2018 NHRA MILE HIGH NATIONALS - EVENT NOTEBOOK
DOMINATING PRITCHETT GETS THIRD VICTORY OF YEAR, SEVENTH OVERALL, AT SPONSOR’S RACE - Leah Pritchett’s Mopar Dodge 1320 Dragster has an “Angry Bee” logo on it, and she has been swarming her rivals all weekend at Bandimere Speedway, at Morrison, Colo., west of Denver.
Doug Kalitta was the latest to get stung.
Pritchett beat him to win the Top Fuel trophy Sunday at the Mopar Mile-High NHRA Nationals, the opener of three Western Swing events. And she has her broom ready to take to Sonoma, Calif., and Seattle.
After edging Kalitta by about 14 inches, or .0024 seconds, with a 3.831-second elapsed time at 316.45 mph on the 1,000-foot course – against his 3.852-second pass at a faster 319.82 mph in the Mac Tools Dragster – she spoke about her take on the notion of pressure.
“You can look at it as you’ve got to do well for your sponsor’s race or you have a partner that believes in you and all the people are there and they bring that vibe and that energy. We have our own ZIP code of the Mopar Midway and pitting with [two-time Funny Car champion Matt] Hagan. You can look at it is pressure or infiltration of positive momentum. And that’s what happened for this entire weekend,” Pritchett said.
Of crew chief Todd Okuhara, she said, “It’s so cool to see the smile on Todd’s face when he finds that Mopar power back and is using it. Knowing I have a good race car under me is incredible. It was a full-fledged team effort.”
The lone No. 1 qualifier this weekend to make it to the final round, Pritchett is the first No. 1 starter to win here in Top Fuel since Antron Brown in 2009.
Pritchett beat Terry Totten, Scott Palmer, and Clay Millican to reach her third final round this year and 11th overall.
She used a holeshot to beat Millican in the semifinal. They had identical elapsed times – 3.826 seconds and her speed was slower (312.93 mph to his 320.36) – but her reaction time was quicker (.043 of a second to .087). That set up a battle between this pair of top-five drivers.
Pritchett was part of Don Schumacher Racing’s chance to score a nitro double at Denver. Funny Car colleague Ron Capps fell short against John Force. Other winners Sunday were Greg Anderson in Pro Stock and Hector Arana Jr. in Pro Stock Motorcycle. Both were enjoying their first victories of the season.
She won at Atlanta and was runner-up at Chicago before earning her seventh overall victory and denying Kalitta his 45th. Pritchett also passed the 100-round-win mark Sunday.
Kalitta, who won at Pomona and was runner-up at Charlotte and Richmond, as well, said, “Anytime you are on the mountain and in the final is a good day. [I was] really impressed by the Mac Tools team after our struggles in qualifying. They worked so hard, and we accomplished a lot. It always stings to lose close races like this, but it makes me even hungrier to get to Sonoma and try to pick up the win there."
Kalitta advanced past Tony Schumacher, Jim Maroney, and Blake Alexander for his fourth final-round appearance this season. He sliced fourth-place Schumacher’s advantage to 37 points. Kalitta heads to this coming weekend’s Sonoma, Calif., race in fifth place, 143 points ahead of sixth-place Antron Brown.
Points leader Steve Torrence was racing Sunday without Capco Contractors Dragster crew chief Richard Hogan on hand for the first time in more than four years. Hogan was ill from an adverse reaction to the heat and thin air at the track’s 5,800-foot altitude and remained at the team’s hotel Sunday. Torrence lost in the second round to Blake Alexander but will take a 133-point lead over Clay Millican to Sonoma. Susan Wade
JOHN FORCE IS KING OF THE MOUNTAIN - John Force is alive and well.
The legendary 16-time NHRA nitro Funny Car champion, who has had his share of struggles this season, proved that Sunday at the Mile-High Nationals.
Force clocked a 4.075-second elapsed time at 315.42 mph to defeat Ron Capps, who came in at 4.067 seconds at 308.71 mph at Bandimere Speedway.
The difference was at the starting line as Force had an .037 reaction time, while Capps’ reaction time was .057.
“I found myself here with all the crashes and everything that happened that I was probably at my lowest,” Force said. “I was fighting to get back. I never let on to anybody, but it showed that I looked like a mess. After my last crash, I had four of them, John Bandimere calls me and says we have to talk, and said you have to listen and he sent me stuff and I started reading and it took me down this road. I told him I didn’t know if I would get back ever and win a race. He said, ‘you can.’ You know where he goes from there and I will not stand here and preach the gospel. He said when you get to Denver you will be fixed. He didn’t say I was going win Denver. He said when I get here I would be fixed and go out there and show me who John Force is. I found myself.”
This was John Force’s 252nd appearance in a nitro Funny Car final round. Force has won a record 149 NHRA national events. Force arrived in Denver eighth in points and his season has been highlighted by two-runner-up finishes at the Four-Wide Nationals in Charlotte, N.C., and Richmond, Va.
Force is now the king of Thunder Mountain. He has won the Mile-High Nationals a record eight times (1994-96, 2001, 2003, 2011 and 2016, 2018).
Force was tied with Pro Stock stars Bob Glidden and Allen Johnson with most wins in any Pro class at the Mile-High Nationals as Glidden and Johnson each had seven.
Force qualified fifth and then ousted Matt Hagan, Cruz Pedregon, and his daughter, Courtney Force before culminating with his holeshot victory over Capps. The win against Hagan was significant as it was his 1,300th competitive round win.
Force already knew where his latest Wally was going to reside. He gave it to Kirstie Ennis, a Marine who fought overseas, and is part of Building Homes For Heroes and was a special guest of Courtney Force’s Advance Auto Parts team this weekend.
“The fire was in me, I’m fighting because I got tired of (how I was acting),” said Force, who pilots the PEAK Coolant and Motor Oil Chevrolet Camaro SS. “My wife didn’t even want to talk to me. I know you more than that. I know what you’re going through and then (Kirstie) she shows up here. I knew all about the show and all the houses and stuff they are doing with Advance. Then, I thought I need to find myself. I don’t know why I won this race. Maybe God’s is just showing me. I love Bandimere and I love NHRA.” Tracy Renck
PS DRIVER ANDERSON GETS HIS FIRST WIN OF THE SEASON IN DENVER - Back in 2016, Pro Stock teammates Jason Line, Greg Anderson and Bo Butner were nearly unbeatable.
