SUNDAY NOTEBOOK - AND THE WINNERS ARE CROWNED UP ON THE MOUNTAIN
BROWN WINS IN DENVER
This weekend at the Mile-High Nationals, everybody was paying a lot of attention to Top Fuel driver Spencer Massey, the No. 1 qualifier and points leader.
His Don Schumacher Racing teammate Antron Brown was the one standing in the spotlight Sunday afternoon. Brown narrowly beat Brandon Bernstein to capture the Top Fuel crown at Bandimere Speedway. Brown clocked a 3.957-second lap at 308.21 mph to edge Bernstein’s 3.959-second effort at 307.58 mph.
“This race here is just tough,” said Brown who also won the Top Fuel title at the 2009 Mile-High Nationals. “When you come up here on the mountain you have to tune it up to get it down the race track and keep it living and we lived all four rounds (Sunday). This is a start for a good (Western) swing. This gives our boys a little motivation when we go out to Sonoma so we can go up there and dig deep.”
NHRA’s national circuit makes a stop in Sonoma, Calif., this Friday through Sunday and then the Western swing concludes at Seattle Aug. 3-5.
“The final round (Sunday), races do not get much closer than that,” Brown said. “Brandon and that whole MAV TV group did a phenomenal job. I know he wanted to win, but we wanted to win as well. We did what we had to do to get that round. It is going to be tough the rest of the year and this competition isn’t getting any easier by any means.”
This was Brown’s third win of the season and 34th of his career. Brown now has the opportunity to sweep the Western swing, something he did in 2009.
“I remember the feeling of a lot of excitement and exhaustion,” said Brown about his sweep three years ago. “You have to have some things go your way and you have to perform. We are off to a great start right now. We just want to keep gaining points. We really want to go into the Countdown in the top three and we would like to get that No. 1 spot to get the extra 20 points. We just want to keep on rolling and rolling.”
Brown moved up from third to second in the season point standings 11 points behind Massey. Brown especially appreciated the reception for the fans at Bandimere.
“Fans came up and they were all twitchy and nervous and jumpy and a guy came up and said I almost peed my pants, I didn’t know who won. He was all excited,” Brown said. “That kind of feeling is awesome because fans are feeling the same type of emotion we are feeling.”
Brown defeated Rob Passey, Bob Vandergriff Jr., Steve Torrence and Bernstein Sunday. More impressive was Brown was debuting a new DSR in-house built chassis this weekend.
“We have been so used to bringing new cars out to a race and not even testing them,” Brown said. “We put them together and go out the first run and run A to B. We tear the cars completely down after every run and (when) we put a new one together we double check it like 15 to 20 times. I have all the confidence in my team. I just have to get comfortable in it and make sure my pedal is right and my seat is right. By the second run down the race track we had everything ironed out. The car just kept getting better and better (Sunday). I could not ask for a better car or a better team.”
BECKMAN AVOIDS HISTORY, MAKES HIS OWN IN WIRE-TO-WIRE FUNNY CAR WIN
Jack Beckman wasn’t worried about becoming the first.
Instead, he wrapped up one of the most complete wins of his NHRA Full Throttle Funny Car career.
After becoming the No. 1 qualifier at the Mopar Mile-High NHRA Nationals at Bandimere Speedway, Beckman racked up four more solid and consistent runs in eliminations on Sunday, the last one a 4.277 at 293.79 mph to defeat Courtney Force and deny the rookie her first Funny Car win. Beckman wasn’t concerned about becoming the opponent in Force’s first win and instead kept focused on his own wire-to-wire victory.
“You can think about stuff and let it drive you crazy, but at some point, to do well at this, you have to get that out of your head and go up there and try to own the tree and the race car,” Beckman said. “Let’s face it, Courtney is going to get her first win pretty soon. I don’t care if I’m that guy because that means we made another final. But we wanted to take that trophy home today.”
So did Force in her second career final and the end result was an outstanding duel with Beckman.
While Beckman was straight and true for the eighth straight pass at Bandimere, Force skated all over the place, nearly meeting the wall at the finish line. It upped the entertainment level in an already thrilling race, but Beckman had just enough at the end – winning by less than four feet – to hold onto a lead head gained late in the race.
It seemed to be a fitting conclusion for Beckman, who won for the second time in 2012 and also for the second time at a Bandimere track he has revered since first visiting it in 1984.
“We weren’t perfect today, but at the end of the day we took a race car that qualified No. 1 and we made it down the track every pass,” Beckman said. “I’d like to think that we forced some other cars to try and beat us, and that’s why we got the win lights.”
Two cars went red against Beckman, with Todd Simpson doing it in the first round and then John Force uncharacteristically doing it in the semifinals. Before that round, Beckman, who went 4.384 against the elder Force, and the Don Schumacher Racing team faced some adverse situations in the pits.
“Making it up to the semifinals, we thought there was a chance we might miss the call,” said Beckman, who now has 14 career wins. “We had to put a new throttle cable on the car and we had a computer go bad on us in the warm-up. It was a little hectic for a while and we got up here and got me strapped up as quick as we could. It was a lot of heavy heart-beatin’ for a while.”
Beckman made it to the starting line with time to spare and then proved to be the ultimate nemesis to the Force family over the final two rounds.
Courtney Force reached the final with a gutty win against teammate Robert Hight in the second round – setting up a pair of DSR-Team Force semifinal matchups – and then followed with brilliant 4.259 at 295.79 to pick up her first win against Ron Capps.
But Beckman was too solid the entire weekend, running 4.27 and 4.358 during the first two rounds. It added to a weekend of complete dominance and solidified Beckman as a bona fide championship contender.
“To be able to win two in Funny Car in any one season is pretty hard, and to have two at just past the mid-point of the season, I think we kind of put a stamp on it and said this team is going to contend the rest of the year,” Beckman said.
DREAM WEEKEND ENDS WITH DOMINATING WIN FOR JOHNSON
After a win to conclude a weekend he will never forget, Allen Johnson smiled and simply collapsed to the ground.
It might have taken everything out of Johnson to put on such an unbelievable performance, but you can be sure it was all worth for the new Pro Stock points leader. On every pass from Friday to Sunday nobody could top Johnson and his 2012 Mopar Dodge Avenger, and the end result was a 6.951 at 197.31 mph in the finals against V. Gaines to finish off a masterpiece at the Mopar Mile-High NHRA Nationals.
In between, Johnson posted the best time of every round, broke the track record with a stunning 6.916 he called the best run of his career, qualified No. 1, took over the points lead and ended with a win in an absolutely dominant performance. It’s the fourth win at Bandimere Speedway for Johnson and the third victory in 2012, but not many of his 12 career wins can likely match this jewel.
“Practice makes perfect. For years we’ve come up here and tested, and we’ve developed a combination that’s bad to the bone,” Johnson said. “We want to come up here and do well in front of the Mopar contingent.This year was extra because it was the 75th anniversary for Mopar. We just really, really wanted to win this race and hand them that Wally for their 75th anniversary.”
With Johnson and Gaines pairing up in the final, it was the first time two Mopars met in the final of the Mopar NHRA Nationals.
But as impressive as Gaines was in knocking off the red-hot Vincent Nobile in reaching the final, he couldn’t keep up with a white-hot Johnson, who started the Western Swing a step – and then some – ahead of everyone.
“V. Gaines came up to me before the finals came up to me and hugged me and said, ‘Thank you for giving me my dream come true, an all-Mopar final at my hometown race,” Johnson said.
Johnson’s dream weekend continued a banner year for him as well. For the first time in 17 years Johnson has three wins in one year and he’s the points leader in a rugged Pro Stock class for only the second time in his career. His remarkable Sunday also started in unbelievable fashion. Though overshadowed momentarily by Paul Pittman’s massive crash, Johnson went a jaw-dropping 6.916 at 198.70 mph, a run he called flawless and a run he said corrected to an improbable 6.426 at sea level.
“That was the best run we’ve ever made in the history of Pro Stock,” Johnson said. “That was an absolutely perfect run.”
Perfection was always close by at Bandimere, as it has been for much of Johnson’s career. But he clearly took it to a new level this weekend, also running 6.945 and 6.936, respectively, in beating the Summit Racing team of Greg Anderson and Jason Line, leaping past them in the points standings in the process.
“This is a tough dang sport. It’s tough to win, I don’t care how good your car is,” Johnson said. “We’ve got a bad to the bone engine combination and car. The pressure is on me because I know we’ve got the best car in the pits, and I’m the only one who can screw it up. You’ve got those Summit cars coming after you with daggers, and I love to beat those Summit cars. I beat two of them today and took the points lead from both of them. They’re going to be teed off, so we better be ready the rest of the Western Swing. We’ve got the car. If I can do my job, we can bring that broom out at the end.”
KRAWIEC CONTINUES HARLEY'S DOMINATION
Eddie Krawiec continued Harley-Davidson’s domination of NHRA’s Pro Stock Motorcycle class Sunday.
Krawiec beat his Harley teammate Andrew Hines in the final round to capture the title at the Mile-High Nationals at Bandimere Speedway.
Krawiec clocked a 7.301-second lap, but was handed the win when Hines had a redlight start. Krawiec (four) and Hines (three) have combined to win all seven of NHRA’s Pro Stock Motorcycle national events this season.
“Talk about a dream season,” Krawiec said. “We never expected it to go like this. To be 100 percent honest with you this race should not have been ours this weekend. Not that you should always count yourself out, but we were a little down on ourselves as a team. We were struggling Friday and Saturday. Our bike with that little bit of extra weight up here definitely hurts it and kept it a little bit off pace. Obviously your weight to power ratio gets drastically decreased. We just dug hard and went after it.”
Krawiec, the reigning Pro Stock Motorcycle world champ, now has 15 career wins. Krawiec is first in the season point standings 44 in front of Hines.
“We were just trying to make really good runs, Andrew and I,” Krawiec said. “We wanted to be good on the tree and not leave much of a margin and if you do that and you have a good motorcycle under (you), you are going to get win lights. Win lights equal race wins and race wins get you Wallys.”
NHRA addressed the issue of parity in the Pro Stock Motorcycle class March 20 by increasing the minimum weight for the Harley Davidson 160-cid, 4-valve combination by 20 pounds, from 640 pounds to 660 pounds. That added weight, however, hasn’t slowed down the Harleys. Krawiec and Hines actually have combined to win nine races in a row, dating back to the fall race at Las Vegas in 2011.
“Obviously it doesn’t look like it because we are doing so well, but if you notice it did tighten up the pack since we got that (the added weight),” Krawiec said. “Like we said we are not going to cry and complain about it. We are going to take it and move forward. For us, we are making minimal mistakes right now. Andrew and I are both riding really well and our crew chief Matt (Hines, Andrew’s old brother) is doing an awesome job with the tune-up.”
Krawiec also believes he has improved his on-track performance.
“This year my goal was to try and be 30s and 20s (on the tree) on race day,” Krawiec said. “You can look at my stats probably over the last year and I can maybe count on one hand how many times I was double 0. I was double 0 twice this race. I had to go after it. There is good competition and when you are on your game out here everybody else is going to take a stab at it. Eventually we are going to be on the losing side of it and our Harley is not going to get the win light. We know that and we expect that. For right now, we are really enjoying it. This is just awesome.”
QUICK HITS - RACEDAY RECAP
VANDERGRIFF ADVANCES WITH HIS BEST OF THE WEEKEND - Bob Vandergriff defeated Morgan Lucas in a race where they had identical reaction times. Lucas had trouble from the start and Vandergriff ran his quickest time of the weekend (3.990 seconds at 304.94 mph) to advance.
BERSTEIN BACK TO WINNING - In a close side-by-side race, Brandon Bernstein got back on the winning track for the first time since the semifinals at Englishtown. In his fifth meeting so far this season with Grubnic, Bernstein clocked a 3.975-second elapsed time that turned out to be quickest of the round, at a 300.06 mph.
PALMER SCORES UPSET – No. 13 qualifier Scott Palmer defeated Terry McMillen. Palmer, already tossing his blower belt, took advantage of McMillen's tire-smoking run to upset the No. 4 qualifier. The struggling, lo-budgeted Palmer, who has some fresh funding from Fischer Honda, scored his previous round-win at Richmond's Virginia Motorsports Park, a facility the NHRA has not visited since 2009. McMillen's fairy-tale weekend failed to produce his fourth round-win of the season.
WHO NEEDS EIGHT CYLINDERS? - This is the site where Doug Kalitta earned his most recent victory, in 2010, and he survived a run in which both drivers weren't running on all eight cylinders. "Sometimes you've got to be lucky," Kalitta said after his winning 4.161-second pass at 283.91 mph.
BROWN DRIVES AWAY FROM PASSEY – Antron Brown and the Matco Tools/Aarons/Toyota Dragster scored a runaway victory over Rob Passey. "We keep on pressing," Brown said at the top end. Brown's next opponent will be Vandergriff. It will be their first meeting of the year.
MAKING THE GRADE - Top Fuel points leader and No. 1 qualifier Spencer Massey graded his brand-new DSR-built car A++++ -- topping Brown's assessment of "A" with his own the run before. Steve Chrisman gave Massey a strong challenge, but Massey had the victory, with a 3.992-second .E.T. at a 308.92-mph speed that was best of the round, while Chrisman ran 4.127, 285.89.
TORRENCE ADVANCES - Steve Torrence led at every incremental, frustrating long-overdue Langdon. Torrence's winning numbers were 4.006, 300.53 in the Torrence Family / Capco Contractors Dragster. He'll meet Doug Kalitta in the second round.
