popular engine combination is 415 lbs for car and driver together. The minimum ET requirement is 4.10 seconds in the 330-foot track. The Outlaw race was won by Tyler Allison from Columbia, MO. Tyler is a fellow team member representing Crossroads Dragway in the ECF. Tyler beat out 29 other competitors for the $1,000 first place money and bragging rights. Tyler ran Bethany McLemore from Pasadena, TX in the final.
The other winners from Sunday’s Huddleston Performance Age Groups races include the following: Hannah Turner from nearby Bluff City, TN won the 8-9 age group over Robert Croce from East Rockaway, NY. Michael Carpenter from St. Petersburg, FL beat Braylon Kuhn from Douglassville, PA in the 10-12 year old age group. Karsyn Powell from Elwood, IN beat Kyle Anderson from Lake Worth, FL in the 13-14 year old age group. Another Crossroads Dragway teammate, Austin McClure, from Topeka, KS won 8 rounds (164 cars) to win the 15-17 year old race against Allison Lloyd from Doswell, VA.
This year Huddleston Performance added a $5,000 to win the 32-car shootout race to Monday’s schedule of fun races. Kyle Bigley won this inaugural race and pocketed the $5,000 first place prize. The 32 competitors had a $225 entry fee to compete in this special high-dollar shootout. Makenna Brown from Powell, OH was the runner up in the shootout race.
Tuesday was the day the 13–17 year-olds were scheduled to be on track for their fun race. A whopping, 340 of them showed up for first round and Derek Raymond ended up holding the trophy late Tuesday night after meeting up with Mason Marino in the final.
Wednesday was the day for the 8–12 year-olds to compete against one another. The 8 and 9 year old racers are kept together until they are down to two of them and then they combine them with the 10–12 year-olds when they are down to 2 as well. In the end, Julian Puya from Pompano Beach, FL beat local racer Tucker Brown from Blountville, TN in the final.
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