That is the season NHRA required all Pro Stock teams to equip their cars with electronically-controlled throttle body fuel injection systems to make engines more relevant from a technology standpoint. In order to reduce and control costs for the race teams, an NHRA-controlled 10,500 Rev Limiter also was added to the fuel injection systems.
The Ken Black Summit Racing team figured out the EFI rules better than any other Pro Stock racers as Line won the 2016 world championship and Butner was the world champ last year.
Winning had been common place in 2016-17 for the team, but 2018 had been a much different story. Through 13 of the 24 NHRA national events Black’s team had zero wins.
That changed Sunday at the Dodge Mile-High Nationals in Morrison, Colo., near Denver.
Anderson, in his Chevy Camaro, clocked a 6.943-second elapsed time at 196.53 mph to edge Line’s 6.947-second lap at 196.17 mph in the final round to give Black’s powerhouse team the victory at Bandimere Speedway.
“I would like to think that would be the best start to a great season coming forward,” Anderson said. “We’ve had a heck of battle this year and we’ve had great running cars, but we’ve made mistakes on Sunday. We have not been able to close the deal on Sunday. We’ve garnered a lot of green hats, No. 1 qualifier hats, and that’s a great feeling, but we have not been able to find our way to the yellow hat and the yellow hat (given to the race winner) is everything.”
This was Anderson’s 91st career NHRA Pro Stock national event win. Only Warren Johnson has more career Pro Stock wins with 97.
Anderson’s victory parade consisted of wins over Joey Grose, Vincent Nobile, Jeg Coughlin and Line. This was Anderson's third career victory at the Mile-High Nationals in 2008 defeating Allen Johnson and 2004 when he beat Larry Morgan.
“The class is so tough right now, but we know we just haven’t put forth our best effort on Sunday,” Anderson said. “We haven’t lost giving it our best shot and (Sunday) we gave it our best shot and really all weekend we gave it our best shot.”
Anderson won four races a year ago, with his last win coming at the Las Vegas fall race before this weekend.
“This (Denver) is the last place I thought I would come and break the streak because we struggled here, I’m not going to lie, we have struggled at this race track for a lot of years,” Anderson said. “It takes a completely different way of running your race car and we just haven’t figured out the combination the last several years. I was surprised we came right off the trailer fast and continued it all through the weekend, unlike every other race this year we didn’t lose performance gap we had in qualifying on Sunday and that’s what it took. Somehow how the two drivers got the job done (Sunday), Jason and I, we didn’t screw up and we carried the great cars we had to finish line.” Tracy Renck
ARANA JR. WINS PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE FINAL AGAINST SAVOIE IN DOUBLE FOUL START - Who could blame Hector Arana Jr. for leaving the starting line two-thousandths of a second too early Sunday in the finals of the Mopar Mile-High NHRA Nationals at Bandimere Speedway?
He was trying to break a 43-race winless streak in the Pro Stock Motorcycle class.
Luckily for Arana Jr., opponent Jerry Savoie was over-eager to win in back-to-back final-round appearances. He was runner-up at the previous event, at Norwalk, Ohio, and wanted to earn his 10th victory in 23 finals. And he had a foul start by four-thousandths of a second.
Thanks to a first-is-worse rule, Arana Jr. claimed his first victory on the Lucas Oil Buell since the 2015 St. Louis race.
“We’ve had a fast bike for all that time. We’ve just been working on consistency,” Arana Jr. said after receiving his trophy. “Then when the bike was good, I was making little errors. It’s just dedication, hard work, and getting the bike consistent . . . downstairs playing in the basement on the Christmas Tree, practicing . . . just bringing it all together.
“Finally got over some hurdles here,” the Long Island, N.Y., resident said of the storied racetrack at Morrison, Colo., west of Denver, where he finally won in three final-round appearances. “Now we should be back on track.
“We’ve done really great things up here on the mountain. We’ve set the speed record. We’ve qualified No. 1 a few times. Three finals and we finally won the third one. It’s very gratifying to finally get the win on top of the mountain,” he said.
He used victories over Ryan Oehler, L.E. Tonglet, and Andrew Hines to go for his 12th overall victory. He’s 12-12 in career finals.
Arana Jr. said he often works on reaction times with brother-in-law Vincent Nobile, the Pro Stock contender.
“I try to actually visualize being on the bike And going down the track. It’s crazy. You even start getting the goosebumps and start feeling the flutter,” he said.
He shared the winners circle with Leah Pritchett (Top Fuel), John Force (Funny Car), and Greg Anderson (Pro Stock).
The showdown for fourth place in the standings might have been a bit anti-climactic. But for the record, Arana Jr. ran a 7.170-second elapsed time on the quarter-mile course at 185.89 mph, while Savoie’s numbers were 7.244, 181.64.
Arana said he thinks he’s in pretty strong shape for this coming weekend’s Mickey Thompson Pro Bike Battle bonus race at California’s Sonoma Raceway.
“The bike’s running great. We have a great set-up when we come back to sea level. I’m looking forward to running some really fast runs. Hopefully, seeing some career-fast runs out there. Just got to stay consistent and ride it like I was today.”
Savoie, owner of the White Alligator Racing Suzuki, eliminated Hector Arana, Matt Smith, and Karen Stoffer on his way to his third final of the year. He’s 1-2 now, with a victory at Charlotte. He had defeated Arana Jr. in the first round at Charlotte but lost to him in the quarterfinals at Atlanta. Susan Wade
KALITTA STRONG IN THIN AIR – It’s no secret some teams get a headache when it comes to racing in the thin air of the Mile-High Nationals.
Kalitta Motorsports isn’t one of those teams.
The legendary team has a mountain of success at Bandimere Speedway.
Legendary Connie Kalitta, the team owner and his late son, Scott Kalitta, won the Mile-High Nationals in Top Fuel. Connie won at Bandimere Speedway in Morrison, Colo., in 1984 and ’85 and Scott was victorious three times in 1994, ’95 and 2004.