BALOOSHI WINS HIS FIRST - For the most surprising result of the class, Top Fuel rookie al Khalid al Balooshi finally got his first round-win in the Al-Anabi/Toyota Dragster in Race No. 13 of the season. The Los Angeles-based Dubai native nicked seven-time champion Schumacher by one-thousandth of a second and afterward unzipped his fire suit to reveal a Post-It note of encouragement stuck to his shirt. "Today's your day - You can do it!" read crew chief Jason McCulloch's prophetic message. Massey will be al Balooshi's quarterfinal opponent. The scoreboard: 4.014, 301.81 for al Balooshi, 4.020, 304.19 for Schumacher.
DON'T MESS WITH TEXAS - This is the lone quarterfinal match-up in which the drivers had met previously this season. Doug Kalitta had a cylinder out early in the run, and Steve Torrence capitalized with his 4.016, 292.52 run. Kalitta posted a 4.055, 289.26. "We're going to do what we can, whatever it takes," Torrence said.
UGLY FREEBIE - Scott Palmer shut down his car on the starting line, handing Brandon Bernstein a free pass. He must have been especially frustrated with his turn of luck, as Bernstein lost traction and coasted to a 4.654, 171.49 victory.
CLOSE CALL - A pop and a bang from Bob Vandergriff's C&J Energy Services were all Antron Brown needed to nose him out and advance to the semifinals. Brown gave kudos to Vandergriff's team, then said his own needs "to dig deep" for the next round.
FELL APART AT END - The Al-Anabi/Toyota Dragster driven by Khalid Al Balooshi had the edge almost all the way down the track, but -- like in Vandergriff's case -- a late pop and bang from the engine allowed Spencer Massey to drive past for the half-car-length victory with a 296.18-mph speed that was fastest of Round 2.
OH, BABY! - All along, Bernstein had hoped to have a terrific showing this weekend, not just to break his winless streak that dates back to 2009 at Richmond, Va., but also to put an exclamation mark on his momentous week. He and wife Tracey welcomed son Landon Russell into the world earlier this week to join daughter Lyla Faith. Now Bernstein will have the chance to go for a victory. Massey left the starting line first, but Bernstein overtook him and held him off for a .0087-second margin of victory.
ANOTHER SWEEP IN MAKING? - Brown, who has swept the Western Swing, has a chance to start another run at it. He and Torrence were virtually even out of the gate but Brown had a 3.991, 306.33 to win. Torrence, who had been to four finals in the previous six races, trailed with a 4.303, 250.78.
STEP ONE OF SWEEP COMPLETE - Antron Brown denied Brandon Bernstein his first victory since October 2009 -- by one-hundredth of a second, or about three feet, to give Don Schumacher Racing a double victory following Jack Beckman's Funny Car triumph over Courtney Force. In a thrilling victory that went right down to the last inch of the 1,000-foot course, Brown prevailed with a 3.957-second, 308.21-mph performance in the Matco Tools/Toyota Dragster against Bernstein's 3.959, 307.58 in the MAVTV/Lucas Oil Dragster.
HIGHT SETS EARLY PACE - Robert Hight started the first round of eliminations in Funny Car in impressive fashion, running a strong 4.251 at 288.39 mph to easily outdistance Jeff Diehl in a commanding first-round win.
Hight never trailed and was never challenged after Diehl lost traction at the 330-foot mark and limped to a 5.142 at 162.70 mph. Hight, meanwhile, delivered a clean pass as he tries to win for the third time at Bandimere.
CAPPS DELIVERS TOP RUN OF ROUND - Ron Capps saw encouraging signs on Saturday when he was the only Funny Car driver to reach the 4.20s in qualifying.
Those good vibes continued in the first round against Alexis DeJoria, as Capps turned in what ended up as the top run of the round, going 4.235 at 295.98 mph to cruise past DeJoria and her 4.914 at 169.19 mph.
DeJoria got out of the groove early and couldn’t get back on track, but it likely wouldn’t have mattered against Capps, who was straight and true with an outstanding run.
BECKMAN CRUISES WITH ANOTHER SOLID RUN - Jack Beckman didn’t have to do much after Todd Simpson had a red light, but the No. 1 qualifier still turned in another solid run, continuing the trend that started on Friday.
Beckman ran 4.27 on another solid and straight pass, giving him five straight for the weekend, easily sending him to the quarterfinals after Simpson turned on the red light .181 ahead of time. Beckman said he saw Simpson leave well ahead of time.
“That’s when you know you have a freebie and that’s a good feeling. You just have to be sure you don’t cross the center line or something like that,” Beckman said.
CRUZ TAKES IT ON A HOLESHOT - Cruz Pedregon and Bob Tasca turned in a fantastic side-by-side race in the first round, but Pedregon won this one at the starting line, making his 4.261 at 290.26 mph stand up to Tasca’s quicker 4.258 at 293.98 mph.
But Cruz won it at the line thanks to a .059 reaction time, holding off Tasca in a thriller by .012, which amounted to about five feet. It was an encouraging sign for Pedregon, who had suffered through his share of frustrations this weekend.
“Anytime you race Bob, it’s going to be tough. We finally got it together here today. Our crew and everyone got their heads right and we have a car that can do something today,” Pedregon said.
NO PROBLEM FOR NEFF IN ANOTHER GOOD ONE - Mike Neff and Johnny Gray delivered another strong side-by-side race in the first round, but Neff had too much in the second half of the race, pulling away late with a 4.275 at 299 mph.
Johnny Gray could never quite the combination to get into the 4.20s this weekend and that proved detrimental against the talented Neff. This time, Gray went 4.366 at 282.95 to stay competitive with Neff, but Neff was able to hold off Gray.
“Johnny’s a great competitor and has a great car, and I feel real fortunate to get that win,” Neff said.
FORCE TRACKS DOWN T-PED - John Force needed this one, and he chased down Tony Pedregon to get it. It was another first-round performance featuring a pair of huge names and they delivered one more entertaining side-by-side run, but Tony Pedregon couldn’t hold on and Force won with a 4.357 at 290.07 mph.
Pedregon had a great .009 reaction time, but got loose at half-track and had to watch Force go around him as he finished with a 4.468 at 228.81 mph.
“I need to get a win for myself and I just need to get my stuff together,” Force said.
ANOTHER WIN FOR ANOTHER FORCE - Courtney Force followed her dad in eliminations and also followed him into the quarterfinals. She went 4.39 at 284.21 mph in an important first-round win against Tim Wilkerson, who ran into trouble almost immediately and finished with a 5.453 at 136.12 mph.
Wilkerson couldn’t repeat his 2008 win at Bandimere, throwing away a better reaction time against Force by smoking the tires early. Courtney gets teammate Robert Hight in the quarterfinals, but she also helped keep Wilkerson at bay as he was trying to track down John, who is currently 10th in points.
“I love the Wilkerson family to death, but we really needed that win. That was a huge win for us and hopefully we can keep this car consistent and getting down to the other end,” Courtney Force said.
AREND SLIPS BY HAGAN IN THRILLER - The first round ended with every higher qualified car advancing, though Jeff Arend just barely held off No. 9 qualifier Matt Hagan in the closest race of a dynamite first round.
In yet another great side-by-side race, this one took the prize for best race of the first round, as Arend and his 4.32 at 291.89 mph was enough to beat Matt Hagan and his 4.327 at 286.38 mph by a mere .0004.
Hagan was quicker off the line, but Arend had just enough to slip by at the finish line, taking the win by a scant two inches.
“I saw the win light come on, and I just got lucky there. These guys have given me a great car,” Arend said.
CAPPS DOES HIS PART TO NIP NEFF - After showing the strength of the car in the first round, Ron Capps showed his driving prowess in a great matchup between Don Schumacher Racing and John Force Racing.
It was team DSR who took this one and Capps took it on a holeshot, as his 4.333 at 289 mph held up against Neff and his 4.308 at 292.20 mph, thanks to a better .060 reaction time.
Neff wasn’t able to get into the 4.20s as track temperatures rose, but he did his job on the starting to advance to the semifinals.
To advance to the finals, Capps will have to get by Courtney Force.
“You have to do your job. It was a close race and we’re onto the next round,” Capps said.
C. FORCE OVERCOMES ISSUE TO MOVE ON - Courtney Force ran into trouble early, but Robert Hight had it later and that gave Force the opening she needed to advance to the semifinals with a 4.496 at 274 mph.
She had a cylinder go out early, but Hight couldn’t make it done without trouble later, running into issues of his own.
Force quickly reset, found the groove and ran past Hight, who finished with a 4.498 at 244.96 mph. It was gutsy performance for Force, who finds herself in the semifinals after plenty of popping and banging to slip past Hight by just more than a foot.
“I drove this car as hard as could. I just kept driving and kept fighting and tried to keep it in the center. I was able to drive around Robert and that was exciting. Hopefully we can keep going,” Force said.
J. FORCE KNOCKS OUT ANOTHER PEDREGON - John Force seems to be finding his rhythm at Bandimere and a second Pedregon was sent home because of it. Force went 4.412 at 281.83 mph, and Cruz washed out at the starting line, finishing with a disappointing 5.591 at 141.31 mph.
It was a big win for Force, who cemented his hold in the top 10 with a win and moved closer to an all-Force final against his daughter. First, he will have to get past Jack Beckman in what is one of two heavily-anticipated semifinals.
“It’s all about the love of the sport. Cruz is an animal out there, but I’m fighting for everything I got,” Force said.
BECKMAN STAYS CONSISTENT IN QUARTERFINAL WIN - Jeff Arend delivered a great run and made Jack Beckman sweat, but chalk up another consistent run – and another round win – for Beckman, the No. 1 qualifier.
Beckman went 4.358 at 286.80 mph to beat Arend and his 4.474 at 250 mph, but it wasn’t easy, even with a better reaction time. Still, Beckman had more than enough to hang on, winning by plenty.
It sets up some juicy semifinals, as DSR’s Beckman will face John Force, and DSR’s Neff will meet Courtney Force.
“It’s going to be an interesting deal. It’s getting hot out here and it’s going to be survival of the fittest. I think we have a good shot to put both these (DSR) cars in the finals,” Beckman said.
BECKMAN GETS GIFT FROM J. FORCE - It’s certainly a rarity, but a red light from John Force sent Jack Beckman to the finals in Funny Car.
Force went red by .005, gift-wrapping a finals appearance for Beckman, who still turned in a solid 4.384 at 280 mph.
Force ran the slower 4.40, so it might not have mattered, but Beckman got the win light early. It’s the second red-light win handed to Beckman today, who will certainly take it as he moves to the finals. Beckman also moved to 18-6 in his career against Force with the round win.
“They don’t give a smaller trophy. It doesn’t matter what the other lane does as long as you get the win. To get past Force is huge,” Beckman said.
C. FORCE DELIVERS BEST RUN OF DAY TO UNSEAT CAPPS - Courtney Force turned in her best performance of eliminations, running a 4.259 at 295.79 mph to turn in a dominant semifinal victory against Ron Capps, who slowed to a 4.367 at 286.32 mph.
Capps had his worst run of eliminations at the worst time, but it might not have mattered as Force led throughout an in impressive wire-to-wire run, which also advances Force to her second final in 2012.
Force also broke an 0-for-4 winless streak against Capps, inching closer to her first career win.
“It’s pretty crazy. I was trying to do everything I can and to get to another final is awesome. I have a great team behind me and I’m so excited. We’ll see what happens,” Force said.
BIG RUN SENDS BECKMAN TO VICTORY - Courtney Force and Jack Beckman delivered a great side-by-side race in the final, but it was Beckman who capped off a wire-to-wire win, running a 4.277 at 293.79 mph to beat Force and her 4.289 at 283.49 mph by a slim .009 in a thrilling Funny Car final.
Force gave it everything she had, sticking with it even as it started to get a little hairy late in the run, but Beckman had enough power in his Mopar to chase her down at the finish line, winning by four feet. It was a valiant effort from Force, who pushed her Funny Car to the limit and led at 660 feet in her second final.
Beckman, though, had a weekend to remember, putting together solid passes on every run in eliminations and qualifying, winning for the second time at Bandimere, the second time in 2012 and giving another victory to Don Schumacher Racing.
ANDERSON TAKES STAR-STUDDED OPENER - It was an incredible matchup to kick off the first round of eliminations in Pro Stock, but Greg Anderson turned a better reaction time into a first-round win.
Anderson had the early lead, thanks to a brilliant .014 light, and Anderson’s 6.978 at 197.28 mph edged Jeg Coughlin’s 6.983 at 196.99 mph.
It’s been a roller-coaster weekend for Anderson, but he hoped the round win was a good sign for the rest of the day, though he gets Allen Johnson in the quarterfinals.
“We certainly started off a little behind. You need about 20 runs out here, but hopefully we can find some more magic and give (A. Johnson) a run,” Anderson said.
NOBILE STAYS HOT, ADVANCES - Vincent Nobile entered eliminations having won his last seven rounds. Well, make that eight after he cruised in a commanding first round win against Warren Johnson.
Nobile went 6.987 at 197.45 mph and coupled with an .027 reaction time, it was plenty to distance himself from Johnson, who had a 7.041 at 195.59 mph.
“We’re on a hot streak for sure and my team has given me a great car. Hopefully we can go three more rounds today,” Nobile said.
MORGAN PULLS THE UPSET AGAINST ENDERS - Larry Morgan needed every bit of his fantastic .007 reaction time in his first-round upset against Erica Enders.
Morgan went 7.005 at 196.39 mph – his quickest run of the weekend – and it was good enough to beat Erica Enders and her 6.975 at 196.10 mph, which was also her best run of the day. But Morgan got her at the line and held on to win by three feet.
“I don’t know how we lucky and won that round. We needed that .007 I’m sure, and it’s just good to be in the second round,” Morgan said.
LINES TURNS HEADS IN WIN - It didn’t end up as the track record for long, but Jason Line had the track record for a few minutes, running an outstanding 6.948 at 197.10 mph to chase down Deric Kramer and his 7.073 at 194.63 mph.
