Alexis DeJoria powered to her first win in more than four years, rolling to the victory in Funny Car on Sunday at the NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals at Bristol Dragway.
Mike Salinas (Top Fuel) and Angelle Sampey (Pro Stock Motorcycle) also won in their respective categories at the 18th of 20 races during the 2021 NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series season and the fifth race in the Countdown to the Championship playoffs. It was also the first time the race in Thunder Valley took place in October and during the playoffs.
DeJoria, who also qualified No. 1 for the first time since 2016, was impressive from start to finish this weekend in her 11,000-horsepower Bandero Premium Tequila ROKiT Toyota Camry and went 3.921-seconds at 327.66 mph in the final round to beat J.R. Todd, who went 3.939 at 326.22 in an all-Toyota Camry championship round. DeJoria knocked off Paul Lee and Robert Hight to reach the final round, making a weekend-best pass of 3.904 at 327.74 in the semifinals, rolling to her sixth career victory a round later.
“I was hungry and I know that feeling,” DeJoria said. “I was just happy to be there and I believed I was going to win. It’s one of the biggest wins of my career. Coming back after two years off, getting to work with my mentor and friend (Del Worsham), being able to do this, it’s huge. It’s just been a roller-coaster and it takes a toll on you.
“It’s very humbling, but I was just ready to win. I was calm and just excited, and when I’m in that headspace I do my best. This is definitely one of my favorite tracks and it’s just beautiful here. I just love it.”
Despite not winning, Todd made up major ground in advancing to the finals for the fifth time this season and 40th time in his career. He knocked off defending world champ Matt Hagan, John Force and points leader Ron Capps en route to the final round. He jumped to third in points and pulled to within 83 points of Capps with two races remaining in the 2021 season. Capps’ lead over Hagan is just one point.
In Top Fuel, Salinas picked up his second straight victory at Bristol Dragway, once again beating points leader Steve Torrence in the final round. Torrence ran into issues right off the starting line and Salinas’ run of 3.845 at 245.05 in his 11,000-horsepower Scrappers Racing dragster was enough to give Salinas his third career victory. He knocked off Antron Brown, Clay Millican and championship hopeful Brittany Force to reach the final round for the third straight time at Bristol. For the second straight time, he took care of business in Thunder Valley, staying fourth in Top Fuel points.
“It’s a great facility and I’m glad they welcome us here,” Salinas said. “This track loves me. I met so many nice people over the years here. We’ve got a great team, and all the parts and pieces, and I think I threw away 3-4 races at the beginning of the year trying to get my routine down. It’s hard when you’re running with all these guys, but I got a lot of help and I’ve made some big improvements. These guys in this class, they’re awesome. They cut good lights I found something that works perfectly for me and I think we’re getting there. I just try to race my lane and that’s it.”
— #NHRA (@NHRA) October 17, 2021
Torrence, the three-time defending world champ and No. 1 qualifier, reached the final round for the 12th time this season and 74th in his career thanks to round wins against Cameron Ferre and Justin Ashley. By advancing to the championship round, Torrence also opened up a 73-point lead on Force heading to the last two races.
Sampey finished off a fantastic day in Pro Stock Motorcycle with her second victory in the Countdown to the Championship. In an all-female final round, Sampey beat Karen Stoffer on a holeshot on her Mission Foods/Vance & Hines Suzuki, as her run of 6.773-seconds at 196.85 held up. It gave Sampey her 45th career victory and second this season, as she pulled within 25 points of Matt Smith. That was a big moment, as was collecting the first Wally trophy for the class at Bristol. The category competed in exhibition races at the track in 1999 and 2000, but Sampey’s win marked the first points race for Pro Stock Motorcycle in Thunder Valley.
“I’ve been out here for so long, I’ve really learned to appreciate everything I get now,” Sampey said. “When I win a race, the emotions are 100 percent genuine because it’s a task to get it done. To get four round wins is really tough and it means so much to me. I love this sport so much and this team just works so hard. This mission was to catch back up in the points race and we made it happen. It was a fantastic day and it would be great to get the No. 1 back on the motorcycle.”
— #NHRA (@NHRA) October 17, 2021
Sampey got to the final round with victories against Andrew Hines, Chris Bostick and Eddie Krawiec. Stoffer advanced to her second final round this season and 25th in her career thanks to round wins against Lance Bonham, Ron Tornow and points leader and defending world champ Smith in the semifinals. Smith also holds a 56-point lead against Steve Johnson heading to the final two events.
The NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series returns to action Oct. 29-31 with the Dodge//SRT NHRA Nationals presented by Pennzoil at