Connie’s nephew Doug Kalitta also was a Top Fuel champ in Denver in 2010.
“We’re excited to be here,” Doug said. “We’re definitely trying to ge the win here (Sunday). It’s going to take consistency to win this thing (Sunday). We will be in good shape with my Mac Tools car. I feel pretty confident at this point.”
Kalitta qualified No. 10 with a 3.862-second E.T. at 310.81 mph and he will meet Tony Schumacher, the No. 7 qualifier in round one.
“It will be (harder),” said Kalitta about running in the heat of the day during eliminations Sunday. “That’s what these crew chiefs get paid the big bucks to make sure we can get down in any conditions. It will be tricky here (Sunday). The Bandimeres do a great job. They have the track cooling thing at the beginning and I’m sure that will help (Sunday).”
Doug said Connie is not here this weekend at the Mile-High Nationals.
“He’s 80 now and he didn’t want to take any chances (coming here) and I don’t blame him,” Doug said. “Connie has been at it a lot of years and we stayed with his guidance with what he thinks we need to do here (in Denver), and he’s keeping a close eye on it (this weekend). We have some great guys who have a lot of experience running on the mountain.”
BLAKE ALEXANDER EYES SECOND WALLY – The last event Blake Alexander competed in for Bob Vandergriff Jr. Racing was at Norwalk, Ohio. All he did was capture his first career Wally.
Alexander’s team skipped the New England Nationals in Epping, N.H., and returned to the track for the Mile-High Nationals this weekend in Morrison, Colo.
“I guess people might notice me more, but it doesn’t mean anything if we can’t keep it going,” Alexander said. “We want to keep it going and we’re working on it.”
Alexander qualified No. 6 with a 3.834-second elapsed time at 326.32 mph. He will face off against Mike Salinas in the first round Sunday.
“This is the first time in my career I’ve competed at Bandimere,” Alexander said. “It is a lot different (driving up here). The air is thin, and the cars barely want to start, and the blower is up, the fuel is up, everything is turned all the way up and it still doesn’t really run, which is interesting. This tune-up would blow up pretty much anywhere else.”
Driving the car feels different acknowledged Alexander.
“The car is not planted as hard and it dances around on the top end, but it is still drag racing,” Alexander said.
Alexander said his team, which is competing on a limited schedule, will be at the next race on the schedule in Sonoma, Calif., July 27-29.
SIMPSON FORCED TO LEAVE DENVER EARLY – Part-time nitro Funny Car racer Todd Simpson confirmed to Competition Plus that he will not compete in the remainder of the Mile-High Nationals in Morrison, Colo., near Denver.
Simpson was forced to withdraw from the NHRA national event because of damage to the front-end of his Funny Car’s body.
“We don’t have a spare body with us and we couldn’t fix that part here,” Simpson said. “We will just have to take it back. We might be able to fix the body, buy a front clip for it, but more than likely we are going to have to work on getting a new body.”
The Funny Car body Simpson damaged was one he purchased from Don Schumacher Racing. The Dodge Charger body initially was campaigned on the DSR Funny Car driven by Matt Hagan.
Simpson was the first competitor to qualify in Friday’s first session. He made a solid pass at 4.462 seconds at 270.81 mph.
Unfortunately for Simpson, the run didn’t end well.
After going past the finish line, the parachutes in Simpson’s Funny Car never came out. Simpson’s car went up the hill and into the sand trap and came to a stop just before the safety nets. Simpson did get out of the car and was uninjured. Simpson did not run make a run during Friday night’s final qualifying session, and then made the decision to load up and go home on Saturday.
Simpson was No. 13 on the qualifying ladder after Friday’s two sessions. With Simpson’s departure, it leaves the Funny Car field with 16 cars.
Although Simpson left the property in Saturday he remained qualified No. 15. He was scheduled to meet No. 2 qualifier Jack Beckman in round one and now Beckman will receive a bye run.
“It wasn’t a fast pass, but it would have been a good place to start with the tune-up and try and come back and make another pass and hopefully it would have been better,” Simpson said. “I had not had any trouble with my chutes opening and that’s the first time they didn’t open, and I was in trouble. I pulled them and NHRA has their safety on it and the levers went, but there was about an eighth-inch of a cable in the chute packs. The wire was just long. I was just hoping we didn’t go through the net because I didn’t want to tear the body up. I didn’t think the sand would have tore it up but it tore it up.”
Simpson said his team does have another body at the team’s shop in Ponder, Texas. It is a Monte Carlo body.
“The next NHRA race I will run will be Dallas (Oct. 4-7), and I run the Monte Carlo body there,” Simpson said. “I don’t know what I will do with the body I damaged (in Denver). Some people say you can clip it, but you get just as much tied up in I think if you do it that way, you can go buy another used body from somebody, plus it would be stronger. I think any time you repair a body, it only makes them heavier and they will never be as strong as it once was. Kalitta (Motorsports) was maybe working on getting us a body and we have some things in the works and there are some teams out here who will help us.”
Simpson does have a Mile-High Nationals victory in his career. That came in the Top Alcohol Funny Car class in the late 1990s.
TASCA ENJOYING BEING BACK FULL-TIME – Bob Tasca knows what it takes to run fulltime in NHRA’s nitro Funny Car ranks.
Tasca, a factory Ford Funny Car racer, raced full-time in NHRA’s nitro Funny Car class from 2008-2014. He won four national events and had a career-best finish of fifth in the 2010 point standings. Tasca last won a race at Dallas in 2012.
This season, Tasca is back competing full-time and he’s enjoying the experience. He arrived at the Mile-High Nationals No. 10 in the points.
“It’s been great getting back out here full time, getting back up to speed,” Tasca said. “The car has performed well these last several races. We’ve had some really unfortunate things. In Epping, we had a banner fall off the wall in the Friday night session and we ran 3.94 but they threw that run out because of that. But that put us from No. 2 qualifier to No. 13. So, we’ve had some tough breaks, but the car is running good and we’re right where we want to be. We’re in the top 10 going into the West Coast Swing. These three races (Denver, Sonoma, Seattle) are really important for our championship run. I feel very confident that we’ll come out of the West Coast Swing surely nine or 10, but hope to be further up in the ladder.”
