Published September 26, 2023

Meet the Fleenor Family, headed to the Richmond Folk Festival (Oct 14 & 15) from the Bristol Dragway

Seventeen-year-old Anna Fleenor of Bristol, Virginia, first raced on a drag strip as part of a youth racing class. From the passenger seat, her father, Chris—a seasoned racer—offered tips to quell her nerves. But as soon as the light turned green, he gave Anna a command that she still hears in her head when it’s time to race: “Mash it.”

Anna and her siblings Holly, 25, and Blaine, 23, spend most of their free time with their father and family friends at the drag strip. “It’s a great feeling to race with my dad because he’s basically my hero,” Anna said.

The fourth-largest sporting arena in the United States and tenth-largest worldwide, Bristol Motor Speedway draws racing fans from around the world. Its drag racing circuit, Bristol Dragway—the Fleenor family’s primary track—is nearby, nestled between two mountains. Surrounded on all sides, the sound of the cars’ engines coalesces into a deafening roar, earning the track its beloved nickname: Thunder Valley.

“Top fuel cars would go down through there, and you could just feel it—the vibrations of it,” Chris said. “There’s nothing else like it.”

A form of drag racing, bracket racing involves drivers making a series of timed runs down an 8-mile tarmac strip. During head-to-head races, drivers attempt to keep their timing as consistent as possible, finishing no later or sooner than their posted time. Mechanic Larry Snead said it breeds more camaraderie among the drivers since they’re racing against themselves, not against each other. It also rewards consistency and reliability over straight-line speed.

Chris still likes to go fast, though. His rear-engine dragster weighs about a third of what a production car weighs and has about five times the horsepower, all welded together on a lightweight, metal-tube frame with giant rear tires that grip the asphalt at low PSI for maximum traction at launch. The skinny front tires rest under the narrow point of the car’s body, which is just wide enough to carry a single passenger. The names of Chris’s crew are written on the side of his car: his wife, Tammy, and his children Holly, Blaine, and Anna.

“It’s serious to us, but we’re not professionals. We have a good time and enjoy it together.”

Chris Fleenor

As lifelong fans of the sport, Chris and Tammy naturally turned racing into a family tradition after the births of their children. In many ways, racing has been in their children’s lives since birth: Blaine was born while Chris was at a bracket race, and Holly was named after the Holly carburetor that was on her father’s Camaro. (She now races her grandfather Roy’s 1970 Chevelle.)

“The racetrack has always been a place that we could all come together, no matter what’s happened at school, what’s happening at home — all that’s out the door when you come to track,” Chris said. “And all of us work together.”

“That’s one thing that I don’t take for granted: my family,” added Blaine, who was named after Blaine Johnson, a celebrated top fuel dragster racer. “All of us, we all make time to come down here and be together. I wouldn’t I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”