2019 NHRA MILE HIGH NATIONALS - EVENT NOTEBOOK
TORRENCE TIES DON GARLITS ON ALL-TIME TOP FUEL WIN LIST WITH VICTORY AT BANDIMERE - There are just some names that are synonymous with Top Fuel drag racing.
Tony Schumacher. Joe Amato. Don Garlits.
And now, Steve Torrence.
Already in rarified air with his successes over the past two-and-a-half seasons, the savvy racer from Texas continued his march up the list of all-time greats on Sunday when Torrence tied NHRA-great Don Garlits with his 35th career victory at the 40th annual Dodge Mile-High NHRA Nationals presented by Pennzoil.
Torrence entered into a tie for seventh on the all-time class win list with a win over Clay Millican in the final Sunday at Bandimere Speedway as Torrence won in a pedalfest to collect his eighth win in the last nine races.
“It is very humbling to have your name mentioned in the same sentence as (Garlits). He is a legend of the sport and he pioneered so much. He is one of the greatest and when you say we are tied with him, it is humbling,” Torrence said. “I don’t believe I have fully realized what it is we have been able to accomplish over the last couple of years and I believe when you are in a moment like this, you need to relish it and enjoy it because they don’t last forever.”
Dominating the class like few before him, Torrence added another first to his list of accomplishments on Sunday with his first win on the track outside of Denver in a close matchup against Millican. Both drivers hazed the tires and started dropping cylinders during the run, but it was Torrence who carried the momentum in crossing the line first to earn the win.
Torrence crossed the stripe with a 4.044-second pass at 270.21 mph in the Capco Contractors dragster while Millican, in his third final of the season, finished with a 4.126 at 267.64 mph.
“Clay and I have a pretty long history. I’ve known him since I raced alcohol and to go up against a fellow southern individual in the final was pretty cool,” Torrence said. “He is always a tough competitor. He is a seasoned driver so you have to be on your game up there and to be honest I didn’t realize that the race was as close as it was.
“I could see him early move out and I could see the front tire and the wing of his car, and then I saw him fall away so I knew that he smoked the tires. I breathed a sigh of relief and then the next thing I knew my car is smoking the tires too. So I am trying to get off of it and get it back going and at that point in the run you still have some momentum. I don’t think I did the best job, but it was good enough in that circumstance.”
Torrence added wins over Brittany Force and Richie Crampton to earn his 27th win in the last 57 races - an astonishing win percentage of nearly 50 percent - after starting from the No. 1 position on the ladder.
Both Force and Crampton were forced to click it off early after running into problems during their runs as Torrence marched to his ninth-straight final round with runs of 3.821 and 3.970, while adding a 3.787 in his first-round bye.
“We’ve been able to maintain this level of consistency, not so much because of the driver, but because of the team we have assembled. We’ve been able to have these guys together for six years continuously and when you have that kind of bond they go out and they know what each other is thinking without saying a word,” Torrence said. “They make all the right calls and the right decisions and give the crew chiefs the best car time and time again.
“Richard Hogan and Bobby Lagana have a really good handle on this thing right now and it gives you confidence when you have a car that is this consistent and goes down the track time and time again. And, sometimes, you benefit a little bit because of that.
“You sometimes have a little bit of a luck factor when the guy beside you is pushing to outrun you and you may not make the perfect run, but you can have a little bit of room for error when they sometimes make mistakes against you.”
Millican had wins over Jordan Vandergriff, Leah Pritchett and Doug Kalitta to reach his third final of the season - all runner-up finishes.
With the victory, Torrence moves one step closer to another potential milestone as he is now the only Top Fuel driver capable of winning the famed Western Swing. While Torrence has seemingly done it all, from winning a championship to sweeping the Countdown to the Championship, a sweep of the trio of races out west would be another feather in the cap of a driver quickly climbing the list of all-time greats as he now sits just 10 wins shy of a spot in the top five.
“We are the only ones that can sweep the swing at this point and that would be a huge accomplishment. It would be something that I would like to be able to do and we are heading in the right direction right now,” Torrence said. “I think about some of the things that we have been able to do over the past couple of seasons and it is still unbelievable to me. I don’t want to get too caught up in the right now, we just need to keep doing what we are doing.
“Eventually there will be a day that I’m not going to race anymore and we will look back and see what we did then. You don’t want to get hung up in everything that is going on and how great you are because there is always someone like Austin Prock or Jordan Vandergriff ready to knock you off.”
As for the fans that are getting tired of Torrence-dominated races on the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Tour?
“We are just going to do the best that we can do because I’ve got some really good fans that do support us and cheer for us,” Torrence said. “And if you are not a fan and you are annoyed, then you can root for someone else. That is your opinion.” Larry Crum
TOMMY JOHNSON JR. FINALLY WINS MILE HIGH NATIONALS - The wait is over for Tommy Johnson Jr.
After being a bridesmaid at the Mile-High Nationals in four different categories – Super Gas, Top Alcohol Funny Car, Top Fuel and nitro Funny Car – Johnson is finally a champion at Bandimere Speedway.
That became a reality for the former NHRA Division 5 racer when he edged Bob Tasca III in the final round.
Johnson Jr. clocked a 4.102-second elapsed time at 308.50 mph to get past Tasca’s 4.158-second lap at 302.14 mph.
“I’ve wanted to win this race so bad for so long,” Johnson Jr. said. “This race has meant so much to me. What a great day. I’m just happy for my team. This has been the best season ever and I think we are just getting started.”
Johnson Jr., who is the dnow has 19 career national event wins – 17 in Funny Car and two in Top Fuel.
This was Johnson’s second win of the season as he also won in Chicago (June 2).
“We struggled on Friday, like a lot of people, but we felt pretty confident Saturday and (in Q4) we made a great run (3.978 seconds). That was my quickest ever on the mountain,” Johnson Jr. said. “That gave us a ton of confidence. We are such a better team than we were in the past and it is good to see us grow as a team. It wasn’t easy (Sunday), Tasca was right there in the final round and we got a few breaks here and there and we finally got it done here.”
Johnson Jr. has 24 round wins this season, with crew chief John Collins, and he moved into second place in the point standings behind Robert Hight. Johnson Jr.’s career-best finish in the points came in 2016 when he was second.
“The Bandimeres are such a great family,” Johnson Jr. said. “I started coming up here when I was a kid. My dad raced up here, I’m a Division 5 guy. I ran the divisional race here a lot and I just got to know the Bandimeres really well and they are a great family, so this win means a lot.”
On Sunday, Johnson’s victory parade consisted of wins over Jeff Diehl, Jack Beckman, Cruz Pedregon and Tasca. Johnson Jr. improved his career record against Tasca to 8-0 and this was the first time they met in the final round.
Tasca had the starting line advantage in the final, but Johnson Jr. caught and passed him at the eighth-mile and never looked back.
“It is tough up here on the mountain because you don’t have the downforce because the air is just not as thick,” Johnson Jr. said. “You have to really drive the car up here. I kept giving them feedback on issues I was having driving and it just keep getting better and better all weekend. I told them after second round, I had to do some driving, but the good thing is I can drive it now. It was a good team effort.”
While smiling during his victory press conference, Johnson Jr. took a trip down memory lane talking about how he lost in the 1984 Super Gas finals to Shawn Langdon’s dad, Chad.
Johnson Jr. lost on a double breakout.
“It has been a longtime and Shawn (Langdon) showed me a picture this weekend of his dad holding him in the winner’s circle here (at Bandimere Speedway),” Johnson Jr. said. “He was only 2 years old at the time and I remember telling him I’ve been doing this so long I was a runner-up to your dad. It is neat to finally get it done here.” Tracy Renck
ANDERSON BACK IN PRO STOCK WINNER’S CIRCLE FOR FIRST TIME IN A YEAR WITH WIN AT MILE-HIGH NATS - No matter the year that he is having, Greg Anderson feels he can always count on Bandimere Speedway.
A multi-time winner at the track coming into this weekend and the defending event winner, Anderson shook off a year-long losing streak with his first win since this race a year ago to collect his 92nd career Wally Sunday at the 40th annual Dodge Mile-High NHRA Nationals presented by Pennzoil.
While he didn’t exactly think his winning ways were over, Anderson did begin to feel the pressure entering the race this weekend and felt it was now or never to get the proverbial monkey off of his back.
“It feels good. Obviously you have a doubt or two in a years time. It has been a year since I have been able to win a race and this class has just gotten tougher and tougher since then,” Anderson said. “We are probably our own worst enemies, supplying power to five or six of the tough competitors out here who are winning races when we are not. And that says a lot about the class and what it is all about.
“It just takes a He-Man job to win anymore. I’m certainly not getting any younger so it is tough to hang with these guys on the starting line. And when all of the cars run the same it is hard to win.”