Tasca acknowledged the high-altitude of Bandimere Speedway doesn’t bother him.
“Well for me it really makes no difference at all,” Tasca said. “I get in the car and drive. Eric Lane (Tasca’s crew chief) has an incredible amount of experience up here on the hill. So, I think we should do very well here. I’ve been to the finals here, almost won it in 2013 or 14. So I’ve had some good luck up here. I can’t wait to get racing.”
At the Mile-High Nationals, NHRA implemented its new header policy which Tasca weighed in on.
“It doesn’t affect us at all,” Tasca said. “Our headers were the way that they measure the header, ours were legal. Well I guess the other ones weren’t illegal because they were legal at the time. But the way that they measure them now, we conformed to that measurement all season. So, it won’t have any effect on us. We didn’t have to change headers and that’s a good thing, so it’ll have no effect on us.”
Tasca qualified No. 11 and will match up against Tommy Johnson Jr. in the first round.
TODD’S LIVING LIFE AS FUNNY CAR DRIVER – J.R. Todd has had plenty of success on Thunder Mountain, better known as Badimere Speedway.
He’s won the Top Fuel title at the Mile-High Nationals in 2006 and 2014. This weekend, Todd has a chance to join select company with Kenny Bernstein as the only driver to win at the Mile-High Nationals in Top Fuel and Funny Car.
Bernstein won Top Fuel at Bandimere in 1992 and was the Funny Car champ in 1981, 1985, 1987.
Kalitta is in his second season driving the DHL Toyota for Kalitta Motorsports.
“Any win is good, but to do it here in Top Fuel and in Funny Car would be pretty special,” Todd said.
Not surprisingly, Todd enjoys competing at Bandimere Speedway.
“I mean I feel like if you can win here then you feel like you’ve accomplished something because it’s so difficult to run up here,” Todd said. “It presents a challenge to all the crew chiefs and now dealing with the track prep we’re dealing with it’s going to be even more of a challenge. I look forward to the Western Swing. It’s one of my favorite times of the year. For whatever reason, I’ve always done well at all the races on the Western Swing so I’m excited about it.”
Unlike most national events where Pro classes qualify earlier in the day that isn’t the case at Bandimere. On Friday and Saturday, qualifying took place at 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. (MT). Eliminations begin at 11 a.m., Sunday.
“I’m not a big fan of two days of late qualifying because we don’t race that late,” Todd said. “Basically what you’re learning in qualifying doesn’t really work out for race day. It allows for you to make a mistake Friday but you get another crack at it with good conditions on Saturday so that’s the plus side of it. I’m more of a fan of working on a race day setup on Saturday to get ready for Sunday.”
Like many of the nitro Funny Car crew chiefs and drivers, Todd took a minute to discuss NHRA’s laid-back header policy put in place beginning at the Mile-High Nationals.
“My take is if you’re going to check the angle of the headers, I guess in my mind, they should be the same on all the cars,” Todd said. “It can’t be ‘we’re going to check these cars different than yours,’ because we want to add some headers that we could have run if they measured our headers a different way. But, I’m glad that the NHRA stepped up and made the call because laying your headers back is definitely a performance advantage so if we could lay ours back more why wouldn’t we. So now we’re all in the same boat and it might affect those cars a little bit but I don’t think it’s going to affect them that much.”
Todd, in a short time frame proved he could win as a Funny Car driver, but driving in this class is an ongoing challenge for him.
“It was not easy at all,” Todd said. “These things are a challenge. They’ll throw you a curveball just when you think you’ve got a good handle on one of these things. It’s cool listening to Shawn (Langdon) come back and describe it all because it reminds me of what I went through last season my first-year driving. It’s a whole new ballgame. A lot of characteristics that you build up over time in a dragster you really can't carry over to a Funny Car so you’ve just got to retrain yourself on how to drive. They’re a lot of fun and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”
Todd qualified No. 10 and tangles with Ron Capps in round one.
Langdon, who is adapting to his first year in a Funny Car, takes on Tim Wilkerson in round one.
And, nothing has changed for Langdon even though he’s driving a Funny Car for the first time at Bandimere Speedway.
“I still hold on and say ‘oh sh** every time,” Langdon said.
HADDOCK HAS HECTIC WEEKEND – The Mile-High Nationals is a place where Terry Haddock’s weekend couldn’t be much busier.
“I’ve been tuning Terry Totten’s dragster all year, and helping him,” Haddock said. “Once in a while we put him in my car. And then I’ve got Jim Maroney driving my dragster. We just licensed him in Norwalk (Ohio), and he drove it at Epping, N.H. (the last race on tour). He’s going to drive it the whole Western Swing (Denver, Sonoma, Calif., and Seattle), and then I’m back in the Funny Car.”
Maroney didn’t make any qualifying passes Friday, but he did qualify on Saturday.
“We ran it in Epping with Jim, but this is really his debut, this is what he signed up for,” Haddock said. “We just kind of went to Epping and let him make some laps to get more comfortable in the car.”
Haddock also is driving his Funny Car – a car he purchased from John Force Racing.
“We made a little squirt on it in Bristol (Tenn.), and then I ran it and qualified in Epping,” Haddock said. “Yes, this is what I want. We want to make laps on it. We’re still working on it and getting the bugs out of it. It’s a new car and it’s had its little gremlins, but we’re getting it.”
The summer months can get hectic, but Haddock enjoys this time for another reason besides racing.
“I get my son (McKailen, 12) for the summer, so the Western Swing (Denver, Sonoma, Calif., and Seattle) is our family vacationIt is the most important races to us. Whatever happens, it’s why we’re here.”
Haddock qualified No. 16 and has the daunting task of trying to upset top qualifier Courtney Force in round one. Totten also is No. 16 in the Top Fuel ladder and meets Leah Pritchett in the first round.
HARTFORD EYES SECOND WALLY – Veteran Pro Stock driver Matt Hartford accomplished the ultimate earlier this season when he won his first career Wally in Houston.
Hartford, whose been competing at Bandimere Speedway for years in a variety of classes, qualified No. 13 and will meet Jason Line in the first round.