But Kramer had a big advantage at the line thanks to a .049 reaction time, and Line needed all of that 6.94 to slip past Kramer.
Line escaped with a win, but he was sweating bullets until the finish line.
“We’re getting there and anytime you get a round win in the mountains, it’s a good thing,” Line said.
JOHNSON PERFECT, BUT GAINES GETS WIN - Kurt Johnson had a perfect reaction time, but even that wasn’t good enough as V. Gaines went into the 6.94s as well, going 6.949 at 198.12 to chase down and pull away from Johnson.
Johnson was perfect on the tree, but struggled to a 7.076 and Gaines had no trouble getting around Johnson despite trailing by nearly .100 at the starting line.
A. JOHNSON SETS TRACK RECORD, PITTMAN NOT SERIOUSLY INJURED IN HUGE CRASH - Allen Johnson re-set the track record in a brilliant run, but the focus quickly shifted to Paul Pittman, who was involved in a huge crash at the top end of the track.
Johnson went an incredible 6.916 at 198.70 mph in an outstanding run, but the attention was on Pittman after he went sideways.
After getting out of the groove, Pittman drifted towards the centerline and then darted hard to the right. Pittman pulled it back to keep it off the wall, but the car barrel-rolled and hit the left guardwall. Pittman’s car then went back across the track, slamming hard into the right wall. It drifted back into the left wall for one more hard hit before coming to a stop.
The NHRA safety team was quickly on the scene and Pittman was out of the car almost immediately and appeared to suffer no serious injuries.
It was a very tough break for Pittman and certainly a devastating way to end the weekend for a driver making his Pro Stock debut.
“I’m excellent. I’m in real good shape,” Pittman said when asked if he had any injuries.
“The main and important thing is you’re able to walk away. All weekend we’ve been struggling leaving the starting line and we finally did that. I just thought, ‘I’m going to make a run here,’ and next thing I know I’m going towards the cones. I veered to the right and she started fishing all over the place. Before I knew it, the car was on the roof and I knew it was going to be a real hard hit.” VIEW THE FULL SEQUENCE
EDWARDS WINS, BUT NOT OVERLY PLEASED - For Mike Edwards, it was a win and that’s about it.
Edwards had a solid 6.969 at 197.16 mph to easily beat Steve Kalkowski and his 7.228 at 178.87, but he wasn’t overly satisfied with his performance.
Kalkowski’s run was actually thrown out after he drifted over the centerline and hit the blocks.
It was a workmanlike performance for Edwards, but he was hardly overjoyed with the performance after watching three straight 6.94s before him.
“We’ll have to pick it up a little bit if we want to keep going rounds. We’ll see what happens,” Edwards said.
KRISHER STAYS CONSISTENT, GETS WIN - Ron Krisher qualified with a 6.973 and that’s what he delivered in his first-round win against Shane Gray, going 6.973 at 197.74 to easily beat Shane Gray.
The pair were nearly identical off the starting line, but Gray’s 2012 Camaro could only muster a 7.022 at 196.42, sending Krisher to the quarterfinals.
NOBILE NEVER TRAILS IN IMPRESSIVE PERFORMANCE - Make that nine straight rounds wins for Vincent Nobile. After his impressive double-up in Norwalk, Nobile is back in the semifinals with his best all-around performance of the weekend in Denver.
It came against Mike Edwards, and after a .004 reaction time, Nobile and his 6.988 at 197.36 mph was enough to hold off Edwards and his 6.999 at 197.68 mph.
Nobile never trailed and now takes plenty of momentum into another semifinal.
GAINES ENSURES NO MORGAN UPSET HERE - Larry Morgan couldn’t pull off another upset, as V. Gaines never trailed in rolling to the semifinals with a strong 6.965 at 197.54 mph.
Morgan slowed to a 7.018 at 196.13 mph, and trailed immediately after Gaines had the better reaction time as well (.023).
Gaines will meet Nobile in a great semifinal matchup, and will have lane choice.
“I’m having so much fun, you wouldn’t believe it. This is just fantastic,” Gaines said.
LINE DOES HIS JOB TO GET INTO SEMIFINALS - After an impressive performance from his 2012 Camaro in the first round, Jason Line relied on his reaction time to advance to the semifinals after beating Ron Krisher despite a sluggish 7.011 at 196.24 mph.
Line, who had a rough .111 reaction time in the first round, was much better here, cutting a .036 light to beat Krisher and his 6.996 at 196.19 mph.
Line said his car had immediate trouble, but he was just good enough on the starting line to secure the win by a little more than a foot.
“It jumped out of third gear. We were very lucky to get by that round, but we’ll take it and move on,” Line said.
JOHNSON’S DOMINANT RUN CONTINUES - Another round, another dose of spectacular for Allen Johnson, who delivered the best run of the round one more time with a 6.945 at 198.15 mph in a second-round win against Greg Anderson.
He’s been the quickest in every qualifying pass and now through two rounds of eliminations, easing past Greg Anderson and his 6.988 at 197 mph.
The pressure seems to build each round for Johnson, who added a great .023 reaction time, but it hasn’t bothered Johnson thus far.
“There’s a lot of pressure, but we’re going rounds and that’s what matters,” Johnson said.
OH, BABY! - All along, Bernstein had hoped to have a terrific showing this weekend, not just to break his winless streak that dates back to 2009 at Richmond, Va., but also to put an exclamation mark on his momentous week. He and wife Tracey welcomed son Landon Russell into the world earlier this week to join daughter Lyla Faith. Now Bernstein will have the chance to go for a victory. Massey left the starting line first, but Bernstein overtook him and held him off for a .0087-second margin of victory.
ANOTHER SWEEP IN MAKING? - Brown, who has swept the Western Swing, has a chance to start another run at it. He and Torrence were virtually even out of the gate but Brown had a 3.991, 306.33 to win. Torrence, who had been to four finals in the previous six races, trailed with a 4.303, 250.78.
JOHNSON CAPS IT OFF IN STYLE - It was one of the most dominant weekends of his career and Bandimere Speedway continued to be very good to Allen Johnson after he went 6.951 at 197.31 mph to beat V. Gaines in an all-Mopar Pro Stock final.
Johnson left first with an .031 reaction time, and never trailed, which was the theme for his incredible weekend. Gaines closed with a 7.14 at 160.35 mph, which was far off his usual performance on what was an otherwise memorable weekend at his home track.
Still, nobody could top Johnson, who ran low E.T. of every round of qualifying and eliminations, was the No. 1 qualifier, set the track record and ended with his fourth win at Bandimere and third win of 2012.
PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE
DAY OF UPSETS - Nos. 9, 10, 11, 12, and 15 qualifiers moved on to the quarterfinals -- thanks to three red-light fouls that included two by the husband-wife team of Matt and Angie Smith. Jerry Savoie had the other red light, passing LE Tonglet through to the quarterfinals.
QUICK ON THE DRAW - Michael Ray used a .009-second reaction time to eliminate Colorado's favorite son, Littleton's Mike Berry. Ray had a 7.419-second E.T. and 176.01-mph speed, while Berry's snoozy .145-second light left him with a quicker and faster but losing 7.322, 181.47. Berry said, "I just went brain-dead" to allow the holeshot defeat. Ray said he could see fuel coming out of his bike -- "and that's not good" -- but said he didn’t want to let off the gas because this is Race Day. He said he has plenty of parts in the trailer and assured he would get his bike fixed for his semifinal meeting with top qualifier Hector Arana Jr.
BOTH SEEING RED - No. 10 starter Karen Stoffer said she and crew chief husband Gary Stoffer had been "saving it all for Sunday" after her 7.263-second victory on the GEICO Suzuki that could muster only 7.351 in qualifying. "We have a bracket bike, but I was hoping we'd have a tenth better than a bracket bike," she said after inning a double-red-light pairing. Matt Smith jumped the gun by .019 seconds, and Stoffer was .002 of a second too quick.
.002 LIGHT NOT HELPFUL - Shawn Gann cut a .002 reaction time but Eddie Krawiec, the two-time series champion from Vance & Hines organization kept the Screamin' Eagle Harley-Davidson domination going with a 7.246, 185.13 that trumped Gann's 7.330, 182.01. Krawiec's speed was best of the round.
HOTTY SCOTTY - The veteran Steve Johnson launched first but Pollacheck, but Scotty Pollacheck, the Buell rider from Oregon, recovered to reach his fifth quarterfinal appearance of the year.
HARLEYS MATCH TIMES - Andrew Hines defeated Michael Phillips with a 7.246-second elapsed time that matched teammate Eddie Krawiec's winning time against Shawn Gann. This win set up a showdown between himself and Pollacheck in the semifinals.
ANOTHER GIMME - Top-seeded Hector Arana Jr. broke the track E.T. record by a thousandth of a second, at 7.237 seconds on the quarter-mile, but he didn't need to do that to keep his first-round blemish limited to the Atlanta race. Angie Smith, who was rebounding from her wild ride past the sand trap at Norwalk two weeks ago, was overeager to become known for something besides that scary highlight-reel performance. She fouled out by .107 seconds.
ANOTHER UPSET - Matt Guidera, out of the No. 15 slot, overtook No. 2 starter Arana Sr., who lost after his Lucas Oil Buell started wiggling a bit down track. Guidera, who won with a 7.495-second pass, will face Stoffer in the second round.
NOT SO FAST, MISTER - Stoffer stopped upset-minded Guidera in his tracks, beating the fellow West Coast racer, 7.370, 180.31. She won this event last July and will face Hines for the right to try for a repeat victory.
GUNNING FOR A GIFT - Hines, who spent much of his life in Trinidad, Colo., said he felt no pressure to carry the Harley-Davidson banner at his hometown track. But he might have felt some pressure to bring wife Tanya a Wally winner's trophy for her birthday Sunday. She's back home at Indianapolis, so for now he gave her a shout-out following his 7.263-second victory.
SWEET MATCH-UP- The top-half-of-the-ladder semifinal will be a showdown between Arana Jr., who had the quickest E.T. of the first two rounds, and Eddie Krawiec, who recorded top speed of the first two rounds.
GOTCHA - Both of these series champions understand the importance of being sharp on the Christmas Tree. This time Krawiec had the edge with a .002-second light, but Tonglet was no slouch with a .018 reaction time. Krawiec advanced with a 7.283, 183.89 to Tonglet's 7.373, 179.44 but lost lane choice in the semifinals to Arana Jr., who dispatched Michael Ray with a 7.246-second run at 183.15 mph. Ray had a 7.515, 157.65.
KRAWIEC BACK IN THE CIRCLE - Eddie Krawiec earned his fourth victory of the season as his Vance & Hines Screamin' Eagle Harley-Davidson teammate Andrew Hines, red-lit and disqualified himslef. Krawiec won with a 7.301-second E.T. at 182.28 mph. Hines, two-thousandths of a second too early off the starting line, wasted a 7.285-second run at 181.94 mph.
SATURDAY NOTEBOOK - THE TOUGH GET TOUGHER UNDER EXTREME CONDITIONS
MASSEY REMAINS ON TOP - Thankfully for Spencer Massey he is not prophetic.
The driver of the Fram/Prestone Top Fuel dragster for Don Schumacher Racing essentially predicted his 3.914-second elapsed time would get knocked off the pole Saturday at the Mile-High Nationals.
He was wrong.
No one could clock better than 3.914, thus Massey won the pole position at Bandimere Speedway.
“Obviously I was way wrong on that,” Massey said about his prediction. “(Saturday) I thought the conditions would have been a little bit better. I didn’t think it would get so hot so quick for that first qualifying session, but it did. The track was hot and everybody was kind of struggling. We only went a 4.02 the first session. At least we went down the track in the heat again.”
This was Masey’s second pole of the season and fifth of his career and first at Bandimere. Massey also won the pole at Englishtown earlier this season.
Massey, who came to the Mile-High Nationals as the season points leader, can clinch a Countdown spot by going one round further than either Bob Vandergriff Jr. or Clay Millican or by going to round three Sunday.
“That would be a huge plus to go ahead and get clinched into the Countdown,” Massey said. “Obviously, that is what we are all shooting for. Right now, our main deal is just go up and go rounds and try and get a win. If we get a win, it obviously works out for itself. We want our Fram car to go A to B and get win lights.”
The six race Countdown to the Championship begins Sept. 14-16 at Charlotte, N.C.
Massey said his DSR crew pushed his dragster to the limit on its fourth qualifying pass Saturday.
“We tried to see how far we could push it and it smoked the tires, and that’s good because I like to see how far we can get over that hump,” Massey said. “Now, we can back it up and go down the track (Sunday) hopefully and try and go some rounds. The whole key is getting round wins, getting points, having fun and trying to get a Wally.”
Massey is confident in what his team can accomplish Sunday. Massey meets Steven Chrisman is round one.
“We just need to go back to the data from our first run Saturday, the 4.02,” Massey said. “We are not going to try and push it and we are not going to try and set the world on fire. We just do not want to beat ourselves.”
BECKMAN MAINTAINS - Jack Beckman took care of the theatrics on Friday at Bandimere Speedway. But two solid passes on Saturday ended up being just as important for the NHRA Full Throttle Funny Car driver. Thanks to his outstanding 4.131 at 304.05 mph from Friday, Beckman’s No. 1 qualifying spot at the Mopar Mile-High NHRA Nationals was never challenged during two scorching qualifying sessions at Bandimere on Saturday.
It gives Beckman his first No. 1 qualifier of the season in a loaded FC field, but his two strong passes on Saturday (4.343, 4.378) give the Don Schumacher Racing standout plenty of confidence heading into Sunday’s eliminations.