Anderson collected the win and moved within five victories of Warren Johnson on the all-time Pro Stock win list in a thriller over Matt Hartford. Both drivers were welded together at the starting line with only two-thousandths separating the pair at the tree as Anderson got to the stripe first with a 6.950-second pass at 196.96 mph in the Summit Racing Equipment Chevrolet Camaro. Hartford, in his third final round of the year - all losses - crossed the line with a 6.965 at 196.96 mph.
With the win, Anderson moved to 10-0 all-time in elimination rounds against Hartford.
“I had a good day just like I did a year ago out here. My Summit Chevy loves this race track. It is the best car I seem to have every year, so I consider it my best chance of the year to win,” Anderson said. “The car was flawless all day long and the driver didn’t screw it up.
“The final was a great race. I had a lot of great races today and this was just another one. People don’t realize how hard the starting line deal is and how easy it is for someone to gain a few hundredths at the tree and you not realize it. You do the best job you can each time up there and you cut a great light and sometimes it comes up 20 and sometimes it comes up 50 and you don’t know why.
“It is very easy to lose any race that is within one or two hundredths on the starting line. I just thank the Lord my foot came up at the right time and the car performed perfectly and I got the win light.”
Anderson added wins over Deric Kramer, Richard Freeman and Fernando Cuadra, proving the class of the field each and every time he pulled up to the line. He easily dispatched of Cuardra and Freeman in the first two rounds with solid passes of 6.960 and 6.939, setting the low elapsed time for the weekend in the second-round win over Freeman, before battling it out in the closest race of the afternoon against Kramer.
In a battle of teammates, Anderson collected the holeshot win with a 6.954 at 197.68 mph to Kramer’s 6.949 at 197.42 mph to punch his ticket to his third final round of the season.
Hartford had wins over Jeg Coughlin, Val Smeland and Alex Laughlin to reach his fourth career final on a track that has always proven tricky for the Pro Stock class.
“It is a neat challenge. People don’t realize what you have to do to these race cars to make them perform out here,” Anderson said. “They are not built for racing out here. We build these cars specially for 1,400 to 1,500 horsepower and you come out here and you only have 1,100 to 1,200 horsepower. Nothing is right about the car. You try to force the car to work when it is not wanting to and it is just a tough challenge.
“For the driver, because you lose 300 horsepower when you come out here, you have to jam all kinds of gear ratio into the car to make the car think it has more power. It makes for a tough challenge for the entire team and I am fortunate to have been able to win out here the last two years.”
But while the path seemed flawless for Anderson, it was far from it. After watching teammate Jason Line suffer a dramatic engine failure in qualifying and watching fellow racer Kenny Delco suffer a nasty crash on Saturday, Anderson had his own scary moment when his parachutes failed to deploy in his first round win over Cuadra, slowing just shy of the sand at the top end.
“It has happened before and you just have to be prepared for anything that can happen out there. You can’t panic and when it happens you have to be smooth, you have to know the amount of brake pedal you can use because if you get on the brakes too hard the car starts bouncing and you are in big trouble,” Anderson said. “The bottom line is if you run out of real estate and you have to go into the sand trap that is ok. That is going to be less damaging than jamming the brakes and hitting the wall.
“I guess that is where being the grizzled veteran comes into play. You have to be ready for anything. It doesn’t have to be something that goes wrong with your car, it could be someone in the other lane. It certainly is a dangerous game, but it is what we love to do and we accept part of that. You just have to go out there and do the best you can and hopefully the cards are in your favor.”
While Anderson started the season slowly, with only one round win in his first three races, the veteran has since found his groove, reaching the finals in three of the last five races, as his win on Sunday moves him up two spots to second in the Pro Stock championship standings.
“I’m excited. I told everybody that I got off to a slow start and then we got that break in the schedule where we sat out a couple of races and it seemed like, when we came back from that break, that our race team had made a gain,” Anderson said. “All of our cars are strong and all of our cars are capable of winning every race we go to and I am pretty happy with that.
“The past year has been tough. You definitely ask yourself will I ever win again. Father time is tough. It is not that you can’t cut a light with some of these guys out here, it just becomes more difficult over the years to do it every time. It is just part of the deal.
“I am just very blessed that I am still able to do this at 58 years old and to be able to race a car and beat the guys and gals that are racing in this class is pretty impressive.” Larry Crum
HINES GETS FIFTH CAREER PSM WIN AT MILE HIGH NATIONALS - The debut of the FXDR body for the Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson team at the Mile High Nationals was a resounding success.
Andrew Hines and teammate Eddie Krawiec met in all-Harley final with Hines coming way with the win.
Hines clocked a 7.174-second elapsed time at 186.67 mph to edge Krawiec’s 7.222-second lap at 186.38 mph.
“Rolling out this new FXDR (body) has been so much work here the last three months,” Hines said. “Our guys at Vance & Hines have been making sure they are cutting patterns on the CNC machines so all the fit and quality would be exactly what Harley expects out of us. To have them entrust us with bringing out the next Factory motorcycle they want to push in NHRA drag racing just solidifies our future with them.”
Hines, a five-time world champion, (2004-2006, 2014-15), won his sixth race of the season and he was appearing in his seventh final in eight races this season.
“Bringing that motorcycle here, we didn’t quite know what to expect,” Hines said. “We had a few tests at Indy on the Fourth of July and it looked to be about the same as we had with the Street Rods and luckily, we brought it in here and kind of had our same performance comparatively of what we had in Denver in previous years.”
This was Hines' 54th career national event win since making his PSM debut in 2002 at Bandimere Speedway.
To say the Vance & Hines team has had success at Bandimere Speedway is a massive understatement. Hines’ win was the 13th for the team since 1996.
Andrew now has five wins at Bandimere – 2006, 2010, 2014, 2016 and 2019.
Matt Hines, Andrew’s older brother, and Krawiec have four wins each at the Mile High Nationals.
Andrew is having a dream season, after going winless in 2018, he has a 25-2 elimination round record. Hines has beat Krawiec five times in the finals this season.
“To put them both in the final round (Sunday), a lot of people questioned that we were taking bodies off that worked really good from Norwalk (Ohio) where we had both bikes in the final round, but we put them both back in the final round in Denver,” Hine said. “It is one of those things where Eddie and I are in a flip-flop deal. He is in the same boat I was in last year. He beat me up in the semifinal and final rounds along the way, and when one bike is clicking it is easy to make that one continue on. You try and play catch-up with the others and find those little things. We took a chance with his bike in the final because it wasn’t up to snuff with how my bike was running and we said, let’s learn something. If we’re going to learn something, let’s do something big and it still didn’t change the performance of (his) bike. There’s something holding it back there.
He’s a great rider and he’s won four championships and is the second-winningest driver in the class. I don’t take him lightly. As soon as I get in the water, he’s not my friend. I’m out there to turn my lights on.” Tracy Renck
TONY SCHUMACHER OFFERS UPDATE ON SPONSOR SEARCH – During the offseason, one of the biggest stories, if the not the biggest story, was that eight-time Top Fuel world champion Tony Schumacher was not going to start the season while he pursued sponsorship opportunities.
The Mile-High Nationals in Morrison, Colo., are the 14th race of the season and Schumacher has yet to make a start.
Schumacher was in the tower Saturday doing commentary with Alan Reinhart during Q3’s nitro Funny Car and Top Fuel qualifying at Bandimere Speedway.
“We’re out every day working on the right program,” Schumacher said. “I’m going to clarify 100 times, the right program. It’s not just about putting a name on the side of the car. We represented the Army and the U.S. soldiers for so long, 19 years. It was a great program. It was incredible. It was about building that whole thing. For us, we’re out searching. We were let know that the Army wasn’t coming back a little late in the year and we struggled to find something to go on the car, but we’re getting there. We have a lot of good people lined up and we’re talking to them and we’re trying to put the right team together.”
Schumacher finished second in the season points standings a year ago. In his illustrious career, Schumacher has 84 national event wins and amazing 842-412 elimination round record.
MIKE SALINAS PLANS ON RACING IN TWO CLASSES – Successful businessman Mike Salinas has proved he can compete against and beat the best Top Fuel drivers in NHRA’s Mello Yello Series.
With Alan Johnson and Brian Husen tuning his Top Fuel Dragster, Salinas came to Denver fifth in the points standings on the strength of two wins. More impressive is the fact that he is that high in the standings after missing three races.
On Saturday, he acknowledged he’s planning on obtaining a Pro Stock Motorcycle license so he can race against his daughter, Jianna Salinas.
“I’m going to get a Pro Stock Motorcycle license and I hope to start things going by Las Vegas (Oct. 31-Nov. 3),” Salinas said. “I would like to compete against her. Once I get my license I will decide what we will do next. I have always messed around with motorcycles and this is just something else to do.”
Salinas qualified No. 13 and will meet Brittany Force in the first round.
JORDAN VANDERGRIFF ENJOYING THE TOP FUEL LIFE – Following one’s dreams is not as easy as it seems.