“The entire field out here is so evenly matched right now that any little mistake will cost you and you will go home,” Hartford said. “Winning (that Wally) takes a little bit of a load off your shoulders because if you finally quit racing and you never won an event that would be pretty hard to handle. The fact that I was only the 66th winner in Pro Stock (history) out of the 1,200 or 1,300 people who have entered Pro Stock over the years it is a pretty small percentage of people who have accomplished that. We’re definitely proud and it was a good moment for our team.”
Hartford’s team competes on a part-time schedule, but he will make the Western Swing – Denver, Sonoma, and Seattle.
“The Swing is my favorite three races,” Hartford said. “You get three totally different conditions in three weeks and it keeps you in the mindset of back-to-back-to back.”
PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE
SMITH TALKS ABOUT HIS SEASON – It has been a crazy season for two-time Pro Stock Motorcycle world champion Matt Smith.
Despite it all he has had success on the track. He arrived at the Mile-High Nationals in seventh place in the points on his Victory Magnum.
“We’ve got a win in Chicago and we had a No. 1 qualifier (Norwalk, Ohio),” Smith said. “We’re running really good. We’re waiting on our body work which should have been to us July 5th. But we haven’t gotten it yet so it’s pretty frustrating. The Lucas Oil Team, the Aranas. We bought that body kit of theirs and they haven’t delivered it to us yet like they said they would. Richard Freeman bought the bodywork for us but we’re really disappointed in the guys. I guess they’re scared we’re going to outrun them. We had to use them because they’re the only ones that sell that bodywork. The new EBR (Eril Buell Racing) bodywork.”
Hector Arana Sr. had this to say about the EBR body work Smith ordered from him.
“They are almost done,” Arana said.
Smith said the EBR body work that was purchased will go on his motorcycle.
“They put a price tag on it thinking no one would buy and Freeman would buy,” Smith said. “So we’re just waiting for it. It’s the EBR 1190RX”
This spring at the Four Wide national event in Charlotte, N.C., Smith’s season was turned upside down.
Smith couldn't believe his ears. Wife Angie was telling him his bike was gone, driven off the track property while housed in a trailer. And, no, it wasn't a dream.”
Smith signed to ride fulltime with Joe Riccardi and Riccardi left the property in Charlotte with the Suzuki Smith was supposed to ride.
“Yeah we’ve had some success,” Smith said. “When somebody bails on you like that, I don’t know what the deal is but obviously whatever the reason is, I don’t know why. We just wanted to have a fast bike. We just got the new bike done for us and then he bailed so not much I can say on that.”
Smith qualified No. 4 and takes on Jim Underdahl in the first round.
FAMILIAR FACE IN TEAM LIBERTY PITS – Veteran NHRA Pro Stock racer Larry Morgan had plenty of success during his driving career.
These days, Morgan is building Pro Stock Motorcycle engines for Team Liberty with drivers world champion Angelle Sampey and Cory Reed.
“Last year, Jim Whiteley asked me if I could help him on cylinder heads because he knew I’d done Hector (Arana’s) stuff. And I said ‘yeah, I’ll do your heads.’ So I did a set of heads and they kept blowing engines up. Chris Rivas was doing it with him. Chris Rivas was working on the engines. Now keep in mind this was a whole new development deal with Victory. Nobody had done any development work. They just took whatever they had and that’s what they tried to race with. But they weren’t very successful they just kept blowing engines up. They kept doing so much that Jim finally called me up and said ‘would you be interested in doing this?’ And I told him I would. I went down and looked at stuff and it was so tore up. It had been blown up so bad that I said “this is gonna be a pretty good job.” So I took it on and Dave Elk who worked with me for 17 years and worked with Hector for a couple years.”
Now, Morgan, his son, Nick and Elk do the engine stuff for the Victory bikes ridden by Reed and Sampey. The team is running S&S engines.
“Yeah, I plan on doing it (the whole season),” Morgan said. “I took a real liking to Cory and I want to help him as much as I can.”
Morgan acknowledged this is a work in progress.
“We have three different designs of engines and we don’t know which one is the best,” Morgan said. “And, we weren’t able to work together to figure that out and now we’re going to have to work together.”
Competing in the thin air of the thin air at Bandimere Speedway also presents a challenge.
“It’s all new to me here,” Morgan said. “Last time I was here I won the race (in 2015 in Pro Stock). But I don’t know sh** about a bike. I know about engines, but I don’t know about bikes. We’re going to do the best we can do. We’ll be fine we just need time as a team to work together.”
Reed qualified No. 9 and Sampey is No. 10 on the ladder. Reed meets Steve Johnson in round one, while Sampey faces L.E. Tonglet.
That 2015 victory at the Mile-High Nationals came against Allen Johnson. The two had a memorable burn down before finally staging.
“I miss that part,” Morgan said. “I don’t miss spending a million dollars a year (in Pro Stock). That car is out of control. Do I miss that class? Yes. Will I race again? Absolutely. I told Jim (Whiteley) until they get these bikes running real good I’m not interested in racing.”
Morgan knows firsthand the cost of racing is driving competitors away from the sport.
“I just like to race and you can’t make it to where it’s so expensive that it takes the fun away and that’s what’s happening up here,” Morgan said. “When Schumacher and Force and Kallita go, what’s going happen? You know what’s going to happen. We can’t afford to race this stuff. We’re fortunate enough that we’ve got a guy that’s interested in doing what we do here. Jim’s (Whiteley) a good guy.”
STEVE JOHNSON KEEPS ON KEEPING ON – Steve Johnson has been competing in NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle class since 1987.
He’s won six national events and in the process seen plenty of changes over the years. Despite all the changes, Johnson is still competing.
The Mile-High Nationals offer challenges all their own.
“I envision myself as the tuner wanna-be,” Johnson said. “It’s very challenging. I go back and look at some notes form past years and we have really, really struggled bad here. So I’m not learning form that. I’m throwing the kitchen sink at it. Jock (Allen) and I worked the entire off time from Norwalk (Ohio) until now. Just because we have the smallest trailer in the pits doesn’t mean that…actually we need a small time. We need a small E.T.”
Johnson said he keeps competing in NHRA mainly because of what he does off the track.