“The fact that we ran well on Friday was good for qualifying. The fact that we ran well three times in the heat is good for (Sunday),” Beckman said. “In Funny Car, it doesn’t matter where you qualify, anybody can win. That being said, you want to be top three if you had a choice. Typically you’re going to get a more favorable first-round matchup and we get to pick when we run for pairings. Sometimes that can make a difference.”
Beckman’s DSR teammate, Ron Capps, ran better during the fourth and final qualifying session when Capps pulled out an encouraging 4.285 on what ended up being the best pass for anyone on Saturday.
Johnny Gray and Mike Neff both went 4.31, and Matt Hagan also had a solid 4.345. Hagan, though, stays in the No. 9 spot and could be a potential quarterfinal opponent for Beckman should the No. 1 qualifier get past Todd Simpson.
Beckman can also take comfort of being one of the few drivers to make four solid qualifying hits through Friday and Saturday. He hopes that carries over to Sunday, where Beckman will be shooting for his second win of 2012. Beckman credits the solid performance in Denver thus far to a crew that has been on point since racing started on Friday.
“To qualify No. 1, it’s awesome that we got those bonus points and it’s awesome that we got a pole. But nothing replaces how that number cropping up on the board made those nine guys that work on that car feel,” Beckman said. “That’s the greatest thing."
Getting a second win in 2012 and at Bandimere would certainly be a highlight for Beckman, who has held the track in high regard for nearly 30 years. But just getting in the winner’s circle, especially considering the challenges that await on any given Sunday, is a thrill, no matter the location.
“There’s certainly some wins that stick out more than other wins,” Beckman said. “But I’ve never looked at a trophy and gone, ‘Man, that was a really crappy day.’ There’s no bad trophies out there.”
JOHNSON NABS PS TRACK RECORD - The plan for Allen Johnson this weekend was to come to Bandimere Speedway and dominate.
After Saturday’s marvelous performance in Pro Stock at the Mopar Mile-High NHRA Nationals, Johnson is two-thirds of the way there. Even in extreme heat and less than ideal conditions, Johnson was brilliant during two qualifying sessions, capped off by an incredible 6.951 at 197.97 mph, setting the track record in the process and qualifying No. 1 at the track for the third straight year and fifth time overall.
“It just shows the strength of this Mopar Dodge Avenger team. In the heat of the day, in the worst air of the whole weekend, we came out here and made our best run, getting ready for tomorrow,” Johnson said. “Hats off to the engine guys, my dad and everyone on the car. We just have a bad hot rod right now.”
Through two days, Johnson, who picked up his seventh No. 1 qualifier of 2012, has been dynamite and several steps ahead of a talented Pro Stock contingent that haven’t solved the Bandimere altitude nearly as well as Johnson.
Only seven drivers qualified in the 6-second zone and only two others – Mike Edwards at 6.966 and V. Gaines at 6.968 – could even make it to 6.96. Johnson got to 6.95 on both of his qualifying passes on Saturday, running 6.956 at 198.17 mph to kick off his day.He stepped it up even more during the final qualifying session – even as the track temperature rose to nearly 120 degrees – and made it clear that the extensive testing he has done at the high-altitude track have been plenty beneficial.
“This is what we thought we could do coming here after testing,” Johnson said. “We’ve got a bad hombre right now and this Avenger is really hauling the mail. I really want to give that Wally to the Mopar folks on their 75th birthday.”
The bonus for two days of qualifying dominance is 12 bonus points for having the best pass in every session. For the team, the real bonus is running well – and a clear step ahead of the competition – in conditions that were less than ideal and conditions that will likely be replicated during Sunday’s eliminations.
“Conditions will be just about the same as they were (during the final qualifying session), so more of the same would be what we want for tomorrow,” Johnson said. “But even that run right there wasn’t perfect, so we might be able to put another .01 in there.”
In the first round of Sunday’s eliminations, Johnson will face Paul Pittman, who has yet to make a full pass and qualified No. 16 with a whopping 13.844.
Johnson laughed off the notion of a possible red light and a massive upset – “an .020 light is about the best I can get,” Johnson said with a chuckle – and focused instead on what will be a grinding day.Should he get past Pittman, Johnson would face the winner of points leader Greg Anderson and Jeg Coughlin in the quarterfinals, which would be no easy task.
“We’ll just go out there and try to make another qualifying run and try to get set up for the second round, which will probably be a little tougher,” Johnson said.
STAYING THE COURSE - Nothing changed for Hector Arana Jr. Saturday at the Mile-High Nationals and that was a good thing.
Friday night in qualifying, Arana Jr. clocked a 7.238-second elapsed time at 184.57 mph and no one could better his effort so he captured the pole position at Bandimere Speedway. Arana Jr.’s elapsed time tied the track record initially set by Michael Phillips on July 24, 2010.
Thanks to stout qualifying runs, which included 7.249 and 7.254-second laps Saturday, Arana Jr. picked up all 12 of NHRA’s qualifying bonus points.
“That is real big,” said Arana Jr. about collecting those bonus points. “Anything we can do to try to sneak up to those Harleys. Those guys (Eddie Krawiec and Andrew Hines) are a real strong team and they are doing an excellent job, so anything we can do to try to catch up to them is good. It’s all turning around and coming together for us at the right time and I’m excited.”
This was Arana Jr.’s first pole of the season and eighth of his career, and first at Bandimere. Hector Arana Sr., Arana Jr.’s dad, also remained second in the qualifying ladder at 7.243 seconds. Krawiec and Hines have combined to win all six of NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle races this season.
“This weekend, the most important thing was to remain consistent and that was really awesome that we have been able to do that and I’m really excited,” Arana Jr. said.
The only downside to Arana Jr.’s runs Saturday came when his dad was unable to leave the starting line on his fourth qualifying attempt.
“We have been having a little sensor problems with that bike and I think one of them just occurred,” Arana Jr. said. “Thank God it was (Saturday) and not (Sunday) and hopefully we can fix it and be able to sleep well.”
Arana Jr. meets No. 16 qualifier Angie Smith in round one.
“We are just going to go off the runs we made earlier in the weekend and put the tune-ups back in,” Arana Jr. said. “We have not really made big adjustments just tiny little adjustments and as you can see we have been very consistent. The goal is to do that (Sunday).”
MYTHS OR FACT FACTS CAMPAIGN BEGINS - When Jack Beckman was diagnosed with lymphoma, a form of cancer, in 2004, it was hard to separate fact from fiction.
The NHRA Full Throttle Funny Car driver vividly remembers hearing from those close to him that he would have to quit his job and that his drag racing career was effectively over.
It was confusing, it was frustrating and Beckman didn’t know exactly what to believe.
“When I got diagnosed, there’s obviously a state of shock and you almost get numb to the whole thing. That’s the time that you need to be so focused to get good direction, good guidance and good information,” Beckman said. “It’s the time when so many people listen to myths from their friends; they get freaked out by stuff that they shouldn’t be; they get bad information; you have to go to your healthcare provider and get the straight scoop.”
Now going on eight years of his last chemotherapy treatment, Beckman is cancer-free and helping others get their questions answered by the people who know best: physicians. Beckman is now a spokesmen for Amgen, a California-based biopharmaceutical company, on its “Chemotherapy: Myths or Facts” campaign, which aims to debunk common misconceptions associated with chemotherapy, and encourages patients and caregivers to take charge of their cancer journey by speaking openly with their doctors.
The campaign will have a strong presence at three upcoming NHRA races – the NHRA Nationals in Sonoma, the U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis and the O’Reilly Auto Parts Nationals in Charlotte – and will include an impressive interactive video booth.
It will allow people to briefly talk about what some describe as myths regarding cancer and chemotherapy.
“I feel like I can speak with a lot of credibility on this and that’s why I partnered with AMGEN on this. My story is similar to 10 million Americans who are going through cancer, but everybody does it in an individual way,” Beckman said. “No two cancers are the same and there’s many, many different types of treatment out there, and that really underscores how important it is for people to clear through the myths that are out there. You’ve got to get good information before you start your chemotherapy. This campaign will help give a clearer picture for those who face chemotherapy.”
That’s something Beckman had to face in 2004, hearing a variety of things from a number of different people.
But he took a few close friends to his first appointments to ensure every question was answered.
He ignored the outside “myths” and on Oct. 24, 2004, Beckman had his last chemotherapy treatment. Now, his goal is to help others get their questions answered properly and correctly.
“The reason I got involved is I felt like it was important that people know that there is good information out there,” Beckman said. “(But) there’s a lot of myths out there and you have to get past those.”
Currently in fourth place in the Funny Car points race heading into this weekend’s Mopar Mile-High Nationals in Denver, Beckman is in the middle of a championship chase as one of the drivers on the talented Don Schumacher Racing team.
But the “Chemotherapy: Myths or Facts” campaign will remain an important focus for Beckman through the championship hunt.
“I just talked to a good friend. She and her husband and I raced bracket cars in the 80s, (and) they moved out here and she just had her first chemotherapy treatment for breast cancer. This is why this is so important because every day someone is getting diagnosed with cancer,” Beckman said. “When you hear you have cancer, that’s incredibly frightening. Then you hear you’re going to have chemotherapy, and it’s almost equally frightening. So, get the correct information."
HAGAN HITS THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL - There’s no question Matt Hagan wanted to earn a spot in the Traxxas Nitro Shootout Sept. 2 during the U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis.
Hagan failed to do that because he wasn’t one of the first seven NHRA Funny Car drivers to win a national event this season and clinch a spot in the $260,000 Traxxas Shootout. Now Hagan, the reigning world champ, is hitting the campaign trail. Hagan, who pilots the Mopar/Aaron’s Don Schumacher Racing entry, is trying to get fans to vote for him to increase his chances in a lottery draw to determine who the eighth driver in the Traxxas Nitro Shootout will be. The Traxxas Shootout winner takes home $100,000.
“This campaign we are doing is a DSR deal,” Hagan said. “Obviously, we need to get things together to get in this Countdown and get in the Traxxas Shootout. We just have to keep digging deep and working hard and hopefully some folks will vote for us and get a shot at it (the Traxxas Shootout).”
The vote tally will not solely determine who gets the No. 8 spot in the Shootout, but the more votes Hagan gets the more chances he will have of winning the weighted-lottery drawing.
On Thursday night, a new website, Vote4Hagan.com, was introduced at the Mopar Block Party in Golden, Colo., prior to the Mopar Mile-High NHRA Nationals this weekend at Bandimere Speedway in Morrison. In addition to the website, Jeff Wolf, the public relations manager for DSR, is passing out “I LIKE MATT” red, white and blue buttons.
“I think the buttons are cool,” Hagan said.
Hagan also had some fun shooting a video as part of his campaign. The video is laced with highlights of Hagan and humor to get the vote of fans.
“That was a blast shooting that video,” Hagan said. “I just like to ham it up all the time. Anytime I can get on camera and goof off a little bit I’m tickled to death.”
Those wanting to vote for Hagan will have to wait until Aug. 19 at NHRA’s Facebook page which will open once that day’s racing in the Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals is completed at Brainerd, Minn. Voting closes on NHRA’s Facebook.com page on Aug. 28 at noon (EDT) and the winner will be announced the following day at noon during the NHRA Fan Fest at Monument Circle in downtown Indianapolis.
According to Hagan, he shot the video early this week.
“We did a couple takes and we did some different stuff and they picked out what was the best,” Hagan said. “It was good. It was comical and we had a good time with it.”
Hagan also said there will be some unique aspects to the Vote4Hagan.com campaign coming soon.
“There are all kinds of things to come,” Hagan said. “I can’t give it away. There is no more video stuff, but they have some real big stuff going on. We have stuff that is going to get everybody’s attention.”
Hagan came to the Mile-High Nationals 13th in the point standings and he knows he needs to make up ground in a hurry to grab one of the top 10 spots to get to compete in the six-race Countdown to the Championship beginning Sept. 14-16 at Charlotte, N.C.
“Our team is just too good not to have the momentum turn in our favor,” Hagan said. “Hopefully it is just not too late when it does. Look at last year. We didn’t really come on strong until the very end and we won two races in the Countdown, set a world record and won the world championship. We have never really been the greatest hot weather race car and we struggled a little earlier this year. That’s not to say that we will not do well at the end of the year. We just need to be in the Countdown to do that.”
Hagan qualified No. 9 at the Mile-High Nationals and meets Jeff Arend in round one.
COUNTDOWN CLINCHERS - Although NHRA’s Countdown to the championship doesn’t begin until Sept. 14-16 at Charlotte, N.C., four drivers have already clinched based on how they have already performed at the Mile-High Nationals. Pro Stock drivers and Summit Racing teammates Greg Anderson and Jason Line clinched spots. All Anderson had to do was make a qualifying attempt, which he did and Line just had to qualify. Anderson and Line qualified ninth and fifth. The last time Anderson qualified ninth or lower was at Norwalk in 2011 when he qualified No. 9 and lost in the first round to Allen Johnson.
Johnson, who qualified on the Mile-High Nationals pole, also secured a Countdown spot by qualifying eighth or better.
Robert Hight also clinched a spot in the Funny Car Countdown and Eddie Krawiec in the Pro Stock Motorcycle Countdown by just qualifying for the Mile-High Nationals. Hight and Krawiec qualified No. 2 and No. 4.
There are also a handful of others drivers who could secure Countdown spots today.
In Top Fuel, points leader Spencer Massey will clinch a Countdown spot by going one round further than either Bob Vandergriff Jr. or Clay Millican or by going to round three Sunday. Massey’s teammate Tony Schumacher can also get in the Countdown by going to Denver’s final round.