Jordan Vandergriff, however, has to pinch himself these days because he’s in his first year driving a Top Fuel dragster in NHRA’s Mello Series for his uncle Bob Vandergriff Jr.
“It’s been a dream come true, to tell you the truth. I’m where I always dreamed of being and it really doesn’t feel real,” said Jordan, 24. “I’m having a blast with my guys. My guys are the best guys out here and I know coming out here we have a good car every weekend, I just have to do my job. It’s just weird saying that because I’m a rookie but if I come out here and do my job, we have a good chance to win a race.”
Competing in the high altitude of the Mile-High Nationals in Morrison, Colo., presents challenges to drivers, but Vandergriff wasn’t fazed. On Friday, he qualified No. 4 with a 3.864-second elapsed time at 317.87 mph.
After Q3 and Q4 Saturday, Vandergriff will start from the No. 3 spot on the ladder with his stout 3.796-second elapsed time at 321.27 mph. He gets Terry McMillen in first round.
“Oh, it’s just as big as I thought it was going to be,” Jordan said about piloting a Top Fuel dragster. “You really can’t imagine what these things feel like until you actually do it. Growing up I had an idea of maybe what it’d be like. It shatters your expectations. It’s really nothing you can anticipate.
I like to think I’ve matured a little. I think this thing keeps me younger and it is a lot of fun.”
Jordan then took a moment to describe what the rush is like to drive a Top Fuel dragster.
“The rush is just like a lot of adrenaline, that’s really all it is,” he said. “You’re so focused during the burnout, during the staging procedure, during the run you’re really focused so when it really hits you is when you pull the parachutes and you start slowing down. Then it’s kind of like ‘that just happened.’ That’s when I feel it the most. In the shutdown area you are breathing heavy and are like ‘H*ll yeah, that felt good.’ It has been great.
I’ll be going back home and driving on the freeway and someone will be driving like 70 mph and the people next to me are like ‘whoa, that person’s driving fast,’ and I just look at them and go ‘that’s not fast. I feel comfortable right now.’”
Jordan said Bob Vandergriff Racing isn’t scheduled to be at Sonoma, Calif. (July 26-28), and Shawn Reed will drive for BVR at Seattle (Aug. 2-4).
“Shawn’s going to run Seattle and then the next time you see both of us will be in Indy (Aug. 28-Sept. 2). We’ll go to Indy and then the plan as of right now is that I’m going to run every Countdown race except for Charlotte I believe. That’s the plan as of right now. That’s subject to change here but that’s what we’re planning on.”
Everything Jordan is doing this weekend at Bandimere Speedway is a first for him because he has never raced here.
“I came here two years ago when my uncle drove this car,” Jordan said. “I came here last year when Blake (Alexander) drove this car. I have never raced an alcohol car here. I’ve never raced here at all. This is one of my favorite races by far. It’s funny. A lot of people don’t like Denver because you have to change so much. I like it because you do. It’s like a specialty race. You come here and you change everything. It’s a fair ballgame for everybody. I think it benefits us.”
Becoming a Top Fuel driver is a path Jordan knew he was going to follow.
“Growing up I played sports,” he said. “It was a dream as a kid to be a professional baseball player but that’s obviously very hard to do and this is not easy to do. But this was always something my family did, and we were always involved in it. It was always a dream of mine. I always wanted to be like my uncle and participate in a business like my dad’s.”
Kevin Vandergriff, Jordan’s father, runs Hedman Hedders.
MILLICAN UPBEAT ABOUT HOW SEASON HAS GONE – When crew chief David Grubnic left Clay Millican’s team in the offseason, many began to write off his old team.
Clay Millican has had a solid season. He is sixth in the points standings and has had two runner-up finishes with new crew chief Mike Kloeber with help from Jim Oberhofer.
“I mean as far as I’m concerned, I’ve got two of the best in the business standing right here by us right now,” Millican said. I have had a blast. It’s been so much fun. It’s been a lot of work because every person on the team is brand new but man, I’m having so much fun. It’s fun working with Mike again. When you go back with the guy you learned from, you learned how to speak Top Fuel car from him. Me and him immediately, he knew what I meant and whatever I say, he already got it. I’m having a lot of fun.”
Joining forces with Kloeber was like going back down memory lane.
“He and I have done so much together,” Millican said. “A lot of history in the IHRA obviously. The things that we’ve done and the battles that we’ve been through, so this for me is just an extension of what we did from 2000 to 2007. It was like just picking up where we left off. We never did not stay in contact. We’ve always been friends, so this has been a homecoming type thing for me and it’s just a lot, a lot of fun. Working with all these new guys working on the car, that has been fun and just trying to figure out what person needs to be in what position, that part took a little bit to figure out, but it didn’t take long.
We went and jumped right in the frying pan going to the final round in Gainesville, third race in. It’s really, really coming together. I knew we were going to be Ok. A lot of people on the Internet did not think so. But to be honest it happened even quicker than I thought. Right now, we’ve just go to try to move ourselves up a little bit in points. Our goal at the start of the year was to be in the top five after Indy. We’re not far from that right now. So, we’ve got to make it off the top of this hill with a lot of parts and pieces left to finish up this swing. This place it always a challenge but I love the challenge.”
Millican made a solid 3.867-second elapsed time got him the field in the No. 7 spot. He meets Doug Kalitta in round one.
“Qualifying, all you’re doing is trying to get your spot on the ladder and then just take it for what it is on race day,” Millican said. “When you have this many night runs, it’s just positioning, that’s all you’re doing is positioning. But Sunday, I think is actually supposed to be cooler. It’ll be the coolest day here so that’ll be better but this place is just a challenge. But man, I love racing here. It’s just such a beautiful facility. The fans turn out in huge numbers. It’s an event. It’s not just a race, this is an event.”
PALMER EYES WALLY, CONSISTENCY – There was a time not long ago, when Scott Palmer was racing in Top Fuel and literally surviving.
That isn’t the case anymore, thanks to primary sponsor Tommy Thompson. Palmer arrived in Denver following his runner-up finish at the New England Nationals in Epping, N.H.
“It felt good and we’re trying to win a race. We’re not trying to do anything like that so we’re going to make mistakes on the way because now we’re getting aggressive. We got a little bit of luck. We had a couple lucky rounds, but you’ve got to have those. You make your own luck. If Antron Brown and Brad Mason, who’s a good friend of mine, we’re all from the same area. Brad Mason, actually we started Top Fuel racing together. He worked at a dealership. He was a mechanic at a dealership, and I was painting cars. It’s right outside of Springfield, Mo. If they had thought we were going to run slow they wouldn’t have smoked the tires second round so you make your own luck to some point. And that’s just what we’re trying to do, just run stronger on race day. It’s one thing to run fast on Friday night but you’ve got to do it in the daytime when it’s warm. That’s what we’re working on.”
When Palmer was runner-up in Epping it was to reigning world camp Steve Torrence, who has been dominating the class.
“It’s a combination of a few things they do,” Palmer said about Torrence’s team. “They’re maintenance program is the best I’ve ever seen. Not that they make no mistakes. (Richard) Hogan and Bobby, they just make the right decisions on race day. But one of the main things is that crew over there makes no mistakes. If you see something go wrong, it’s a mechanical parts failure. It is not from making a mistake. They’re just the best I’ve ever seen. We’re trying to get that way, but everybody needs to remember we do this with three people in the shop. We have three people in the shop and I’m one of the three.”
The lack of employees makes it tougher for Palmer to keep up with Torrence, who is the gold standard right now.
“We’re at a disadvantage in the maintenance department already so we have to work harder to keep up with this,” Palmer said. “Those guys go back and there’s eight to 10 people on that team working and Billy’s team is back home when they’re not running and they’re working on parts for both teams. That’s a big machine they’re running over there and we’re a little machine trying to run with the big machines. For what we have and what we’re doing, I’m pretty proud of what everyone is doing.”
Palmer also is extremely grateful Thompson believes in him.
“That’s all Tommy Thompson who gave us a chance,” Palmer said. “But when you get the chance to do something like this, everybody when you’re struggling, you want to think in your head ‘well if we ever had the opportunity, I believe we could do that.’ Then when you get the opportunity, there’s a lot of pressure to get it done. Now, here you go. Somebody handed you the ball now go run. That’s a lot of pressure because we want to make Tommy happy. He’s done this for us, no other reason. Yeah we’ve got his company on the side of the car. He didn’t do it for the company. He did it for us.”
Palmer qualified No. 5 at the Mile-High Nationals. He clashes with Cameron Ferre in round one.
“I love running here. To me it’s an awesome track,” Palmer said. “The facility is great. The track surface is great. The heat and the altitude are equalizers for everybody. Even if you can run a tenth faster than our team, on Sunday it’s hard to do it consistently because of the altitude and the cool pad. There are so many factors here that it equalizes the playing field. I feel like we could win this race. This is a race I feel like we could win. It’s a nice feeling to go into a race and think and believe that you have the opportunity to win. That’s a good feeling.”