“Actually, the school programs are real important to me,” Johnson said. “And, I just feel like if we quit then it sends a message to my small, little influencing bunch. But at the same time I do enjoy the challenge and it is a huge challenge. Winning the U.S. Nationals tuning it and driving it was always very proud. If Jock can work on the bike and I can ride the bike and we both can figure out what to do to make the changes then it’ll be so successful. We probably would not leave the pits that night.”
Johnson qualified No. 9 and will meet Cory Reed in round one.
“Every longtime racer knows, there’s a handful of tracks that might not be super tracks, but the owners are incredible people,” Johnson said. “And it’s a great opportunity to suck up that this is definitely one of those tracks. It would be really special to win here.”
SARGE TALKS DENVER, SPONSORSHIP FUTURE –There’s very little Tony Schumacher hasn’t accomplished in his stellar Top Fuel driving career.
Schumacher has won eight world championships and 84 national event wins, including three at the Mile-High Nationals near Denver in 2005, 2008 and 2016. He also finished runner-up at Bandimere Speedway in 1997, 2000, 2004, 2006, 2011, and 2015.
“I love coming here,” Schumacher said. “I like coming in early and staying late. I love the town, I love the city, I love the people, I love the Bandimeres. The stands are full everyday all the time and I love the trophies I get from here. I love the fly fishing before and the fly fishing after, the concerts, everything. We get to come here once a year and we might as well make the most of it. It’s a great start to a brilliant three-race series (the Western Swing).”
Back in 2008, Sarge, as Schumacher is known, swept the Western Swing, winning in Denver, Sonoma, Calif., and Seattle.
“I would like to do that again,” he said.
Schumacher arrived at Bandimere Speedway second in the points standings 190 points behind Steve Torrence.
“I think we are right on for this track,” Schumacher said. “I think we have a really good car for this track.”
On July 8, it was announced that The U.S. Army has decided not to renew its sponsorship with Don Schumacher Racing (DSR) and the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) due to a reallocation of its marketing budget.
DSR is actively pursuing a strong brand to partner with the team and its roster of sponsors and personalities who have contributed to 325 NHRA national event titles and 16 championships. The U.S. Army has been a primary sponsor for Tony Schumacher’s dragster for nearly 20 years.
“I had the best 19 years (with the U.S. Army) and so thankful I had it,” Schumacher said. “We built each other so much. I met the best friends, I have friends I will have the rest of my life. I don’t think the majority of the world can understand how awesome that 19 years was. It’s a gift to have something like that. Nothing last forever and we just have to be thankful for what we had. It was awesome. I really look forward to the next chapter.”
As a decorated racer that Schumacher is, he acknowledged he doesn’t take his racing home with him.
“My Sunday doesn’t dictate how I act to my kids on Monday,” he said. “When I heard about this (U.S. Army leaving at end of the season), I went home and swam with my kids. I’m sorry that the Army is leaving, and they are going to go their own direction, but we will find something. This is my job. It is not everything I am. It’s a great partnership. I love being here, love being part of that team, but I have three kids at home and I’m a father first. Something important for other parents to realize, don’t let that work week dictate your weekends off. I plan on racing for a long time. I look forward to the next chapter and I think the sponsors out there are clearly going to be able to recognize that Army team was awesome for 19 years and we were so successful overall that it is an open target right now. Eight-time world champion, the winningest team and for the first time maybe in history it is going to be presented as an option. Come on, give us a call.”
GRUBNIC IS FLEXING HIS MUSCLES AGAIN – Clay Millican has had an outstanding 2018 season thus far in his Parts Plus/ Great Clips/ UNOH dragster. He is third in the season points standings.
A key to Millican’s success has been his crew chief David Grubnic.
“It is a conundrum,” said Grubnic about racing in the high altitude of the Mile-High Nationals. “You just want to come up here, get your points and get whatever position you can and just move on, but at the same time it’s the hardest place in the world to tune, so pride kicks in and you want to do well. I enjoy the challenge.”
Millican was stellar in Friday’s first qualifying session, clocking the fastest time in the session at 3.814 seconds at 326.71 mph.
“The difference is just the atmospheric conditions,” Grubnic said. “We still have a race track and the race track is outstanding here with the water cooling. Credit to the Bandimeres for what they have done there, they obviously have made our jobs a little easier. The atmospheric conditions and being a Mile-High that presents a challenge on making power. We just don’t run as quick. Everybody is in the same boat and we just have to try and run a little bit quicker than our competitor. If we can do that all good and well, but at the same time we don’t want push our components or parts or our set-ups too hard to where we come up here and cost us a fortunate in damaged parts. It’s like anything and everything. It’s a balance.”
In the final qualifying session Friday, Millican clocked a 3.914-second time and he dropped to third on the ladder with his first run, a tenth of a second behind second place Steve Torrence.
HAGAN TALKS ABOUT NHRA’S NEW HEADER RULES – During the last race – the New England Nationals in Epping, N.H. – July 8, NHRA's Technical Department issued the following clarification on headers:
Double-pipe insulated exhaust headers mandatory. Minimum Funny Car header angle 40 degrees, measured in reference to ground and parallel to the center line of the car (X axis). Maximum width of headers: 83 inches. Maximum header height 11.5 inches, measured from the ground to the highest point at the exit of the exhaust. Maximum header pipe O.D. 2.75 inches. O.D. and I.D. must remain constant beginning 8 inches below the header flange to the exit of the header. Centerlines of all four exhaust pipes must be parallel to each other and each pipe must contact adjacent tube.
NHRA confirmed this rule will be enforced beginning at the Mile-High Nationals in Morrison, Colo., near Denver.
Matt Hagan, who has won the last two national events, and was outspoken about some teams having an advantage over his Don Schumacher Racing team in relation to headers, is happy about NHRA’s new policy.
“Our engineers at Mopar were saying it’s anywhere from four to six hundredths that they had on everybody with those headers being pitched back five degrees,” Hagan said. “You know, if it’s good for one, it’s good for all. I think that absolutely, I hate that it went on this long, it is what it is, but you can’t cry over spilled milk, you’ve just got to move forward. Everybody talks about crying and all this other stuff, I mean it’s not a DSR thing, it’s an everybody that they race thing.”
Hagan believes consistent rules for headers is a must in the nitro Funny Car class.