Speaking of Schumacher, up until the fourth round of qualifying he was No. 13 in the field. The Sarge did had a solid 4.013-second run in the last session Saturday to move up to eighth. Schumacher clashes with Khalid alBalooshi in first round. Red-hot Ron Capps of Don Schumacher Racing also will get in the Funny Car Countdown by advancing to the Denver finals. Andrew Hines, Krawiec’s Harley-Davidson teammate, will clinch a Countdown spot by going to round two Sunday.
MCMILLEN SURVIVES HECTIC DAY - Terry McMillen, the driver/owner of the Amalie dragster, had to take a moment to catch his breath at noon Saturday at Bandimere Speedway.
McMillen definitely needed a moment. Saturday at 5 a.m. Mountain Time, McMillen boarded a Kalitta Lear jet at Rocky Mountain International Airport and flew to Las Vegas to make a speech at the Bio Med National Convention at the Bellagio Resort in Vegas. McMillen arrived in Vegas and made his 25-minute speech at 8 a.m. Pacific Time. Then, he immediately boarded the Lear Jet and came back to Denver.
“It has been a long day, but a great day,” said McMillen, who arrived in time for Saturday’s third qualifying session at 1:30 p.m. “To go there and speak to all the Bio Med folks who make all the joint replacement parts was great. I pretty much thank them for giving me my life back. I have two good replacement knees and they allow me to do the things I want to do.”
McMillen had some engine trouble in his third and fourth qualifying runs Saturday, but he was happy with his 3.947 and 3.930 runs Friday.
“The car is running really good, and we regrouped after Norwalk,” said McMillen, who failed to qualify at Norwalk. “We were top mph (314.75) after the first session and (Friday night) we were on a better run than anybody else and it kept getting out of the groove to the right and I had to lift. We were quicker than everybody, and if that is any indication we will be in for a good race (Sunday).”
McMillen’s 3.930-second lap qualified him in the No. 4 spot. He meets Scott Palmer in the first round.
CAMERA ISSUES FOR CAPPS - When Ron Capps made a 4.285-second run on his last qualifying pass Saturday afternoon, it looked smooth.
It was anything but.
“I do not know if they showed the in-car (camera), but they have two of them in there, one looking out and one looking back at me,” Capps said. “When (Rahn) Tobler’s power kicked in. The NAPA car took off and the in-car camera that was looking at me came back and hit me. I tried to see where I was going and I got hit pretty hard. It is a pretty good size camera. I was just trying to keep it in the groove because I didn’t know what happened. Then I get out and my buddy Zippy, ol’ Mike Neff I didn’t know what it ran for sure because our radios aren’t working real well and he told me good run brother. I said what did we run 27? And he said ’21.’ I go wow! Really? And he said no I’m just kidding.”
CONNIE KALITTA SKIPS BANDIMERE - Connie Kalitta, legendary driver/owner crew chief, didn’t make the trip from Ypsilanti, Mich., to Morrison, Colo., for the Mile-High Nationals.
A Kalitta spokesman said Connie “had business stuff to take care of and decided not to come.”
Although Kalitta isn’t at Bandimere Speedway he still has his pulse on what’s going on especially with David Grubnic’s dragster, which he serves as the crew chief. He has been burning up the phones lines talking to James Riola, the assistant crew chief on Grubnic’s dragster.
“Connie is still making all the calls on the car (Grubnic’s dragster) like he normally does,” a Kalitta spokesman said. “James is telling him what the computer shows and he is telling James to fix it.”
Grubnic qualified No. 12 with a 4.101-second time. He faces Brandon Bernstein in the first round Sunday.
Connie Kalitta will be back at Sonoma, Calif., July 27-29 for NHRA’s next national event.
While Grubnic struggled a little, his teammate Doug Kalitta didn’t. Kalitta, Connie’s nephew, qualified No. 3 at 3.925 seconds. Kalitta gets Clay Millican in first round.
“Denver had been good to us,” Doug said. “Just hat’s off to my whole team, I’m real proud of them.”
At the Mile-High Nationals, the late Scott Kalitta had three Top Fuel wins, Connie two and Doug has one in 2010.
TODD REJOINING VANDERGRIFF JR LATER THIS SEASON - This season, J.R. Todd has competed at Houston, Atlanta and Topeka as a Top Fuel teammate to Bob Vandergriff Jr. Todd wasn’t driving with Vandergriff Jr. at the Mile-High Nationals, but he will return before season’s end according to Vandergriff.
“J.R. will be at Indy (Aug. 29-Sept. 3) and in Dallas (Sept. 20-23) for sure,” Vandergriff Jr. said. “We are working on some other stuff that may get him to Charlotte (Sept. 14-16) and one more after that. Having a teammate is a big help. We have definitely seen the benefits from it and it is hard when you are competing against three and four-car teams with one car by yourself. It is definitely something we need to do to step up our program and that’s what we are working on.”
There was some talk earlier this season that former world champion Larry Dixon would also join Vandergriff’s team, and that is still a possibility.
“That all comes down to funding,” Vandergriff said. “You have to have the funding before any of that takes place. Like I said, we both said we would love to work together if the opportunity is there and if it presents itself we will definitely do it. We just have to create the funding for it.”
GOT WILK IN FIELD - Tim Wilkerson, the veteran nitro Funny Car driver, qualified No. 10 with a 4.237-second lap on Friday. Wilkerson had 4.350 and a 5.064 second runs Saturday in qualifying, but he remains upbeat about Sunday.
“The runs (Saturday) were a lot more important than they were Friday,” said Wilkerson who is 11th in the point standings. “(Friday) was just hitting right on Q2 there to get yourself qualified well. Saturday was a lot more like what we will see during the races. I hope we are ready for the challenge (Sunday).”
Wilkerson meets Courtney Force in the first round. This is Courtney Force’s first race as a nitro Funny Car driver at the Mile-High Nationals.
“It is a little bit different,” Courtney said. “It is definitely a lot harder to breath at this altitude. We have a good race car and we will get it running good (Sunday).”
ANGIE SMITH MAKES FIELD - Last week, Matt Smith told Competition Plus.com he planned on having Angie Smith, his wife, ride a third motorcycle for his team during the West Coast Swing, which started at Bandimere this weekend, and concludes at Sonoma, Calif., July 27-29 for the Pro Stock Motorcycle riders. Angie accomplished the first goal as she qualified No. 16 for the Mile-High Nationals. Angie faces No. 1 qualifier Hector Arana Jr. Sunday.
“I was hoping she would just have to make one run Saturday, but she needed the second one to get in,” Matt said.
Matt qualified No. 7 at 7.321 second and he meets defending Mile-High Nationals champion Karen Stoffer in round one. Michael Ray, who also is a Matt Smith Racing rider, qualified No. 9 and clashes with Mike Berry in first round.
After suffering back-to-back first-round losses at the last two national events, Chicago and Norwalk, Matt Smith decided to change his appearance by dying his hair blond.
“I’m trying to change my luck,” said Smith about his new hairdo.
Matt Smith is ninth in the season point standings.
OUTSIDE LOOKING IN - There were 17 nitro Funny Cars attempting to make a 16-car Mile-High Nationals field. Todd Lesenko, who drives Jim Dunn’s Tap It Brewing Company entry, was the odd man out.
Lesenko was pedaling his Funny Car during its fourth qualifying run Saturday and clocked a 5.088-second. That had him in the field initially until he was knocked out moments later by Jeffrey Diehl. Diehl ran a 4.905-second lap to sneak into the No. 15 spot and push Todd Simpson to No. 16 at 4.951.
“We gave it the best we had and it just didn’t work out for us this weekend unfortunately,” Lesenko said. “We have just been struggling with different mechanical stuff and we have a great team and we will get it squared away.”
MORGAN HOPING FOR REVERSAL OF LUCK IN PRO STOCK - Not even a broken plane and some extensive apartment searching in New York could keep Pro Stock driver Larry Morgan completely away from Bandimere Speedway.
Now he’s just hoping to make the most out of a weekend that has already included some wild times.
Morgan ended up qualifying No. 11 with a 7.046 at 195.70 mph at the Mopar Mile-High NHRA Nationals, but he endured some crazy circumstances just to get to the track. After spending much of the week in New York tracking down a place for his son to live this fall for school, Morgan’s plane to Denver was delayed by eight hours.
“Our plane broke and the airline had to fly the part and the mechanic in to fix the problem,” Morgan said. “We barely missed the first session. We were just coming up the hill when the last pair of Pro Stock cars were at the line. If they would have finished with the plane 15 minutes earlier we would have been able to make that run.”
Morgan was able to make the other three passes, finishing in the middle of the pack in qualifying, though he did post a solid 196.07 mph pass in what was his fastest session of the weekend.
“Every time down the track this weekend, we hit a spot where it feels like the car runs out of gas. It feels like the thing just stops then starts up again,” Morgan said. “I think we've got a valve somewhere that is given out and leaking. We'll fix it tonight and should pick up some more E.T. when we race in the morning.”
He will need it, as Morgan faces Erica Enders in one of the top opening-round matchups in Pro Stock. But the way Morgan sees it, he’s due a couple of fortuitous bounces.
“After everything that's happened this week, I'm just happy I have someone to race,” Morgan said. “It's a good opportunity to win a round or two here. We'll give it all we've got in the morning.”
FRIDAY NOTEBOOK - RACING WITH HEAVY HEARTS IN DENVER
MASSEY CAPTURES PROVISIONAL POLE - Whatever Top Fuel driver Spencer Massey seems to do lately turns out golden.
Massey won the last the national event at Norwalk, Ohio, and came to the Mile-High Nationals in Morrison, Colo., first in points.
Massey didn’t take his foot off the throttle Friday at Bandimere Speedway.
Massey, who pilots the Fram/Prestone Don Schumacher Racing dragster, clocked a 3.914-second lap at 309.49 mph to take the provisional pole.If Massey keeps the pole Saturday it will be his second of the season and fifth of his career. Massey’s 3.914 run came in the heat of the day, while he clocked a 3.923-second run Friday night.
“I was extremely surprised that nobody ran quicker (Friday night),” said Massey, who is the defending champion at the Mile-High Nationals. “The conditions were coming around and the track is actually a lot better than everybody thought. I was surprised we didn’t see an 87 or 88 by Antron (Brown) or Tony (Schumacher) and the Morgan Lucas car and Steve Torrence, but they didn’t do it. I just have to say hat’s off to the Fram guys. We went back to the data that we knew (from here last year) and it lucked out the first run and it went a 91. Sometimes it throws you a bone and it threw us a bone in the right direction.”
Massey’s Friday runs were even more impressive considering he was debuting a new in-house built DSR chassis.
“I wasn’t really sure what it was going to run,” said Phil Shuler, who is the co-chief of Massey’s dragster with Todd Okuhara. “It is a new car and we weren’t really sure which way it would go, but seems good so far.”
Massey, meanwhile, had no worries about the new chassis.
“This was a brand new chassis and this was the first time we ran it,” Massey said. “The chassis builders at the (DSR) shop give it 100 percent. I trust them. I trust my crew guys. When I got out there for that first run Todd (Okuhara) said if anything happens click it off because it is our first run on this car. If not have fun and go to the finish line. What do you know it went to the finish line and was the No. 1 qualifier. That’s hat’s off to the Don Schumacher chassis builders and the brand new race car.”
Massey also was upbeat about his 3.923 pass.
“In that last run we were trying to run a high 80 and it only went to 92 and that is OK,” Massey said. “We found a little something in the clutch that we should have been more aggressive with on that run. I’m very pleased going into (Saturday) we just have to go down the track two more times and keep that No. 1 spot.”
Massey admitted his top qualifying elapsed time probably wouldn’t hold on Saturday.
“We went a 91 in the heat (Friday) and there are a ton of cars that can run well in the heat just like we did,” Massey said. “There is a 75 percent chance someone will run faster (Saturday) than we did (Friday). Hopefully we get to go on top of their run and go even quicker whenever it is our turn.”
BECKMAN DELIVERS - Jack Beckman has always had fond feelings regarding Bandimere Speedway.
If he keeps up his pace from Friday’s NHRA Full Throttle Funny Car qualifying sessions, that adulation will only grow.
Beckman delivered an outstanding performance during the evening session at the Mopar Mile-High Nationals, running at a 4.131 at 304.05 mph as part of the final pair to take the No. 1 qualifier provisional spot.
Beckman has a strong history at Bandimere, winning once before, but his love affair with the track might be on the verge of growing with more performances like Friday.
“It’s pretty cool because I love this place. I came to my first Mile-High Nationals when I was stationed here in the Air Force in 1984, and the next three years I drove 500 miles one-way to be here because it’s just a phenomenal race,” Beckman said.
“Then when I started my pro career, I’ve had really good success here. They treat you fantastic here and everything about this place is phenomenal unless you’re a crew chief.”
Robert Hight ran a 4.135 at 304.53 mph as part of the second pair of Funny Cars in the night session and Ron Capps went 4.137 a pair later.
But Beckman turned in a marquee performance to leapfrog both and get on track for his first No. 1 qualifier of 2012.
Beckman was immediately pleased with the run, and the entire crew on his Don Schumacher Racing team shared that delight.
“When you get that piece of paper that says you were the best on that run, it’s awesome to hear the excitement when they come over the radio in the shutdown area,” Beckman said.
Delivering an impressive performance in the night session where times are the quickest and play a pivotal role in qualifying position was imperative to Beckman as well.
It didn’t happen two weeks ago in Norwalk and Beckman didn’t want a repeat scenario. He ran a solid 4.256 at 292.65 mph in the opening session, but knew he needed to step up after seeing Hight and Neff lay down two strong passes.
“Our run the first session went from second to (10th), so there’s that very real possibility, exactly like we just had in Norwalk, where we were quick in a couple of sessions and missed it on the one that really counted and ended up with a terrible qualifying and starting position,” Beckman said.