AUSTIN PROCK IS MAKING INAUGURAL APPEARANCE AT MILE-HIGHS – Austin Prock has a whirlwind season as sponsorship for him to run a Top Fuel Dragster came in place at the end of January.
Prock, the son of world champion crew chief Jimmy Prock, is enjoying his first season in Top Fuel. This weekend he’s getting to experience something new by racing in the high altitude of the Mile-High Nationals.
“It’s fairly the same for me,” said Prock, 23. “It’s mostly a change on the crew chief side of things. As a driver you just have to go up there and do the same thing every time to keep it consistent for your crew chief.”
Legendary driver/team owner Don Prudhomme is at the Mile-High Nationals. Prudhomme is the one who helped secure sponsorship for Prock’s Montana Brand / Rocky Mountain Twist-sponsored dragster.
“Don found the sponsorship for us and that’s why he hangs out with us,” Austin said. “He’s been to several races this year and like I say anytime the Snake is around everyone gets a little bit cooler. Hopefully we can make him proud this weekend.
Prock is 11th in the season points standings. His best race to date came in Topeka, Kan., when reached the semifinals before losing to Billy Torrence. He has six round wins this season.
“It has been and up down,” Prock said about his season. “We have been making progress the past few races. The past two weekends we got sent home in the first round, but we would have put out any other opponent except the guys we were racing. We had some bad luck. The car is running good and our luck will turn around eventually.”
Prock is excited to drive during the famed Western Swing in Denver, Sonoma, Calif., and Seattle.
“I love the Swing,” Prock said. “It is one of my favorite times of the year and I’m happy to be out here doing it.”
Prock, the No. 9 qualifier, gets No. 8 qualifier Richie Crampton in round one.
CAMERON FERRE IS LIVING THE DREAM – Cameron Ferre dabbled in the Top Fuel ranks in 2016 and now he’s in a dragster with Terry Haddock’s team.
“I drove A-Fuel for a couple years and then I was trying to find a ride,” said Ferre, 33. “This will be the first full year with Terry. I raced with Terry at the world finals (at Pomona, Calif.) last year. That was my first race with him. We had a really good time together and we got along great and he asked me if I wanted to continue and here we are 14 races later.”
And, Ferre has enjoyed the ride so far.
“It’s been awesome,” Ferre said. “I’ve worked my whole life to drive a Top Fuel car and this is all I’ve ever wanted to do so to actually be able to do it, to physically do it, is a dream come true. I hope to be able to continue. Hopefully we can find more marketing partners and be able to do it on a higher level here.”
Ferre is from Huntington Beach, Calif., but his didn’t grow up in the drag racing world.
“I started racing Jr. Dragsters at 12-years-old but before that I raced BMX and Motocross and just kept getting hurt,” Ferre said. “My dad took me to the drag races when I was a kid and I saw a Jr. Dragster on display and said. ‘I’ve got to do that.’ I worked really hard and got the opportunity to buy my own Jr. Dragster and all that stuff from my acting career. I was an actor for 10 years and that’s how I kind of got into racing. I was in some movies and stuff that allowed me to have the financial means.”
Ferre did his share of movies back in the day.
“The biggest one I ever did was Jack Frost with Michael Keaton and Kelly Preston,” Ferre said. “I was the bully (Pudge) in that movie and then I did commercials and music videos and stuff like that.”
Ferre explained that acting allowed him to race.
“I really enjoy acting but it was the means to make money to go racing,” Ferre said. “There’s a lot of people who strive and dream to be an actor. I strive and dream to be a Top Fuel driver. I still do stuff acting here and there. I’m still in the Screen Actor’s Guild. I’m still in the union so as things come about, I’m more than happy to do it.”
Ferre acknowledged acting and drag racing is a weird combination.
“They’re two interesting worlds, you can put it like that.” Ferre said. “They’re so different on two different ends of the spectrum but they are two crazy lives. Everybody thinks ‘oh why don’t you just go and do another movie and make more money.’ It’s a lot harder than people think it is. It’s about as hard as trying to drive a Top Fuel car full time. It’s very tough but you learn a lot. You learn about rejection. You learn all that stuff, so I was able to apply what I learned in acting towards the racing career and at the end of the day it was a part of my life that I really enjoyed and allowed me to do what I do today.”
There’s no question, Ferre wants to continue racing.
“The ultimate goal is to continue to do this full time as we get more funding,” Ferre said. “I have to make a living still but this is my end goal. I’ve always wanted to do it. I set out to do something when I was 8-years-old and here I am actual living proof that you can chase your dreams and succeed at them. You don’t have to come from money. You don’t have to come from a famous family. You just need hard work and determination to get you to where you want to be.”
HARTMAN, WILKERSON TALK DENVER – Tuner Richard Hartman, who works with veteran Funny Car driver Tim Wilkerson, knew Denver would present a challenge.
Hartman said racing at the Mile-High Nationals requires some research.
“You always use data from the past but specific to here so he probably looks at the past four years of runs that we’ve made here,” Hartman said. “We’ve done OK and then we’ve had our moments here that weren’t so good like wheelstands and turning to the right, almost taking out the tree and all that stuff. We’ve got all that behind us and the car is running good. Tim is doing a good job driving and the crew is doing good so we’re optimistic.”
The Western Swing – Denver, Sonoma, Calif., and Seattle – is no easy task for teams.
“Really, it starts our last push of trying things that we normally wouldn’t do because Brainerd and Indy you don’t want to be experimenting,” Hartman said. “Not only are you hoping to run well but you’re hoping to try a few things that you hope will benefit you in the future because Brainerd and Indy you’ve got to get down to business and then obviously the Countdown is serious.”
The veteran driver is well aware of how important the next three races – the Western Swing in Denver, Sonoma, Calif., and Seattle are for his team. Wilkerson arrived 10th in points on the strength of two runner-up finishes at Gainesville, Fla., and Atlanta.
“It’s very important because we’re sliding a little bit,” Wilkerson said about the Swing. “I had a terrible four-race swing there, Joliet, Topeka, Bristol, Norwalk. I did terrible there. Traditionally I do well at these three races on the Western Swing but I’ve got Cruz (Pedregon) and (Shawn) Langdon nipping at my heels.
I don’t want to go into Indy with any chance of somebody knocking me out of the Top 10. So, I need to do a job these next three races. In fact, I had the car front-halved after Epping. We worked like crazy at the shop. We had worked every day in between Epping and here. The boys had Sunday off and that was it and I was in there Sunday. We worked hard at trying to get our junk back in a pile so that we wouldn’t look like knuckleheads.”
Wilkerson also debuted a new body this weekend on his Funny Car.
“I’m still learning this new Ford Shelby body,” he said. “It’s a lot different than the one we’ve had since 2010. They’re all carbon but that one’s just a different design. But the people from Ford are helping me. They’re working with me and (Bob) Tasca is working with me. It’s going to be Ok. It’s going to take me a few runs to get it acting like the other one because I got really good at track temps and what to do with spoilers and this one is a little different. It’s got different characteristics and I just don’t have enough runs under my belt with it yet.”
Wilkerson said his son, Daniel will return to the track in Somona, and Seattle. Daniel serves as the crew chief for Funny Car driver/team owner Blake Alexander.
JR TODD THRILLED TO BE REIGNING FUNNY CAR WORLD CHAMP – When the Kalitta Motorsports DHL hauler pulls into the races on the side it reads JR Todd 2018 Funny Car world champion.
“It never gets old coming to the track and seeing it on the side of the hauler,” Todd said. “Lately, these past four or five races, we haven’t run as well as expected. We’ve just been struggling to put together consistent runs on Sunday. We brought out last year’s car on race day at Norwalk (Ohio, June 23). I think that’s got us going in the right direction. So, I’m excited for this next three race (Western) Swing we’ve got going on.”
And, Todd sees the Mile-High Nationals as a one-off race because of the altitude.
“Anything that you do here you kind of put it away and save it for next year We go to a few tracks that are at altitude: Vegas, Bristol (Tenn.). But still nothing like here,” he said. “You want to get out of here without tearing up a bunch of parts and hopefully leave with a trophy on Sunday.”
Todd has had success at Bandimere Speedway.
“I won here in 2006 and that was my first win in Top Fuel,” Todd said. “My first win with Kalitta was here in 2014 in Funny Car. I love coming up here. I’ve had success here. It’d be nice to put this DHL Toyota Camry in the winner’s circle on Sunday.”
Connie Kalitta won the Mile-High Nationals in Top Fuel in 1984 and ’85. His late son, Scott won Top Fuel at Bandimere Speedway in 1994 and ’95 and 2004 and Doug Kalitta was the Top Fuel champ in 2010.