“You call it what it is, fair is fair,” he said. “At the end of the day, if you measure ours one way, or you measure Jim Dunn’s one way, you got to measure theirs the same way. It just is what it is.”
Although Hagan has won the last two races his team has a big change it is debuting a new 2019 Mopar Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat NHRA Funny Car body at the Mile-High Nationals.
“We tested great at Norwalk (Ohio, June 25) right after we won,” hagan said. “Things went well, things are going good. I’m just looking for really good, positive things right off the bat with it.”
Unlike most stops on the NHRA circuit where qualifying Saturday is during the heat of the day that isn’t the case at Bandimere Speedway. Qualifying Friday and Saturday is at 6 p.m. and 8 p.m., (MT) each day. Sunday’s eliminations, meanwhile, begin at 11 a.m.
“I mean, obviously we’re going to be racing in a hotter condition,” Hagan said. “It’s totally different, but I don’t get paid to make those decisions. I get to hang onto this thing and make it go to the end. At the end of the day, I think that we’re going to have as good a shot as anybody. Our car’s been running very consistently and going well so I feel like we have just as good a shot as anybody.”
Although Hagan has 29 career NHRA national event wins – none have come at Denver, which he would like to change this weekend. Hagan’s career-besr performance at the Mile-High Nationals was runner-up effort in 2011.
“I mean our sponsors sponsor this race,” Hagan said. “It’s always been one that we’ve not been able to do well at, so I would love to get a win here.”
TJ TALKS ABOUT HIS PASSION TO COMPETE AT BANDIMERE – Many people in drag racing circles don’t love competing at Bandimere Speedway because of all the changes that have to be made to the engines because of the altitude of the track – 5,860 feet above sea level.
Tommy Johnson Jr., who pilots the Make-A-Wish Dodge for Don Schumacher Racing, isn’t one of those people.
“It’s a race that people can come into with a negative attitude because of the altitude,” Johnson said. “Me racing here all of my career, being a Division 5 guy, I’ve always come here with a positive attitude because it’s been a fun race for me. The Bandimere family is great, and it’s a great facility. They get a huge crowd and then you have success on top of it, it’s one of those you look forward to every year.”
Johnson Jr. has been competing at Bandimere Speedway for years, but he’s still searching for his first victory. He has been runner-up in Top Fuel, Funny Car, Top Alcohol Funny Car and Super Gas.
“I think in 1982 and 1983 I ran the bracket finals,” said Johnson when asked about how long he has been competing at Bandimere Speedway.
“It’s pretty high on the list,” said Johnson Jr. about what a Mile-High Nationals win would mean to him. “Like, come on man, what’s a guy got to do to win a race here. Runner-up in all these classes is great, but it’s not really what I want. I want to get the victory here someday.”
Johnson Jr. arrived at the Mile-High Nationals seventh in the points standings and he took a minute to talk about his season.
“Not as good as you’d want but it’s not bad actually either,” he said. “We were runner-up in Phoenix, we got to the final in both Four Wide (races in Charlotte, N.C., and Las Vegas). We’re being competitive it’s just that we can’t seem to get the breaks to go our way sometime. We’ve been close but just not been able to get the break you need to make it a successful day. If we keep plugging away and continue at the level we’re at, it’s going to come.”
The hottest topic in the nitro Funny Car class is the issue with the headers and Johnson Jr. had this to say about the issue.
“I’d like to see it the same for everybody,” Johnson Jr. said. “I know what went wrong but I don’t know if it was clarified. I don’t know if anyone is guilty of anything, but I just think that at this point if they’re going to do it, they’ve got to do it the same for everybody. I think this will put everybody in line. I think if you’re going to measure them, you’ve got to measure them the same for everybody.”
SIMPSON FINDS SAND TRAP – Part-time nitro Funny Car racer Todd Simpson was the first competitor to qualify in Friday’s first session. He made a solid pass at 4.46 seconds at 270.81 mph.
Unfortunately for Simpson, the run didn’t end well.
After going past the finish line, the parachutes in Simpson’s Funny Car never came out. Simpson’s care went up the hill and into the sand trap and came to a stop just before the safety nets. Simpson did get out of the car and was uninjured. Simpson did not run make a run during Friday night’s final qualifying session.
DIEHL TURNS HEADS FRIDAY – Veteran nitro Funny Car driver Jeff Diehl races because he loves it. He competes on a limited schedule and a limited budget, but no one can ever question his passion.
This weekend at the Mile-High Nationals Diehl is tuning his Funny Car himself with help remotely from his regular crew chief Johnny West.
“This weekend I’m tuning the car, Johnny is not here,” Diehl said. “He’s helping me, he just doesn’t come on all the back-to-back (races). It’s insane this weekend. You have to change everything you possibly can to make power and it ran good here last year and we have about half the notes to make it right. Rob (Wendland, Terry McMillen’s crew chief) helped me decipher some of the stuff because Johnny is not here. He helped me a little bit. The first qualifying run I made to see where I was at and tonight I laid it down.”
Diehl clocked a 4.287-second pass at 272.50 mph Friday night to get himself in the field at the No. 11 spot.
“I shut it off early because we were in such a rush (getting to the staging lanes), but here we are,” said a smiling Diehl.
CAMPBELL ADDRESSES HIS 2018 SEASON – This season has been a little rough for Jim Campbell, who drives for the legendary Jim Dunn.
Campbell came to Denver 14th in the points and he’s trying to make a move into the top 10 to earn a bid the Countdown to the Championship.
“Well you know we struggled a little bit early on in the season, both on the clutch side and the driver side a little bit,” Campbell said. “The car’s coming around much better the last few races we’ve ran much, much better.
You know I’m living the dream. I get to drive a pro Funny Car, so I’ve got no complaints. You know I get to work for a legend, so along with finding out what’s going on, and learning, I learn something every race. Every time I sit in this seat I learn something, so that’s what you get for driving for Big Jim.”
With the challenge of the high altitude of Bandimere Speedway, Campbell defers that to Dunn.
“Well, you know, Big Jim does all the calls and stuff and Jon (Dunn) is doing the clutch,” Campbell said. “So, I let them figure it out. I’ve just got to do my job consistently in the driver’s seat and they’ll figure it out. Again, the car’s been going down the track much more, where at the beginning we shook a little bit. A lot of us have been going out in the middle and spinning it so just a matter of getting used to this new track prep as well.”
