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Thunder Valley’s Unique Setting Gives Bristol the Edge with Fans

Once you visit Bristol Dragway for a National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) race, you’ll understand how it got its nickname – Thunder Valley.

Sitting amongst the mountains and carved between two hills is the legendary quarter-mile dragstrip where cars explode off the starting line and hit speeds of more than 330 mph., resulting in a thundering sound unique to Bristol. The picturesque setting, the speeds, and the legends of drag racing make Bristol one of the most sought-after tickets on the NHRA circuit.

Built by Larry Carrier, Carl Moore, and Hal Hamrick in 1965, four years after Bristol Motor Speedway opened, the facility was ahead of its time. At the cost of approximately $1 million, the trio developed a state-of-the-art super dragway that had no equal. Bristol International Dragway, as it was initially called, was, without question, the premier dragstrip in the country.

The dragway, which boasted 15,000 seats, hosted NHRA races when it first opened, and American Hot Rod Association events and International Hot Rod Association races in subsequent years. After changing ownership a couple of times, in 1996, Bruton Smith purchased the facility and renamed it Bristol Dragway. After the 1997 season, Smith and racing legends John Force and Kenny Bernstein blew up the old tower and built a new, $18 million facility. And, as it was when it was first built, it was considered a showplace, the finest drag racing facility in the country.

The dragway features a professional pit area that can accommodate over 100 cars and transporters, while the sportsman area can accommodate up to 500 vehicles. It sits at an elevation of 1,475 feet, boasts a 3,800-foot dragway with 700 feet of concrete, a control tower, grandstands, support buildings, and a $500,000 Musco sports lighting system.

Bristol Dragway hosted the NHRA’s inaugural Winston Showdown in 1999, pitting Top Fuel dragsters against Funny Cars for the first time. After the 2000 Showdown, BD hosted its first NHRA points race since the 1967 season – the 2001 O’Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals.

Upon the completion of the 2004 season, a new terrace section, with nearly 3,500 seats, was added above the existing grandstand on the left side of the dragway. Corporate suites topped the terrace section while the Thunder Valley Club – on the right side of the dragstrip, doubled in size to 1,000 seats. With the latest additions, Bristol Dragway now seats approximately 30,000.

The Thunder Valley Nationals have been held in April, May, June, and most recently in October. Bristol Dragway also runs bracket races, monster truck shows, concerts, and various other drag racing events.