Todd is upbeat about the direction his team is headed as the six-race Countdown to the championship looms. Todd arrived at the Mile-High Nationals sixth in the points. He has one win at Las Vegas and two runner-up finishes at Phoenix and Richmond, Va.
“I mean right now I feel like we’re on the same track as we were last year this time of year, points-wise,” Todd said. “Lingering around the top five. We’re sixth though. It’d be nice to rip off a win here before Indy at least and try to move our way up there to top three at least going into Indy and getting ready for the Countdown. You definitely want to be inside that top five once they reset the points.”
Todd does enjoy the Western Swing, Denver this weekend, Sonoma, Calif., next weekend and Seattle (Aug. 2-4).
“It’s cool,” Todd said. “Bandimere is definitely a unique track. It’s one of the coolest tracks that I think we go to just because of how it’s carved into the side of a mountain here. The family is great here. Sonoma by far is one of my favorite tracks. I’ve had a lot of success there. It’s wine country. Seattle is another element on its own. Nice scenery up there. You can run well when the conditions allow it. I really enjoy the Western Swing because I’ve had success at all three races.”
Todd knows a poor Western Swing isn’t reason to push the panic button, but he believes momentum is important as drivers head into the six race Countdown to the Championship.
“It’s not make or break,” Todd said. “As long as you’re in the top 10 actually you can win. You just want to give yourself a better odds of getting closer to Robert (Hight) when the points reset. I’d like to be closer to the top three than where we are right now. Basically, second through six or second through seventh is kind of tight in points. There’s a lot of jockeying back and forth each race it seems like. So, a win or two would definitely do us some good in the points.”
Regardless of what happens, Todd doesn’t take the opportunity he has been given for granted.
"I’m definitely blessed that I get to do something I love for a living, especially driving this hot rod here. It’s Scott’s car,” Todd said. “I never expected I’d be driving this thing, winning races and contending for championships. This is definitely a dream come true. I can’t thank Connie Kalitta enough for the opportunity because it sure as H*ll beats sitting at home on the couch.”
JIM CAMPBELL KEEPS ON SMILING – This season has been a struggle for Jim Campbell, who drives for the legendary Jim Dunn. Campbell has yet to win a round in 11 rounds of eliminations.
Despite the rough season, Campbell keeps smiling.
“It’s great coming back to the mountain,” Campbell said. “We went to the semifinals here two years ago. Big Jim know how to tune this car on the mountain and I’m looking forward. We’re having Carmen Electra come out (as part of the team’s sponsorship). It’s a big thing for us. So, she’ll be the grand marshall this weekend and we look into going some rounds on Sunday.”
Campbell qualified and will race on Sunday.
“This track (because of the high-altitude) is an equalizer,” Campbell said. “That’s where Big Jim comes in handy because he’s got so many years of experience. On the mountain, anything can happen. Everything is different than the normal tracks we run on. It’s anybody’s ballgame out there and I think if you go from A to B you have a good chance of winning.”
No matter what happens this weekend, Campbell loves his job.
“This is a dream come true for me and to be able to drive for the Dunns and have one of the best ladies on the planet to drive for, it’s been an honor and a pleasure,” Campbell said. “When I first got this job with the Dunns, I told Big Jim and Diane that I wanted to be the last driver ever for the Dunns. So whether that it or isn’t, we’ll see. I hope it is.”
Campbell, who is from California, loves the three-race swing on the West Coast.
“First off, it’s on my side of the planet since I live on the West Coast in Orange County, Calif.,” Campbell said. “So I get to go home every night versus having to wait until Monday to come home. Or if we’re running four races in a row sometimes I don’t come home I just kind of hang out in the city for the day and enjoy it because by the time I get home and there’s six hours or seven hours between the airport and the flying, I get one day and then get to go all the way back across the United States. I might as well just enjoy the city I was in.”
BANDIMERE HAS PLENTY OF MEMORIES FOR TOMMY JOHNSON JR – Some NHRA pro drivers are competing at Bandimere for the first time in their careers this weekend.
Tommy Johnson Jr. doesn’t fall into that category. He spent years racing in NHRA’s Division 5 ranks before moving on to the nitro Funny Car and Top Fuel ranks.
Johnson Jr. drives the Make-A-Wish Dodge for Don Schumacher Racing, and he’s excited to be back at Thunder Mountain in Morrison, Colo.
“Probably the biggest one would be the first final round ever,” said Johnson Jr. about his fondest memory of Bandimere. “That was in 1984. I was racing Super Gas. I got runner-up to Shawn Langdon’s dad.”
Johnson Jr. lost on a double breakout.
“It was one of those when you have the afternoon rainstorm come in and the temperature dropped about 25 degrees before the final,” Johnson Jr. said. “We both were guessing on the dial and how to tune it. He broke out and I broke out a tenth. That’s how much difference there was. I was running a 1982 Camaro.”
Johnson Jr. has been runner-up in four classes at the Mile-High Nationals.
“Yeah, it’s enough. It’s time to win this thing one of these days,” Johnson Jr. said.
Johnson Jr. qualified with a 3.978-second run and moments later at 10 p.m. MT to be exact the remainder of Q4 was called off because of rain.
During the offseason, Johnson’s life changed as he got married.
“My wife (Amy) is a little bummed she couldn’t come out this weekend,” he said. “She likes this place.”
Johnson Jr. said his wife had no ties to drag racing when they met.
“She didn’t know what drag racing was when we met,” Johnson said. “We actually got set up on a blind date by Mike Green’s wife. Her and Amy worked together, and she fixed us up on a blind date.”
Switching back to drag racing talk, Johnson offered his opinion of doing some NHRA national event racing on Saturday nights.
“I think a night show would be advantageous to bringing more fans out,” Johnson Jr. said. “Certain races through the summertime, it’s hot. It’s hard on us but it’s really hard on the spectators. They can’t even get out of the shade. So, I think night racing is something that should be looked at. There’s a lot of advantages to nighttime racing. From a visual standpoint, the temperature/weather standpoint. And if you race Saturday night you’ve got Sunday for a rain day. You could actually run the race on a Sunday if you had to and everybody could still come and wouldn’t have to worry about missing work. I think there’s plenty of advantages to it especially during the summer months I think it’s something that should be looked at for sure. We’ve done it back in the day. I raced Memphis at night one time. I’ve ran the St. Louis race at night, and I ran the Mile-High Nationals here at night. In my opinion, I think night racing is good. If I do watch a NASCR race, it’s usually a night race.”
DELCO WALKS AWAY FROM SCARY WRECK IN Q3 – There were plenty of familiar faces competing at the 2019 Mile-High Nationals, but it was a surprise to see Kenny Delco.
“The last time I think I was here was 1990,” Delco said.
Delco’s latest appearance at the Mile-High Nationals was memorable for all the wrong reasons.
During Q3 Saturday night, Delco was making a pass in the right lane, against points leader Bo Butner.
When Butner left the starting line, his car laid over and his run was done. Delco’s Camaro kept charging down the quarter-mile and crossed the finished line in 6.972 seconds at 196.27 mph.
Then trouble happened shortly after for Delco. Past the finish line, as the parachutes began to deploy there was some smoke coming out from under Delco’s car and it hung a hard left and went nose first into the left wall. Then, the Camaro rolled three times before it settled on its roof and slid to the left wall and came to a stop.
Less than a minute after the scary crash, Delco climbed out of the car and walked away.
“The chute didn’t come out and I stepped on the brake and it felt really hot and I hit again and as soon as I got off the thing it just turned sideways,” said Delco. “It wasn’t as bad as I thought. I was bouncing around and soon as it stopped, I said I’m out of here. I opened the door and I thought I’m not waiting for anybody to get me out of here and I got out. I never been involved in something like before. Once it turned sideways, I thought oh boy this isn’t good. The first hit (into the wall) wasn’t that bad. My neck hurts from bouncing around a little bit. It was banging and it was slipping, and I could hear the scraping. It wasn’t something you wanted to hear, but it wasn’t that bad. That car was a good car.”
Delco said the wrecked Camaro is now “junk.” Delco’s ET put him No. 7 on the ladder and he was scheduled to race Erica Enders in first round.
“We will see what happens with the rest of the season,” Delco said. “I have another car if worse comes to worse. The car was driven by Larry Morgan and then Jeg Coughlin won Phoenix in that car this year. That car didn’t like me. It never did.”
Chris McGaha, who came over to Delco’s hauler to check on him, admitted watching the crash was tough for him.
“It puts your stomach in knots is what it does,” McGaha said. “I hated seeing it. It was scary. It makes you realize what you’re really out here doing. That’s the reality of it, that’s for sure. I have my own kid (Mason) fixing to drive. He’s 17 and he will be 18 in December. He has a brand-new (Jerry) Haas car. The plan is for him to run Pro Stock next year. (A crash) can happen in Comp, it can happen here, it can happen on the highway. It’s part of racing and it could have been worse. We have our own little enemy deals and this and that, but when it comes to something like this, it doesn’t matter who it is.”