“In Funny Car, there are no guarantees. You can win from No. 16 and you can lose when you qualify on the pole. That being said, if you can qualify in the top three you’re stacking the deck in your favor for Sunday.”
The goal for Saturday is to try new parts and pieces and continue to feed data to crew chief Todd Smith, giving him plenty of options for the stretch run.
Beckman doesn’t foresee any major changes happening in qualifying on Saturday, but his team always has plenty to be working towards.
“Qualifying No. 1 is fantastic and we’re trying to line ourselves up so for the last six races we’re in good shape,” Beckman said."
JOHNSON MAINTAINS CUSTOMARY TOP SPOT - Practice didn’t quite lead to perfection on Friday for Allen Johnson, but it was plenty good enough for the provisional No. 1 qualifying spot in Pro Stock at the Mopar Mile-High NHRA Nationals.
After setting the track record at Bandimere Speedway with a run of 6.915 at 199 mph during testing earlier this month, Johnson wasn’t quite as sharp during Friday’s two qualifying sessions.
But Johnson still managed to impress, taking the top spot with a run of 6.962 at 197.62 mph, though even Johnson admitted he was a little off during the pass.
“We actually should have ran a little better. We didn’t make a very good run and the driver screwed up a little bit in staging,” Johnson said. “But the Mopar Dodge Avenger is bad to the bone up here, the crew is bad to the bone and we’ll take it and hopefully build on it.”
Johnson is clearly at home at Bandimere and appears headed for his fifth No. 1 qualifier and third straight No. 1 qualifier at the track.
Of course, the Mopar-sponsored race is of special meaning to Johnson, who has won the event three times and been to the finals the past five years.
Getting back to that winner’s circle remains his primary concern this weekend.
“All the Mopar executives are here and we really want to do well for them and hand them that Wally,” Johnson said.
Johnson made the best pass of the first session, running a 6.982 as the only driver to get into the 6-second zone. Several more followed in the evening session and Mike Edwards delivered a quality 6.966 that momentarily put him in the top spot. But minutes later, Johnson took it back with his 6.962, though he admitted he staged his 2012 Avenger a little deep.
Despite that, Johnson appears on track for his seventh No. 1 qualifier in 2012, though the Greeneville, Tenn. native said the first qualifying session on Saturday could yield some impressive runs.
“That first run (Saturday), if the air is decent, we should be able to match that number first run,” Johnson said.
A total of six drivers ended in the 6.90s on Friday, but Johnson likely remains the favorite the rest of the weekend. He has maintained a rigorous testing session at the track, and the 6.915 and 6.925 Johnson put together in mid-July at Bandimere indicates his best efforts may still be forthcoming this weekend.
“We’re real happy and nothing would make me happier than to win that Wally on Sunday from the No. 1 position and hand all that to Mopar,” Johnson said. “We actually left a little on the table tonight and didn’t run as well as we should, but it was good enough for No. 1.”
REPLACEMENT MOTOR DELIVERS - All season, NHRA’s Pro Stock Motorcycle competitors have been chasing Harley-Davidson teammates Andrew Hines and Eddie Krawiec.
Friday night in qualifying Hector Arana Jr. caught and passed the dominant duo. Arana Jr. clocked a 7.238-second elapsed time at 184.57 mph to capture the provisional pole at the Mile-High Nationals at Bandimere Speedway.
Arana Jr.’s elapsed time tied the track record initially set by Michael Phillips on July 24, 2010.
“I haven’t been able to look at the data that we just made on that run, so I do not know if we will be able to improve or not,” said Arana Jr. “But, that was an excellent run. The bike felt great. The bike just left and felt real smooth and went straight. I knew it was good.”
If Arana Jr. keeps the pole Saturday it would be his first of the season and eighth of his career. Hector Arana Sr., Arana Jr.’s dad, is second in the qualifying ladder at 7.243 seconds.
“I do not know if you call it a rivalry,” Arana Jr. said about competing against his father. “I think it’s more like finally I got you (for that No. 1 qualifying spot).”
Arana Jr.’s run came with a motor he had not used since January 2011 during testing at Bradenton, Fla.
“This was a big confidence booster,” Arana Jr. said. “I honestly didn’t expect this motor to run as well as it did. We always put this motor aside and it is called the replacement and it is doing its job. It is an old motor and it is old faithful. It is not a replacement motor, but it is called the replacement. I feel real excited. I’m amped up. My lights have been great so far this weekend and I’m just looking forward to having a great time and having fun.”
Arana Jr. admitted his team doesn’t have any big plans for the remainder of the weekend.
“We only come here once a year and we only see these conditions once a year,” Arana Jr. said. “We just have to make our best guess for Sunday.”
DRIVERS REFLECT ON AURORA TRAGEDY -
When NHRA drivers woke up early Friday morning and turned on the TV or went on the internet they could not believe what they were seeing, hearing
Early Friday morning a gunman in body armor shot and killed 12 people and wounded 59 people at a midnight showing of "The Dark Knight Rises" in
Many of the 59 people who were injured were critically wounded, police said.
The tragedy that unfolded was hard for drivers to comprehend.
NHRA’s Mile-High Nationals began Friday and conclude Sunday at Bandimere Speedway in Morrison. Morrison is approximately 30 minutes from the Century 16 Movie Theaters at Aurora Town Center where the shootings took place. Aurora is a suburb less than 10 miles east of downtown Denver.
The suspect was identified as James Eagan Holmes, 24.
“It is very tragic to hear that somebody would do such a horrible thing like that to all those innocent people,” said Pro Stock Motorcycle rider Hector Arana Jr. “It’s scary. My guys and I actually talked about going to see the Batman movie over here and who knows if we would have gone and been at
that movie theater. It is pretty scary. You have to thank God and count our blessings that we are all still all right and say a lot of prayers. Who would think at a movie theater something like that would happen?”
Terry McMillen, who pilots the Amalie Oil Top Fuel entry, concurred with Arana Jr.
“To think that so many people were killed and so many people were injured and they just went out to enjoy the evening,” McMillen said. “It is so tragic. I guess it can happen to any of us at any time and any place. My guys happened to drive by there last night and saw the ambulances
and helicopters running to the scene of that. So many people lost their life for no reason at all. I wish there is something we could all do to stop that from happening. It is bigger than all of us. We are going to race here (at Bandimere) with heavy hearts this weekend. This is a tragedy and
something that seems to be occurring more and more often.”
Johnny Gray, who pilots the Service Central Funny Car for Don Schumacher Racing, was clearly upset by what unfolded in Aurora.
“It is a sad deal that the mentality of some people of the country we live in has turned to that,” said Gray, who lives in Artesia, N.M. “I’m a hunter
and an avid gun owner. I own guns and I believe in owning guns. I believe in that right. It is a shame that you take a miniscule amount of people in
the world that can get their hands on guns, and can harm the ability for someone such as myself to own firearms. That bothers me and my heart and
prayers go out to all the people that are involved in it and the tragedy that took place. I have two boys and they are married and I have three grand
kids by each one. I have six grand kids who could have very easily been in that theater. It seems like they have had more than their fair share of that
kind of stuff in this part of the country and I do not know why.”
The Columbine High School massacre was a school shooting in Littleton, Colo., on April 20, 1999. Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold went on a shooting
spree killing 12 students and one teacher and injuring 24 others.
Andrew Hines, a three-time Pro Stock Motorcycle world champion, expressed how drag racing is secondary to what happened in Aurora.
“It puts everything in perspective,” Hines said. “What we do out here is definitely for fun. To have tragedy strike like that for no apparent reason
is just utterly devastating. I feel so bad for everybody who is involved in that thing. That is the first thing I saw this morning when I flipped the news
channel on when I woke up. Seeing 12 dead and 50 injured on those first reports just gives me chills right now talking about it. I do not understand
what would drive somebody to do something like that. It puts this weekend in a whole different perspective. We need to try and help raise awareness for
situations like that.”
Hines grew up in Trinidad, Colo., which is about three hours from Bandimere Speedway.
“I was in Trinidad, in school, when the whole Columbine shooting happened,” said Hines, who graduated from Trinidad High School in 2001. “We turned on the TV and saw what was happening at Columbine and it was indescribable. This is a total bad deal what happened in Aurora.
Hopefully we can help the people around Denver who are coming out to the races this weekend by putting on a good show for them. We want to dedicate this event to all the families out there.”
Scott Palmer, who runs a limited Top Fuel schedule, also was trying to digest the news coming out of Aurora.
“This makes you realize that this (drag racing) is not as important as other things in the world,” Palmer said. “There are people right now who have lost their family members and we are out here drag racing. We should all realize how lucky we are to be out here doing this. These people went out to have a
good time and to go watch a movie and some of them didn’t walk out. It is a terrible tragedy.”
Antron Brown, who drives the Matco Tools dragster for DSR, couldn’t believe the Aurora news when he was told by a media member Friday morning.
“That is just such a tough situation,” Brown said. “We are all human beings and it is just very heartfelt just for all the families that have to go through that kind of tragedy. You go to a place and watch a movie and hear something like that happened my heart goes out to all who were involved and for the people who were injured. We are going to keep them in our prayers. You never want to see something like that happen.”
Brown’s teammate Tony Schumacher took a moment to share his thoughts on the tragedy.
“As an American you can be afraid to walk outside any day, as you can see a movie theater, really?,” Schumacher said. “That’s the safest place in the
world watching a great movie with your kids. I get up in the morning and I drive the Army car and to eliminate any risks I would have to give that up
and that ain’t going to happen. I didn’t know about it (what happened in Aurora) until this morning and it is just absolutely appalling that someone
would do that. You can’t understand how someone could take lives of people they do not know for no reason.”
SWEET 16 FOR SOME - This weekend at NHRA’s Mile-High Nationals, there are only 16 Top Fuel dragsters competing.
That means all the drivers will qualify for the 16-car eliminations Sunday.
For the powerhouse teams like Don Schumacher Racing that may not be a big deal, but for part-time driver Scott Palmer it is welcomed.
Palmer was the first Top Fuel dragster to qualify Friday. He struck the tires about 100 feet out and clocked 6.865-second run.
“We are just trying to make it to the finish line and make nice respectable runs here because these conditions are for experienced crew chiefs, these are not for guys like me,” said Palmer, who didn’t improve on that elapsed time on his second qualifying pass Friday night. “I just have to be careful and not do anything stupid. On Sunday, anything goes here. This is going to be a tricky race track on Sunday because it is going to be so hot.”
Terry McMillen, who is 12th in the points, also sees the benefits of only have 16 Top Fuel competitors at Bandimere.
“I think it helps a team like us (when there are only 16 competitors),” McMillen said. “If we decide to go half track and take a look at the motor, there is no pressure because we are still in the show. For us smaller teams, I think it is a benefit because we do not have to kill our stuff to find out.”
McMillen did far more than make half track passes Friday. He came out of the box and ran a 3.947-second lap at 314.75 mph. McMillen’s run was more impressive considering he failed to qualify at Norwalk, Ohio, the last national event.
“I told Terry if we ran a 98 or 99, I would be thrilled to death,” said Richard Hartman, McMillen’s crew chief. “I told Terry if he felt anything (during the run) to shut it off and obviously he didn’t feel anything. That (314.75 mph) is pretty stout. We can’t run that at sea level.”
McMillen proved his initial run wasn’t a fluke by running a better 3.930-second lap in Friday’s night session. That left him No. 4 on the qualifying ladder.
McMillen’s two runs were even more important because of his hectic Saturday schedule.
McMillen is flying on a Kalitta Lear jet Saturday morning around 5 a.m. Mountain Time from Rocky Mountain International Airport to Las Vegas to make a speech at the Bio Med National Convention at the Bellagio Resort in Vegas. Lou Holtz and McMillen are the featured speakers at the convention Saturday. McMillen is expected to be on the ground in Las Vegas for only an hour. He will board the Kalitta Lear Jet and is expected to be back in time for the third qualifying session at 1:30 p.m. Mountain Time.
Morgan Lucas, who runs his Morgan Lucas Racing two-car Top Fuel team, isn’t complaining about Bandimere only having 16 Top Fuel dragsters entered. Brandon Bernstein is Lucas’ teammate.
“Thank God this the one race of the year where we only have 16 cars show up,” said Lucas, who is fifth in the point standings. “But, at the same time it just probably really expensive for a lot of these non-touring teams to make all the changes it takes to come up on the mountain to run. I have to say the Bandimeres do a great job putting on the event and just give us a great place to race.”
Bernstein and Lucas qualified No. 5 and No. 7 Friday at 3.947 and 4.002 seconds.
MISSING IN ACTION - Sometimes professional drivers in Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle will skip a qualifying session for budgetary reasons.
That wasn’t the case for veteran Pro Stock driver Larry Morgan. He missed Friday’s first qualifying session because of flight problems getting out of Port Columbus International Airport in Columbus, Ohio.
"This has been the most messed-up day anybody ought to have,” Morgan said. “There's something that runs 15 things in the hydraulic system, and a valve was broke. They had to replace the valve. Seven hours, my flight was delayed. I was like a caged animal."
Morgan’s woes didn’t end when he finally made it to the track.
"I fired it up in the pits before we had to leave (for the second qualifying session), and it had broken a lifter,” Morgan said. “It was squealing. We'll be all right (Saturday). We ran good, for the most part."
Morgan clocked a 7.054-second time to qualify 11th on the ladder.
TOUGH START - Greg Anderson has had an outstanding season. The veteran Pro Stock driver and former world champ came to Denver with the season points lead, thanks to four wins.
Anderson didn’t start out on the right foot Friday at the Mile-High Nationals at Bandimere Speedway.
Anderson, in the right lane, had trouble with his Summit Racing Camaro. Anderson didn’t even do a burnout before problems arose. Both the doors on his Camaro were opened and his crew chief Rob Downing appeared to fix the problem, but moments later the Camaro was pushed off the starting line.