After Friday’s qualifying, Campbell was in the unwanted spot of 6.431 seconds at 88.11 mph.
Campbell also took a moment to discuss the hot topic of laid back headers.
“Well you know again we were running with the laid back headers and we were flying, especially here with a lot of wheel stands, the cars were coming off the ground,” Campbell said. “I think it (NHRA new laid back header policy which began at the Mile High Nationals) will definitely provide some more downforce. You know, these crew chiefs are pretty smart. They’ll figure it out pretty quick.”
The challenge of Bandimere Speedway is something Campbell welcomes.
“It’s a beautiful facility, I love Bandimere,” Campbell said. “I was just telling a friend of mine, I said, ‘It’s so funny because the car sounds different both outside and inside. At any other race I would think, ‘Wow, something’s wrong with the car.’ Here it’s normal.”
Campbell acknowledged running his second full season in Funny Car has brought about personal improvements for him.
“Listening to him and just going through my routine and being consistent,” Campbell said. “That’s my job is to be consistent in the car. That’s how they tune it. It just takes seat time. It really does come down to seat time. The more you spin it, the more times you take it down the track, the better you’re going to get.”
Does it feel like riding a bike yet?
“No, nothing in this car feels like riding a bike unless your bike’s got a lot of horsepower,” Campbell said. “I think once you get so relaxed that you get complacent, you kind of lose that edge. Not that you have to be on the edge, but at the same time you need to go through and just be completely consistent.”
BO BUTNER TALKS ABOUT HIS HEALTH SCARE – Reigning NHRA Pro Stock world champion Bo Butner was on his way home from the Epping, N.H., race July 9 when he had a health scare.
“I drove for a long time, a long period without getting up and moving around. I was coming back from New Hampshire and I drove 11 hours straight without standing up,” Butner said. “I was in my bus. When I stood up, I had like a dizzy spell, so luckily, I was stopped right across the street from the hospital in Florence, Ky. I was almost home in Floyds Knobs, Ind. It worked out for me there because I didn’t know where I was at, and I walked to the hospital.
I felt great, I felt like a million dollars driving. But when I stopped, and I stood up, it hit me. So they ran all the tests and everything. They gave me a bunch of tests, I stayed for the week. They checked heart, they checked everything. Everything came back really good. So, I don’t think you should sit that long. I’m getting older, I’m 44 now, so you need to move around. Lesson learned I guess.”
Butner was grateful his unexpected incident happened right by a hospital.
“Could you imagine like driving through here and being in the middle of nowhere,” Butner said. I mean, you’re done. I don’t know, but they put some fluids in me and stuff and it was all good. I left (the hospital) last Friday and . I told them if I can’t drive, so be it. As we get older, your health’s more important. It means a lot more than…. When I was younger, it didn’t matter. Coast is clear, got signed and released and good to go.”
Last year, Butner was dominant, winning the season-opening Winternationals, but that was his last win and he is eighth in points.
“I don’t know if people probably got better but we haven’t got there,” Butner said. “We’re not making good runs, we make great power, we’re just not making good runs. But it counts after Indy.”
Butner is upbeat about the rest of the season.
“Jason (Line) and Greg (Anderson), they’re always trying stuff and getting ready for the Countdown (to the championship, the final six races of the season). So, our goal is to run good in the Countdown and hopefully do a one, two, three finish again for the second year in a row. Nothing’s forever. It’s good everybody else is running better. Look, we’ve got 16 cars at every event, that’s more than all the other Pro classes. We’re doing well and they’re sticking together so that’s good.”
GRAY GAINS MORE EXPERIENCE AT BANDIMERE – Competing at Bandimere Speedway is truly a learning experience. Driving in the high-altitude of Morrison, Colo., isn’t easy.
Tanner Gray is in his second competing in Pro Stock at Bandimere Speedway and he knows the challenge continues.
“Coming here this year, you definitely know what to expect,” Gray said. “Last year, you didn’t really know what to expect coming here. You didn’t know how fast the shift lights come on and stuff. I definitely have a better idea of what to expect now. I’ve already done it once and how much softer the pedals are stuff like that. We struggled throughout qualifying last year, but first round we went low from the round and got beat on a holeshot. I think if we get a handle on it early, we will be really good later on.”
Gray was No. 9 on the qualifying ladder after Friday’s two qualifying sessions with a time of 6.965 seconds at 196.96 mph. Gray arrived in Denver third in the points standings just 19 points behind leader Erica Enders, who has become a rival to Gray. Enders is a two-time Pro Stock world champion.
“They say in order to be the best you have to beat the best,” Gray said. “She’s obviously one of the best out here and it’s a lot of fun going up and racing her. I don’t know if I necessarily enjoy the rivalry side of it, I just enjoy racing her. She’s good and it is two good drivers going up against each other. It makes for a cool outcome.”
Enders qualified No. 6 Friday with a 6.950-second elapsed time at 196.98 mph.
PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE
NEW LOOK FOR GLADSTONE – This offseason, Pro Stock Motorcycle racer Joey Gladstone joined the Underdal-Stoffer team.
Unfortunately for the pilot of the Yellow Corn Suzuki this season has been a struggle. He arrived in Denver 15th in the points standings.
“None of this stuff is easy out here in this class,” Gladstone said. “We’ve been working very hard to try and find some performance this year and we have been going strong and we’ve had some top half of the field qualifying efforts. The cards haven’t fallen in our favor. I will leave first and dumb luck will happen.”
Trying to change his luck, Gladstone decided to cut his hair – hair which he had worn long for six years.
“I cut it two days ago,” said Gladstone, 27, Friday prior to qualifying. “It took like an hour to cut it. I was pretty nervous. I did it for a couple of reasons, I didn’t like the way my hair looked in my helmet and I wanted to look good. I wanted a change and my wife (Nicole) really liked it which was very important. I also have not made it out of first round this season and I’ve left first all but one time and I haven’t had very good luck. I figured I would cut it. The long hair wasn’t working. I think it ran its course and this is the new me.”
Gladstone was No. 13 in the qualifying ladder after Friday with a 7.288-second elapsed time at 182.45 mph.