ENDERS TALKS CRASH, PRO STOCK – Erica Enders, like many NHRA drivers, enjoys competing at Bandimere Speedway, but know it is unlike any track they go to.
“I love the Bandimere family and what they do for our sport,” Enders said. “It’s an amazing facility. Having said that, it is the biggest curveball that we get all year. Way different atmospheric conditions. It’s usually pretty hot and brutal up here on the mountain. We’re racing with 25% to 30% less horsepower here than we do at sea level tracks, so everything comes differently. Not just tune-up and gear ratio and all of the changes that need to be made on the actual race car but driving the car itself. The shift sequence is completely different. Everything just takes longer to get there. You go to whack the throttle like a normal 6,000 RPM whack is probably about 4,000 RPM. So, you just kind of have to get after it more. It is way different, but I think we’re up for the, challenge.”
Enders, a two-time NHRA Pro Stock world champion in 2014 and 2015, was scheduled to compete at the World Series of Pro Mod event Aug. 9-10 at Bandimere Speedway, but that will not happen after Enders suffered a Pro Mod wreck in Norwalk, Ohio, June 22.
“We are not,” said Enders about racing the World Series of Pro Mod. “My car is not going to be back together in time from the fire in Norwalk. I had a terrible fire in Norwalk. I kicked the rods out of it.
It was probably the scariest situation in my 15-year professional career and 28-year driving career. I’ve crashed before and I will tell you that I don’t wish for either one but I’d way rather crash than burn. That was some scary shit. I was out of air and out of time and I couldn’t see. It was really dark in the car. And of course, on that run we set a new world record at 261mph. I knew right at the stripe that it let go and I saw flames almost immediately. I knew that we were in trouble and at that point I just tried to get the car stopped as quickly as possible and get out of it.”
Enders, who competed in the World Series of Pro Mod event last year, is bummed she will have to miss the 2019 version.
“I wish so much that I was because I love Wes Buck and what he’s doing with that race. But it just kind of depends on how long it takes to fix the car and how much money it costs. Our best estimate just going over everything at Norwalk was roughly $100,000 worth of damage. So just getting it back together.
Richard (Freeman) didn’t own that car it was owned by Jim Hairston and his sons, Jake and Clint. So it just depends on that side of things what we do. I’m willing to get back in it. Definitely makes me question the importance of it. It’s just more of a fun class for us where this (Pro Stock) more my bread and butter. We’re going to go the extra mile to make the safety changes that we were initially making after the Norwalk race anyway and then after the fire we added a couple more tidbits of safety changes. We spent a lot of time on conference calls on NHRA hoping to implement them for the whole class. That is what I took from that was let’s just make it as safe as we can for all the drivers.”
Enders qualified No. 10 for the Mile-High Nationals and was scheduled to face Kenny Delco in the first round, but Delco probably will not make the call after his wreck Saturday night, which totaled his Camaro.
HOMETOWN HOPES – Pro Stock driver Deric Kramer is having the best year of his career. He is seventh in the points standings and has one win in Chicago.
Kramer, who is from nearby by Sterling, Co., would love nothing more than have a great effort at this hometown track, Bandimere Speedway.
“We obviously want to do really well here,” said Kramer, who is running engines supplied by KB Racing. “That’s our goal is to do the absolute best at our home track as we possibly can. Colorado is no stranger to 40-degree temperature swings and that can definitely play havoc on crew chiefs for sure.”
In the not-the-so-distant past, Kramer’s No. 1 goal was just making the 16-car field, but those days are long gone.
“We have a chance to win every race and that’s ultimately why we made the decision to go with a lease program with KB and they have been great. They give me a motor that I can win (with) every weekend as long as we make good calls and don’t mess up four times in a row. We can win some rounds.”
Kramer qualified No. 4 with a 6.954-second elapsed time at 196.79 mph. Kramer gets points leader Bo Butner, the No. 13 qualifier in round one.
PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE
HECTOR ARANA SR. LOOKING FOR BOOST – Hector Arana Sr. has had a solid career in NHRA’s Pro Stock Motorcycle class. He has seven national event wins and has been instrumental in the success of his son, Hector Arana Jr.
Arana Sr., however, said competing in the thin air of the Mile-High Nationals is quite the challenge.
“This is one race of the year that everything that you’ve been building and gathering information to the next race, we can’t use right now,” Arana Sr. said. “None of that counts. What we’ve done is we do save data from the previous year at this event, so we study it, we come up with a tune-up to be safe and go from there.”
Hector Arana Jr., was the first NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle racer to break the 200 mph last season. The elder Arana is still chasing that goal – at a sanctioned NHRA national event.
“I have been putting pressure on myself to run 200 mph,” Arana Sr. said. I’ve run 200, but not at an NHRA event. I know I can do it. I know it’s there, it’ll happen. But everything I’m trying so far isn’t working for me. So I need to let all that go and start fresh.”
One thing Arana Sr. is sure about is his passion for racing.
“I do,” said Arana Sr. when asked if he still enjoyed racing. Otherwise I wouldn’t be doing this. I love working on motorcycles. It does make a big difference when you do well it’s a boost and right now, I need a big boost.”
Arana Sr. arrived in Denver 10th in the season points standings. He qualified No. 5 with a 7.232 elapsed time at 184.65 mph. He will face Eiji Kawakami in the first round.
RYAN OEHLER TURNING SOME HEADS – Making a name for yourself in the highly-competive NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle class is not easy.
Yet, that’s exactly what Ryan Oehler is trying to do. Oehler, who is competing on a Buell with an EBR body, arrived in Denver tied for sixth in the points with Angie Smith.
“It’s definitely been a fast-paced year for us,” Oehler said. “We’ve increased our development program, we’re working on a new engine design. Brad (Ryan’s father) has been stationed back home and he builds our engines.”
Oehler switched to the EBR body as the end of the 2018 season and saw dividends.
“It showed a direct performance increase just as Arana had advertised it,” Oehler said. “It had something there.”
Oehler’s goal for this season is simple.
“The mission from the beginning of the year was to make the Top 10 and we’ve been holding right in the middle there at five and six,” Oehler said. “The last few races we’ve actually had some bad luck. Joliet we had a good shot to run well there and the bike misfired going down the track in E1. Norwalk, we got our act together for round one and had a .008 light and it wouldn’t shift out of second. Now we’ve got all that behind us. Now it’s just come here and try to put together your best tune-up with one of the people out here who probably has the least experience on the hill.
I consider this to be the “MacGyver race.” Anything that’s going to go wrong will go wrong just because of the altitude.”
Oehler qualified No. 11 and he will face Hector Arana Jr. in the first round.
ANDIE RAWLINGS KEEPS MOVING FORWARD – Being a Pro Stock Motorcycle competitor is the dream for Andie Rawlings, but it has been a struggle.
“Of course, we’re still learning and taking our lumps,” Rawlings said. “Our last event was Chicago (June 2). We had a problem with our chassis. We didn’t know what was up, so we borrowed a bike. We didn’t even have time to shake it down. We had to run the Poison Dart. It was similar enough that we felt confident enough to put her in.
It’s a sister chassis. We did all right. We came right back around full circle in four passes and took out Andrew Hines in round one. From there we were like ‘ok, now we have a lot of decisions to make.’ So we were able to find out what was wrong and it was actually pretty simple. It was just a spacer that had given way and wasn’t keeping everything in line. We went out (July 14) to Orlando and knocked out .104 at 60-foot and had a really good solid pass. Loaded up and came out here to Denver so we’re excited to make four solid passes and see what we can do on the mountain.”
Rawlings just missed making the 16-bike field, qualifying No. 19 with a best ET of 7.635-second pass at 179.16 mph.
In addition to Rawlings, Michael Ray, Jianna Salinas also failed to make the show.
Q1 A NO-GO FOR BRITTANY FORCE – Brittany Force, the 2017 NHRA Mello Yello Series Top Fuel world champion, has had many great memories driving, but Q1 at the Mile-High Nationals will not be on her highlight reel.
Force, who is piloting the Carquest Brakes-sponsored dragster at this event, didn’t make it down the track. She shut off the dragster shortly after trying to back up during her burnout.
“I knew something was wrong and I couldn’t get it in reverse,” she said. “They told me to shut it off and I will go talk to my crew chief (David Grubnic) and we will get it right for the next one.”
During Q2 Friday night, Force clocked a 5.405-second elapsed time at 123.95. That was the 10th quickest run of the 15 dragsters that qualified Friday.
Force has had a strong season. She won the SpringNationals in Houston, has two runner-up finishes, a semifinal appearance and four No. 1 qualifiers. She came to the Mile-High Nationals fourth in the points standings.
MIKE SALINAS BACK IN ACTION – Like Leah Pritchett, Mike Salinas also missed the New England Nationals, but he’s back at the track and excited for this weekend at Bandimere.