Anderson did regroup and qualified No. 9 with a 7.015-second lap. Jason Line, Anderson’s Summit Racing teammate and reigning world champ, came in at No. 4 at 6.988 seconds.
NO MORE HOME FIELD ADVANTAGE? - Andrew Hines grew up in Trinidad, Colo., and Bandimere Speedway used to be his home track. Trinidad is about three hours south of Bandimere. Hines and the Vance & Hines team moved its headquarters to Brownsburg, Ind., several years ago.
Friday at Bandimere, Hines and his Harley-Davidson teammate Eddie Krawiec qualified No. 3 and No. 4 at 7.290 and 7.314 seconds.
“We struggled up here on the mountain last year even though we tested and this used to be our home track,” Hines said. “We have so many different components on these motorcycles now that it is just a crapshoot is all I can say.”
Hines and Krawiec have combined to win all six NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle national events this season.
JOHN FORCE APPOLOGIZES - On John Force’s final qualifying run Friday night, he posted a solid 4.188-second lap. Mike Neff, his JFR teammate who he raced in the second qualifying session, came across the finish line at 4.208 seconds.
Force’s solid qualifying run wasn’t his main concern when he climbed out of his Funny Car.
“He (Neff) went in and I was just a little slow or something,” Force said about when he staged. “I do not like to make the other driver sit and I tried to jump it in and I flickered the light. But, he said he was too fast, so we are OK. I just wanted to make sure we are teammates and we stay on the equal deal. I got down the race track and the ol’ hot rod is starting to run and we are all working together as one Ford. That is what it is all about.”
Force, Neff and Courtney Force (4.21) are five, six and seven in the qualifying ladder.
TESTING NEW SYSTEM - Back in 1984, Bob Brockmeyer introduced the CompuLink Timing Systems at Bandimere Speedway in Morrison, Colo. CompuLink remains NHRA’s official timing equipment provider.
This weekend at NHRA’s Mile-High Nationals, Brockmeyer, the Compulink founder, will test a new infra-red wall technology that may change the way timing is done in NHRA’s future.
The new system will start from the front of dragsters, Funny Cars and motorcycles.
“I have been testing and working on this infra-red wall for quite some time, about five years,” said Brockmeyer whose CompuLink Timing Systems company is based is Silverthorne, Colo., which is one hour west of Morrison. “We actually used a similar version of it with ADRL cars at several events last year and some this year. It is new technology and I think it will be the starting technology of the future. It will make things a whole different ball game.”
Brockmeyer said he will test the new infra-red wall technology in the right lane-only at Bandimere Speedway Friday and Saturday and possibly Sunday.
“We will be testing Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock and Pro Stock bikes,” Brockmeyer said. “We will be getting data off all of the cars. What this infra-red wall technology does is it starts the timer off the very front end of the car instead of the wheel like we have had for years. It will become a whole different method of timing if it works right and I think it will. I just have to get some data this weekend and see if it is something we want to pursue or not.”
Brockmeyer addressed how NHRA’s uses the CompuLink system now.
“There is a pre-stage, stage lock, stage beam and guard beam,” Brockmeyer said. “It works off the front wheel of the car now. The new infra-red wall technology works off the front of the body of the car. It will change the whole ball game of how we do things. There are a lot of variables we will have to look at. We are going to gather data and just to see if it does what I think it will do. There are multiple things we are looking for out of it. If it does what we want we will continue on and make it a viable option.”
Brockmeyer said the new infra-red wall technology will have no impact on timing at the finish line at Bandimere.
“We have two major projects that I have had sitting on the self for about five years,” Brockmeyer said. “We are going to bring the starting line deal out first, and the finish line deal out second. We will have a whole different deal for the finish line. We might tinker with the finish line project some before that (the starting line deal is done).”
Brockmeyer said he is only testing the new infra-red wall technology at Bandimere in NHRA right now.
“This is our home track,” Brockmeyer said.
THURSDAY NOTEBOOK - GETTING READY FOR THE FIRE ON THE MOUNTAIN
SEVERAL CAN CLINCH COUNTDOWN SPOTS - Several drivers will have a chance this weekend to secure their spots in the Countdown to the Championship.
In Top Fuel, points leader Spencer Massey will clinch by going one round further than either Bob Vandergriff or Clay Millican OR by advancing to the semifinal round. If Tony Schumacher can reach his sixth final of the season, he also can make the 10-driver field.
Two Funny Car drivers can do so at Denver, too. All leader Robert Hight has to do is qualify, but Ron Capps is in if he goes to the final round for the sixth time this year.
No. 1-ranked Greg Anderson is expected to wrap up the first Pro Stock slot by making his first qualifying attempt. KB/Summit Racing teammate Jason Line will clinch by qualifying. Allen Johnson can join the club during qualifying if he lands in the top half of the field OR if he advances to the second round.
In the Pro Stock Motorcycle class, top dog Eddie Krawiec is a cinch to clinch -- if he's in the Denver field, he's in the Countdown. His Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson teammate needs to make it to the quarterfinals to nail down his place.
If he clinches his spot, Schumacher said that won't really relieve any pressure. "We'll still put pressure on ourselves because we want to win races," the U.S. Army Dragster driver said. "And, should we end up in the No. 1 spot by the time the Countdown starts, we'll get those extra 10 bonus points. We're shooting for just that the next five events."
Hight said it would free his team members "Clinching in Denver would be awesome because it takes a lot of pressure off the entire Auto Club team. We can focus on winning the Mile High Nationals and getting ready to try and win the Western Swing," the Auto Club Ford Mustang driver said.
PRESS AND JAM - Norwalk finalist Tim Wilkerson said he's looking to "jam our way into the top 10" and "keep the pressure on" No. 10 John Force and others. Wilkerson has fared well recently on the Western Swing -- with three straight victories at Seattle and a victory and runner-up finish at Sonoma in the past three years -- but he knows he needs to hike his performance level on the mountain that houses Bandimere Speedway. Since winning at Denver in 2008, Wilkerson has managed only a 1-3 record here, while compiling a combined 19-2 record at Sonoma and Seattle.
"It's a mountain to climb, no pun intended," Wilkerson said. "There's no place like Bandimere, and I mean that in just about every way. It's generally very hot, the air is always thin, and with that neat cooling system they have you can get off the line better than before. But you have to be ready for the transition at about 200 feet, where the cooling system ends. It's a neat deal, though, and the racing in Denver has been really good since they added that cooling device and went full concrete to the finish line. What you have is a great track with bad air, so we're all in that deal together.
"I'm not sure why we haven't had any luck there in the last three years, but my thought is that it's just that. It's just been bad racing luck," the Levi, Ray & Shoup Ford Shelby Mustang owner-driver said. "We know how to run well on the mountain, and we won the race there in 2008, so we just need to boil it down to basics and try to go end-to-end. If you can do that with some consistency in Denver, you can win the race.
"Making it to the final round at Norwalk was huge for us, and now we have to and keep going," Wilkerson said. "We went from almost out of contention to right back in it, and we have five races left in the regular season to make the playoffs."
He's 30 points behind Force, and he said, "I'd rather be the hunted instead of the hunter, though, so our goal is to just keep winning rounds. And if we do that we'll jam our way into the top 10,no matter what anybody else does. That's the only way to think about it and approach it, because right now there are eight great teams legitimately fighting for the last five spots in the Countdown, and you can do the math. It's going to be a very interesting stretch of racing here, between now and Labor Day."
READY FOR TRIATHLON - Top Fuel owner-driver Steve Torrence called the Western Swing "the triathlon of drag racing" and said his team has "been preparing for quite a while." The Norwalk runner-up to Spencer Massey said, "You've got to pace yourself and be able to enjoy those three weeks, because they're back to back and you don't get to go home, you don't get to see your family, and that's a trying time right there. We've been loading the trailer full of things, packing everything we possibly can, and staying under weight to go out there. That way anything that happens, you've got it there and you're not having to ship things back and forth and 'red-label' overnight."
He said his first-year organization has "pretty much surpassed our goals already" and that "right now, anything that we do is above and beyond. We're trying to maintain our consistency and hope that we haven't peaked too soon and just carry this momentum into the Countdown and for the rest of the year."
Torrence said his lofty first goal was "to go out and run well and not make a fool of ourselves." With a couple of victories in four final rounds during the past six races, he's nobody's fool, and he's everybody else's Countdown threat.
"We're making preparations for the Countdown now. We're trying to get the inventory, clutch disks, and get our tune-ups relatively close to what they're going to be there and keep going and carry the momentum. I mean, that's huge right now. We're distancing ourselves a little bit from the cars behind us. But, you know, after Indy, it all starts over and we're all close again. We're racing as hard as we can to get that extra 20 points."
HE'S A VIP NOW - Jack Beckman retired as a sergeant after being part of the Air Force Tactical Air Command, and he spent six months near Denver in 1984 for training. He knew of NORAD (North American Aerospace Defense Command), the top-secret Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station facility near Peterson AFB that was a strategic site especially during the Cold War. He had long wanted to tour the facility and been invited to go on a group tour with other drag racers for the past five years, but it was logistically impossible for him to make it down to the Colorado Springs area. Besides, Beckman quipped, "I never thought I'd be classified as a VIP." He certainly is a VIP in the NHRA, as a top-five Funny Car competitor, but as a VIP Tour participant Thursday, he'll have lunch with men and women stationed there before visiting the subterranean facility to see the industrial complex, command center buildings, and support facilities. The Valvoline NextGen Dodge Charger driver for Don Schumacher Racing said, "I always wanted to be a pilot, but you had to go to college. They wouldn't accept my degree from the College of Hard Knocks."
KUDOS TO THE CREW - Funny Car driver Mike Neff might be overloaded some days at the racetrack as his own crew chief but said, "I'm just excited to have the opportunity to do this and, really, this might be it. This might be the last year I drive. I'm going to give it everything I've got. I'm going to do everything I can to make sure I give it 110 percent." The Norwalk winner, who also won at Houston and was runner-up at the first two 2012 races (at Pomona, Calif., and Norwalk, Ohio) credited his steady team -- Bernie Fedderly, Jon Schaffer, Riley Banks, Tom Buckingham, Tom Ekstrom, Tim Fabrisi, Richard Jackson, Robert Proctor, Ben Ratcliffe, and Jason Dorsett. "It comes down to preparation by the team," Neff said. "All the guys that are changing parts (and) building motors, they are doing everything exactly the same (every time). There are no variables. That is a key thing for a tuner. They are so precise in what they do."
HALFWAY THERE BUT WHO CARES? - With the Full Throttle Drag Racing Series season at the halfway point, Antron Brown said he and his Matco Tools/Aaron's Dragster team are "not overly concerned with reaching the halfway point as much as we are pointing toward those last six races of the year – the playoffs. That's when you better be prepared to flip the switch and turn it up a notch. It’s when it all starts in earnest. Anything can definitely happen over the next five races. We'll take them one a time and not get caught looking ahead."
EXCELLENT TEACHER - Despite all the kidding and eyeball-rolling, Courtney Force said she's thankful to have a Funny Car tutor such as her father, John Force, who has won six times (including at last year's race) on Thunder Mountain, near Denver.
"My dad has been an amazing teacher. Although it can be a little overwhelming at times, he knows what he's talking about," the 24-year-old Traxxas Ford Mustang driver said. "I've learned to take his advice and really try it out on the race track, and I'm seeing results. My teammates and my sister Ashley have also been a huge factor in my learning curve this season, and I'm so thankful to have such a great team and crew chief who are always very positive and motivating," she said. "I'm excited heading into the Denver race and feel confident knowing that our team, especially my dad, has done exceptionally well at this race track. He's made more passes down this track than anyone on our team. I hope I can take in some of his track knowledge and advice to help benefit me."
Courtney Force said, "This season has completely exceeded my expectations. As a rookie driver everything has gone very well, and I'm proud of my team for what we have accomplished. So far we have qualified at every event, which is huge for a new team. Our car has appeared in three semifinal rounds and one final round while remaining in the top 10 in points. I'm so thrilled with how this season is going and just want to continue to learn as much as I can on and off the racetrack in order to become a better driver. I've learned so much this season, and I really have Traxxas and all of our sponsors like Ford, Castrol, Mac Tools, Auto Club, and BrandSource to thank for that."
'FEELS LIKE HOME' - Funny Car's Johnny Gray earned his first national-event victory in 1996 at Denver, in a Top Alcohol Dragster. He has competed at Bandimere Speedway in both a Pro Stock car, as well as a nitro-powered Funny Car, and he said, "Denver is a unique track for me. When I raced Comp Eliminator, we did really well up there, and my alcohol cars ran really good up on the mountain in 1996, 1997, and 1998. We were kind of King of the Hill at that time, and we haven't done very well in the pro category up there yet. But my crew chief, Rob Wendland, says we have a good tune-up for that track. We're ready to go attack that thing." The "next-door neighbor" from not-too-far-away Artesia, N.M., said, "Everybody up there at Bandimere Speedway just treat[s] you like family. It really feels like home."
SEEKING 'HAPPY SPOT' - Always the perfectionist, Pro Stock's Jason Line has been to three finals in the past six races (including the most recent, at Norwalk) but hasn't won since race No. 2 of the year, in February at Phoenix. And that bugs him. "We need to do a better job as a team on race day, avoiding any mistakes, and that includes the driver. We're fully capable of doing so, and we're going to get there. Of course, of all the places to try and win, Denver is the toughest. Still, it's time for us to get back on track and back in the winners circle, and the sooner we do it, the better," he said. "Racing in Pro Stock is extremely tough at the moment, with any mistake, no matter how small, potentially costing you the race. That's why we're constantly working to find whatever edge we can, including maximizing the performance of our Summit Racing Camaros. It's a great looking piece, and even though we are not yet where we need to be with them, they have already shown themselves to be good race cars. We just need to get them in their happy spot, and we're not going to stop trying until we do."