“I ran here last year and Alan (Johnson) and the guys have a handle on mostly everything because they have been here enough times,” Salinas said. “I’m just happy they are letting me back in the seat. We had some business to take of (so we missed the last race). We have several companies and stuff and we are really busy. The economy is going out of bounds everywhere, so in our area we are very busy. It is crazy. If Billy Torrence can come in and out and do as good as he does, I think I can too. He has been my inspiration.”
Salinas, despite missing three races – Atlanta, Topeka, Kan., and Epping, N.H. – is still fifth in the points standings. He has two wins this season at Las Vegas and Bristol, Tenn.
“Our deal is one round at a time and go up there and we will find out at the end. We’re not thinking too far ahead of ourselves,” Salinas said. “We are not missing any more races this season. We put our systems in place so we could be gone. This season has been a dream come true. I have been stalking Alan (Johnson) for 15 years and he didn’t know it.”
Salinas had trouble Friday. His best run was 5.736 seconds at 117.90 mph.
FOX ANALYST BEARD RETURNS TO BANDIMERE – Competing at NHRA’s Mile-High Nationals can cause nitro Funny Car and Top Fuel crew chiefs plenty of headaches.
Not Lee Beard. This is where the world championship crew chief and team manager made a name for himself. Beard is a native of Pueblo, Colo., about two hours from Bandimere Speedway.
Beard is at Bandimere this weekend working as analyst for FOX, something he began doing last season.
“I was at Houston (earlier this season) and after Bandimere, I will probably do Indy, Dallas and Pomona,” Beard said. “I like getting out here. You’re in the industry for 35 years and you have a lot of people who are your friends and they’re almost like family to you. So being able to come here a few times a year to national events and see my old friends, it feels pretty good.”
Working TV at Bandimere is special for Beard.
“This is the place that kind of launched my career as a crew chief. I won here in 1980 with Jerry Ruth (in Top Fuel),” Beard said. “When you win your first national event as a crew chief people really start looking at you.”
Beard probably more than any nitro crew chief knows how difficult it is racing in the high-altitude at Bandimere Speedway.
“It’s challenging to run here because of the atmospheric conditions,” Beard said. “The atmospheric pressure is low, so finding the right compression ratio is critical. On top of that, the air density is low so finding the super charger speed is critical, and adjusting the fuel system to coincide with the compression and the air is something that challenges the crew chiefs. Today, a lot of guys have really figured it out. Richard Hogan, (Steve) Torrence’s crew chief, they can run darn near as quick here as they can at sea level, so whatever adjustments he’s made to his combination, he’s zeroed right in on it.”
Nitro qualifying for the 2019 Mile-High Nationals is at 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. (MT), respectively Friday and Saturday. Then, Sunday, race day begins at 11 a.m.
“It’s challenging because of the difference in what the time does,” Beard said. “They run at 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. both on Friday and Saturday and you have to make pretty monumental changes just from the 5 o’clock session to the 8 o’clock session because the density altitude can change a couple thousand feet during that. So, it’s a real test of the crew chiefs. It’s a place where they can really display their skills.”
Beard was plenty successful at Bandimere Speedway, something he had fond memories about.
“The David Powers cars, we had (Whit) Bazemore against (Rod) Fuller, which was exciting to have a two-car team in the finals at Denver and it showed that myself and Rob Flynn had zeroed in on an engine combination and tune-up that ran well up here,” Beard said. “If you go through life and you just do things that are easy, what fun is that? What’s very rewarding is when you’re extremely challenged, and you overcome that challenge, and this is one of those places that is extremely challenging.”
THE LEGEND SPEAKS – John Force is an NHRA icon.
The 16-time nitro Funny Car world champion has had plenty of success at the Mile-High Nationals over the years. Force, who is driving the PEAK Coolant and Motor Oil Chevy Camaro SS, won at Bandimere Speedway eight times, including last year, and been runner-up three times. Force was also the first driver, regardless of classification, to break the 300 mph-barrier at Bandimere in 1996.
Force hasn’t won a national event since he won the Mile-High Nationals last year and his next win will be No. 150 of his career.
“Who doesn’t love Denver,” Force said. “I have a real good car. We are learning a lot about it (Brian) Corradi and Danny Hood and this whole team works night and day to give me a good hot rod. That was Courtney’s race car and she did real good in it. She won like five or six races and was low ET like 11 times and her dad has to get his sh*t together and get out here and start winning.”
Force qualified fourth Friday with a 4.051-second run at 305.70 mph.
HAGAN’S STACHE IS GONE – When Matt Hagan won the NHRA New England Nationals in Epping, N.H., the last stop on tour, he was sporting a new-look Fu Manchu moustache.
When Hagan arrived in Denver, the moustache was gone.
“It was something a little different there for a little while, it brought me a little luck and we won the race, but I shaved it off,” said Hagan, who drives for Don Schumacher Racing. “I’m not superstitious like that, moustache aside. When you have a car like that put underneath you and your lights are really good, it is a hard combo to beat.”
Hagan does enjoy coming to Bandimere Speedway and he would love to win here.
“I love the people,” Hagan said. “They sell this place out every day. You do a burnout and look up in the crowd and there’s no place to stand or sit. The atmosphere and environment here is amazing. All the people are great. It is just a cool place to be.”
With the NHRA pondering racing to a quarter-mile at some races in the future, Hagan offered another suggestion to pique fan interest.
“I think it should be a two-day show, a Saturday, Sunday show,” Hagan said. “The Friday stuff is really tough because nowadays people are working, and it is hard for them to get out to the dragstrip after they get off work. If we made three hits on Saturday it would be a full day for our fans. Then come back out on Sunday and kill it. It would save the teams hotel rooms and everybody would have an extra day at home with their family and everything else. I would love to see it turn into a two-day show.”
Hagan qualified No. 8 Friday with a run of 4.324 seconds at 232.43 mph.
CAPPS PREPARES FOR RIGORS OF BANDIMERE – There’s no question competing at the Mile-High Nationals is a one-off race.
The high altitude makes it different than any place the NHRA competes at every year.
That isn’t lost on 2016 world champion nitro Funny Car driver Ron Capps. Capps drives the NAPA Dodge for Don Schumacher Racing.
“I try and take care of myself the best I can because I don’t want to be the weak link up here,” Capps said. “A lot of drivers I think forget what it is like up here until you get up here and climb up some stairs and you get in the car the first couple of runs and you have to be there by the end of the day Sunday. That is easier said than done. Most importantly you have to listen to the car, especially in qualifying. Race day there’s times you have stay on the gas unless it is really bad, but they sound so bad compared to what they normally sound like.”
That sound, however, isn’t strange to Capps.
“To me they sound like a Nostalgia Funny Car that I run in the March Meet and things like that,” Capps said. “It has that same kind of sound. The first time somebody makes a run here in Denver you really want and go shut it off because it sounds so bad to what you’re used to. That’s the key because you don’t want to blow stuff up on a qualifying run and have the guys working in this heat. If you’re in the show and you can shut it off and you really feel or hear something, that’s the most important part as a driver in a nitro car you can do.
I love coming here. I love the challenge. I think (Rahn) Tobler (Capps’ crew chief), loves the challenge and I think a lot of these crew chiefs do deep down inside. When you win here, you have done something good.”
Capps did offer this caution for Bandimere Speedway’s shutdown area.
“People think it is uphill shutdown area It is a pretty lengthy shutdown, but somebody will roll into the sand because you forget there’s not the same amount air that the parachute grabs,” Capps said. “You run on down there and guys will hit the chutes late or maybe hit one chute and not pay attention and look up and you’re at the top of the hill and you’re going into the sand. It is stuff that’s overlooked a lot.
I learned very quickly my first year up here. I hit both chutes and it still went almost to the top of the hill when I was driving the Copenhagen car. Thank God I had Roland Leong and Don Prudhomme there to remind me what it is like up here because it is something you would never think about.”
Capps qualified second Friday with a 4.005-second run at 316.97 mph.
BUTNER REFLECTS, RACING MORE – It has been a crazy year for 2017 Pro Stock NHRA world champion Bo Butner.
Rewind to July 9, 2018, and Butner experienced a health scare.
“I had a stroke,” Butner said. “Heath-wise I had a procedure over the winter that actually closed a whole in my heart and it should eliminate a stroke going through there. It will never eliminate a stroke, but it will not be from that hole. I feel good. We are having fun. I’m racing anything I can race at any time. With this (Pro Stock) schedule being cut back, it gives us more time for the Factory Shootout car and I just purchased a whole team from a Aaron Kinard. He was running Super Comp and Super Gas and he finished No. 2 in the world in Super Gas. I bought one dragster and one roadster from him. I will have the roadster in Sonoma (Calif.) next week.”
Butner said the roadster is a 1963 Vette and it has been around for a while.