Greg Anderson, Line's KB/Summit Racing teammate and points leader, called the Denver track a "rascal" and said although it's "a neat place to race . . . it's probably our toughest challenge of the entire season. We enjoy going to Bandimere, but our race cars certainly don't." Moreover, he said, "We were unable to test there this year, so we've been hitting the books, poring over our notes from previous races, trying to come up with a good game plan for our Summit Racing Camaros. We've been fast there in the past, so we know we can do it. It's just up to us to find a way to get back to that level of performance."
POISED TO MAKE HIS MOVE - With lots of data from lots of testing at Bandimere Speedway, with his Team Mopar/J&J Racing associates also sponsoring the event, with a re-intensified desire to win the Pro Stock championship, Allen Johnson is eager to compete this weekend. "The Western Swing is always very critical to our season. That's a pivotal time of the year, right before the Countdown playoffs begin. It's where you get your mojo," Johnson said.
The Dodge Avenger driver has led the field a class-best six times and has raced to two victories in three final rounds. He trails points leader Greg Anderson and current champion Jason Line in the standings. But he said that could change. "I think we can reel Greg in. We are real close right now," Johnson said. "If we can keep on the path we've been on, going to the semifinals each race and also advancing to some final rounds, and get a couple of wins, I feel like it will be really close at the end of the year.
"This is as good a season as we've ever seen," he said. "Last year, we had a really good shot and just weren't consistent enough. We have a really good shot again this year. We have a few things that we need to work on. You know it's going to come down to the end of the year, and you know it's going to be real fun."
ON THE ROAD AGAIN . . . WELL, STILL - Grueling? Are you kidding? That's what Spencer Massey might tell any whining drag-racing colleagues as they head off on the Western Swing. "I've been away from Fort Worth since the Topeka race in May, so I've already been on the road for five straight races," the Top Fuel points leader said.
He drives a 45-foot motorhome -- in which he keeps his remote controlled Traxxas boat and 100-mph model car . . . and, in the tradition of Texans, a well-worn football. The 28-foot enclosed trailer he pulls behind the motorhome houses two personal watercrafts and his pickup truck. But en route to Denver, he detoured to Fort Worth and dropped off the toys to get better gas mileage through the mountainous highways. off the trailer. With thousands of mountainous miles ahead he opted to leave the "toys" at home to boost gas mileage. He'll improve from five miles per gallon to seven, but considering that his FRAM/Prestone Dragster gulps nitromethane at an alarming rate measured in gallons per mile, this will be a huge help.
"I just take it easy, relax, and cruise at 60 to conserve fuel and tires," Massey said. "I go fast on the racetrack and take it easy on the road . . . just sit back and listen to some good old Bob Seger and enjoy the scenery."
He said, "Traveling with the team and being at the track so much with the team is fun. I've been a crew member my whole life. It's hard to even think about flying in and not working on the car. It brings our crew closer together and we have fun, especially when we're winning races like we have been. But whether you win or lose, it just makes you feel like a bigger part of the team. I still am a crew member in my mind. I just get to drive the race car."
AND SHE 'GOT HER HAIR DID' - Funny Car driver Alexis DeJoria never has raced at Bandimere Speedway. So she went last week for a sneak peek and in the process several things happened. She discovered that crew chief Del Worsham will face a real test of his tuning talent, just like she does with her snowboarding skills twice a year when she and her family visit Colorado. The Tequila Patron Toyota Camry driver also discovered the biggest liquor store in the world, a place called Tipsy's that has an 87,000-square-feet sales floor (with a huge stock of her dad's Tequila Patron product) and a putting green and restaurant. And she went for a little glam at her father's Paul Mitchell The School, Denver campus, at Lakewood. Local TV stations filmed her touring the school, meeting students, signing autographs, and sitting in the salon chair for the royal treatment before the entourage went to a local hotspot for lunch. "We had a great day," DeJoria said. "Jeff Sipes and Bri Bandimere from Bandimere Speedway were great hosts and really made sure we had fun while getting a lot accomplished." Now the trick is to get some rounds of racing accomplished on the track.
SPLITTING HIS ATTENTION - Jeg Coughlin Jr., who's 11th in the Pro Stock standings, will have something at Bandimere Speedway to ease any tension and take his mind off the fact he's only four points away from a spot in the Countdown field. He'll be busy competing in the Stock Eliminator class in his Dodge Challenger Drag Pak entry that family friend Jeff Taylor drove to a Lucas Oil Series victory earlier this season. Coughlin has four final-round appearances in Pro Stock at Bandimere Speedway. He was a back-to-back winner here in 1998 and 1999, driving to a final round victory over Warren Johnson in 1998 and his brother, Troy Coughlin, in 1999. In his last appearance at Bandimere Speedway (2010), Coughlin Jr. was runner-up to Allen Johnson. He also lost in the 2003 final to Warren Johnson, who has more Pro Stock victories at the suburban Denver facility (five) than anyone but Bob Glidden (seven). In 12 Denver appearances, Coughlin has a 20-10 round-win record in Pro Stock.
LOTS OF 'CRAZY CRAP' - Erica Enders has discovered the secret of racing at Denver. "You can throw everything you know about driving out the window when you go to Denver, and you just have to really focus on doing the best job you can with all the crazy crap that's going on around you," she said. The crew chiefs, she said, "do all the track reading" and "monitor the track." She said it' reassuring to know how they're setting up her GK Motorsports Chevy Cobalt. "I think [it] enables me to be a better driver, do a better job. At Denver it's so different from tracks without altitude."
NOT AFRAID OF NO. 13 - Robert Hight has a couple of "Lucky 13" connections at Denver. It was here in his 13th professional Funny Car race that he earned his first victory after qualifying No. 1 with both ends of the track record (which have long since fallen). But that July 17, 2005, Hight took the points lead for the first time in his career and became the first Funny Car rookie to top the standings since K.C. Spurlock opened the season with a victory in 1990. Like boss John Force, Hight has won at this racetrack when the class competed on a quarter-mile course and when it ran to the 1,000-foot mark. Hight won here in 2005 and 2010 -- and the Auto Club Ford Mustang driver is eager to hold off second-place Ron Capps in this 13th race of the season. (Hight's 2005 feat was a bit of noteworthy one for crew chief Jimmy Prock, as well. Prock was crew chief for Joe Amato when the now-retired champion set the Top Fuel elapsed-time record at Bandimere Speedway at 4.594 seconds in 1999.)
KALITTA FIGURED IT OUT - Team Kalitta's success on Morrison, Colo.'s "Thunder Mountain" spans the generations and is spread throughout the organization. Boss Connie Kalitta won the Top Fuel Wally trophy in both 1984 and 1985. Ten years after his fathers' back-to-back victories, son Scott Kalitta got back-to-back Denver titles of his own (1994, 1995) and trumped his dad with a third in 2004. Connie's nephew and Scott's cousin, Doug Kalitta, earned his most recent victory here last year. And teammate Dave Grubnic (for whom Connie Kalitta serves as crew chief) clocked the quickest lap of the meet last season here with a 3.88-second lap in the first round of eliminations. "We've had some good times on the mountain at Bandimere," Connie Kalitta said. "I really enjoy the challenge of racing in Denver. The high altitude makes the tune-up radically different. You definitely have to adjust some things, but we've been good at finding the right combination over the years. We're going to try to go even quicker this year."
STAY WITH THE MATH - Pro Stock Motorcycle contender Hector Arana Sr., thinking of Denver's thin air and its effect on parts, set-ups, and a tuner's demeanor, said, "Denver, you've got to be careful. It can get you. It can bite you hard if you miss your tune-up. We have notes from last year, so we've got to look at them and stay within those parameters of the math work we've done and the calculations on the clutch. We should be OK." He's planning to go with his "Charlotte" engine rather than his trusty "Forrest" motor. The engines are named for the Lucas Oil founders, who double as his 9-5 bosses and his racing sponsors.
His son, Hector Jr., who rides a twin Lucas Oil Buell, also names his engines. His faithful one has been "Gracie," named for his mother, Grace Arana. But for this trip west, he set Gracie aside and is going with one he calls simply "The Replacement."
The team won't return to its home base of Milltown, Ind., until after the Sonoma event, meaning the team needed to pack up for two races before it left its Indiana home base. With the extra work, the week following the most recent Full Throttle Drag Racing Series race in Norwalk, Ohio, was a busy one.
"We got home from Norwalk and went through all our motors, inspecting them to make sure nothing was wrong," Arana Jr. said. "We pulled out the motors we were running and put some other ones in that have more runs on them for Denver. That way, we don't ruin our parts because Denver is really hard on parts and we don't like to run the motors after Denver." The bike class participates in the first two races of the Western Swing but skips Seattle.
"We should be able to be right up there," Arana Jr. said. "Maybe not as quick as we usually are, but we definitely have the power to go win the race. We've just got to strategize, play it smart, and run our best."
Doing well at Denver and Sonoma means having a better idea about how the Countdown could go. "We're not really worried about the playoffs too much," Arana Jr. said. "My dad and I are third and fourth, right there close to each other, and we have a little bit of cushion to fifth. To be third and fourth is pretty good. We're definitely secure, and we know we're going to be in the Countdown. Once the Countdown starts, everything resets, so we just need to focus on dialing in these bikes so once the Countdown starts we can come out swinging."
HIGH ON THE ALTITUDE - Karen Stoffer, who the Pro Stock Motorcycle trophy at Bandimere Speedway last year and was runner-up the year before, is one of the few who isn't all that wound up about the thin Denver air. "I'm from the West Coast, and I live in a high-altitude area near Lake Tahoe," the GEICO Suzuki rider said. "I'm not too scared of the altitude. Gary is used to tuning at altitude, and we have a high-altitude track where Gary races his bracket car. He knows what it's like, and we did well last year, so we'll pull up last year's tune-up and work from there. Hopefully, the weather will be the same, because that always helps, and I'll get back on my game." She's sixth in the standings but is concerned about staying in the top 10. "We've got to turn this season around if we want to stay in the top 10. We certainly have to make some moves now and get our game straight," she said.
The forecast calls for temperatures in the 90s all three days, cooler than the scorching conditions in Norwalk, Ohio, where Stoffer posted her best qualifying effort of the season, fourth. "I think Norwalk prepped us for the heat," she said. "It's usually pretty hot in Denver, and we sometimes have to fight a little rain. The Bandimeres keep that starting line nice and cool. They have the cool water running underneath the starting line, which helps out."
She'll need the help, because, she said, "We're on our last motor here. This is our only good motor. It lasted through Norwalk, which is what we wanted, and is a great thing, considering all the heat and torment we put the motor through. The fact that it stayed together is props to Vance & Hines, because the heat is not only treacherous on humans but also on motors."
'WE'VE GOT SPIRIT! YES, WE DO!' - Al-Anabi/Toyota Dragster driver Shawn Langdon has a special connection with Denver, and he's hoping to extend it this weekend. "I'm always excited to go Denver, because I won my first NHRA national championship there in the Jr. Dragster class in 1997. So for me to go back to Bandimere Speedway always gives me a special feeling because of all the good memories I have there. Plus the Bandimere family always puts on a great show. They have a great track, and it's always an exciting event for me. I was also there when my Dad won the Super Gas title in 1985, so it's just one of those tracks where you just get that special feeling when you roll into the gate." He said he especially has his eye on that last Traxxas Shootout spot. "There's one spot left for a race winner, and we're getting down to crunch time now to get one of our Al-Anabi cars in the winners circle to grab that last spot. We have the team spirit to win. Everybody's pushing real hard and working real hard at the track and at the shop. It's not for lack of effort. We just need a little bit of race-day luck and to go four rounds on Sunday." His teammate, Khalid alBalooshi, said, "I have not raced in Denver before, but I am looking forward to it. I do not think the high race track will change anything for the drivers, but I think it will be hard on the crew chiefs to get the right tune-up for the cars. Both Al-Anabi cars had a good test (following the event in Norwalk, Ohio), and I think everyone was happy with the results. We are all ready to race this weekend."
TAKE HEART . . . SERIOUSLY - Bandimere Speedway will host the "Go Red for Women Track Walk" at 8:30 Saturday morning to bring awareness to heart disease. The experience is free for all Saturday ticket holders, and a group of NHRA drivers is scheduled to participate along with the fans. For more information about the program and the American Heart Association, visit www.goredforwomen.org online.
I'LL BE ALONG NEXT WEEK - While John Force goes for his seventh Mopar Mile-High Nationals victory this weekend and battles to stay in the Funny Car class' top 10, his Travelin' Road Show will be paving the way for the NHRA arrival in California's Wine Country the following weekend. Select Sonoma, Calif.-area Wal-mart stores will be transformed this week into pit stops for some of the world's most powerful race cars. The Castrol GTX 25th Anniversary Ford Mustang which carried Force to the 2010 NHRA Funny Car Championship will be among the displays touting the recent International Motorsports Hall of Fame inductee and his beloved sport of drag racing. At each of those five designated Wal-mart stores, race fans will have access to a kiosk through which they can acquire information on the John Force Traveling Road Show, watch a looped DVD that includes Team Castrol racing highlights, and enter to win special prizes that include a 2012 Ford Fiesta and a "Fantasy Race Weekend" to the NHRA Auto Club Finals at Pomona in November, a Hawaiian vacation and racing apparel and memorabilia. The John Force Traveling Road Show will be at Wal-mart stores at 7011 Main Street in American Canyon, 2701 North Texas in Fairfield, 235 East Dorsett in Dixon, 4893 Lone Tree in Antioch and 1021 Arnold in Martinez.
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