“He (Kinard) won a lot in that car,” Butner said. “I’ve never driven a roadster in my life. I’m excited. It is something new. I have never run Super Gas. I’m looking forward to something new and I want to do a little more bracket racing when we are off.”
Butner said he’s going to campaign Super Stock, Stock, Super Gas, Super Comp cars and a no prep car, plus the Pro Stock car.
“The possibilities are endless for us to go race,” Butner said. “We just want to go do some stuff and enjoy life and have fun racing.”
Butner, who contemplated not running in the Pro Stock class in 2019, has enjoyed a great season. He arrived at the Mile-High Nationals first in the season points standings, thanks to four wins at Pomona, Calif., Gainesville, Fla., Las Vegas and Richmond, Va.
“We have a pretty good points lead today and that can dwindle down,” Butner said. “You don’t have to win every race, just go rounds. That’s the way we did it in the championship year. It seems like it always boils down to Pomona, the last couple of rounds. That’s the coolest thing about this class. Last year Tanner (Gray) walked away with it (the Pro Stock world championship) and I miss the guy personally, but I don’t miss racing him. He was a bad dude. Ken Black and the KB guys have always given me a car as good as theirs. We all get along good. We are like brothers. I would have missed them, and we plan on continuing to keep doing this deal.”
Butner qualified No. 9 Friday with a 7.015-second run at 196.59 mph.
SATURDAY’S ON HARTFORD’S MIND – Maybe Pro Stock driver Matt Hartford was bluffing. He wasn’t putting much stock in Friday’s qualifying session.
Hartford qualified No. 6 on the ladder with a 7.007-second elapsed time at 196.16 mph, which isn’t what he expected.
“(Friday) we are just running in new tires,” Hartford said before Q1. “(Friday) was just basically let’s scuff in some tires and make some nice runs and get some decent data. The weather is going to be so much better (Saturday) that anything you do (Friday) is not going have anything to do with the sheet (Saturday). I love it up here. Denver is a great city to come to. The altitude is fun. It is an equalizer for everybody. It puts a lot of stress on the driver to perform up here.”
Hartford came to the Mile-High Nationals fifth in the season points on the strength of two runner-up finishes at Phoenix and Las Vegas.
“You don’t need as much power (Bandimere),” said Eddie Guarnaccia, Hartford’s crew chief. “Everybody comes together because of being up at 9,800 feet. (Saturday) should be better and all the movement will come (Saturday).”
LINE’S NOT OVERTHINKING ALTITUDE – NHRA Pro Stock world champion Jason Line has raced and won all over the country. Some people don’t like racing in the thin air of Bandimere Speedway, but Line isn’t one of them.
“I don’t think so,” said Line when asked if the Mile-High Nationals was like a road course race in NASCAR. “You have to pay attention to the details for sure because if you’re off a little bit here, you’re going to be off a long ways. I think it is probably harder for the car guys than it is the engine guys. I think ours is reasonably straight forward, but because the engine makes so much less power the car certainly requires a much different tune itself. So, the car guys I think have it worse than the engine guys.”
Greg Anderson, Line’s world champion teammate, however, didn’t hide his feelings about the altitude.
“It’s like impossible,” Andersons said. “You basically lift up your gas cap and slide a new car underneath it for here. It’s a one-off deal. It’s a completely, completely different way of racing. The cars just don’t want to run fast and you’re trying to force them to. So, you do all kinds of crazy stuff to try to make the car think it has power that they just don’t have. That’s the major thing. You just lose 300 to 400 horse. It makes the car work different, the chassis work different. Everything works different. The cars are built for 1,400 to 1,500 horsepower and are designed for it. You come here and you’ve got 1,100 so the chassis doesn’t even work right.
It’s just a difficult way to race. As a driver, it’s harder to drive here because the shifts come by quicker because you stack so much gear ratio in them trying to make the motor think it has power. It makes it more difficult for the driver. All-in-all it’s kind of fun because it’s an extra challenge. It really is a challenge for driver and crew chief. So, it’s a lot of fun to come here.”
Despite the difficulties racing at Bandimere Speedway presents, no one was better than Anderson Friday. He qualified No. 1 with a 6.980-second elapsed time at 196.30 mph. Line qualified No. 5 with a 7.004-second run at 195.70 mph.
Anderson said competing after Bandimere Speedway for decades has been an emotional roller-coaster for Anderson.
“It makes for a long weekend and I’ve left many times on Sunday night saying ‘man, I’m glad to get off the mountain,’ Anderson said. “But there’s been a few occasions where I thank the Lord for this place. It’s got both. It’s got frustration and it’s got joy and hopefully this weekend it’s got a lot of joy.”
Anderson came to Denver fourth in the points standings, but he has not won a national event since the 2018 Mile-High Nationals. He is optimistic things are changing for his team, however.
“I think we’ve turned a corner and I think we’re ready to win,” Anderson said. “Yes, I think we’re ready to get back to race wins again. At the early part of the season it was definitely a struggle, but I think we’ve turned it and we’re ready to win. So, I’m excited for the West Coast swing.”
FULL FIELDS IN PRO STOCK – In the not so distant past, NHRA was meddling in the Pro Stock class. Back in 2016, the electronic fuel injection era began in the class.
There was no question the class was having trouble drawing 16-car fields. Now, the Pro Stock class is routinely getting 16-car fields, while Top Fuel and Funny Car shows have had plenty of national events this season without full fields.
“Most of us don’t do it for the money, but again the money does help,” Pro Stock driver Bo Butner said. “It helps crew guys traveling. It helps all that. You lose your a** every race you come to even if you win them all. I think NHRA starting to realize that we need from Stock Eliminator up. You need all content. You need every car. There are a lot of fans who come to watch Sportsman racing. Half of the fans in my opinion are the families of Sportsman racers. They will get it going. I don’t know if there’s a fix, but drag racing is strong all over the country. The bracket races are ridiculous. Racing in opinion is very strong and I think NHRA knows that. They just need to make a few changes and get to know their customer a little more just like I do in my business.”
FREEMAN FILLING IN FOR BROGDON – Roger Brogdon has had a decent season this year while driving for the Elite Motorsports team. Brogdon is 10th in the season points and has one semifinal appearance at Gainesville. Brogdon, however, is missing the three-race Western Swing at Denver, Sonoma, Calif., and Seattle because of business commitments.
It didn’t take long to find a replacement for Brogdon. Elite Motorsports boss Richard Freeman is getting in the driver’s seat in Brogdon’s absence.
“I have a car, I might as well drive it,” Freeman said.
Freeman qualified No. 11 Friday with a 7.022-second elapsed time at 195.31 mph.
PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE
MATT SMITH NOT HAPPY ABOUT NEW HARLEY BODY – The Mile-High Nationals have been good to reigning NHRA Mello Yello Series Pro Stock Motorcycle world champion Matt Smith.
Smith has left a champion at Bandimere Speedway in Morrison, Colo., in 2007 and 2008. He also was a runner-up at the event in 2017.
“I’m excited to be back,” said Smith, who is running a Denso-sponsored EBR motorcycle. “I’m just kind of frustrated a little bit with NHRA giving Harley more stuff (a FXDR body to run that’s debuting this weekend). They just keep giving them more and more stuff to just outrun us. Every time we get close to them or get an advantage on them, NHRA gives them something. It (the FXDR body for the Harleys) will make a difference. It doesn’t even look like the street bikes. I don’t understand how they can design something that doesn’t look like the street bike because when we did the design process with Victory our bike had to have the look, the lines, it had to have everything and yet they get to make whatever they want.
It’s kind of frustrating. I’m kind of over it. The tech department in the NHRA is not doing its job. They need to hire somebody to do the job right I guess.”
Smith does take a lot of pride in the fact he has competed against the powerful Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson team, which this season consists of Andrew Hines, Eddie Krawiec and Angelle Sampey, all who are running FXDR bodies beginning this weekend, and come out on top. Smith has won PSM world titles in 2007, 2013 and 2018.
“They get all this money, they have all these employees who work for them and here we are, we have low budgets,” Smith said. “We have a tenth of the budget they have, and they have 30-some employees and we have two and we still whoop their butt. When they are on a level playing ground they can’t compete, that’s why they have to have an advantage. It is just a frustrating deal.”
Smith, like almost everybody else, got to see the new Harley-Davidson FXDR bodies when they were unveiled prior to Q1 at the starting line at Bandimere Speedway.
“We only get to see the outside appearance of stuff,” Smith said. “There ‘s no telling what all their internal parts are and what they have in their motors now that we don’t have because nobody can buy the stuff, nobody can even see the stuff and NHRA allows them to do whatever they want. We only see the outside appearance.”
After seven Pro Stock Motorcycle events this season, Smith arrived at Bandimere Speedway fourth in the points standings, highlighted by his win in Chicago earlier this season.
“I was sixth in the points (when the 6-race Countdown to the Championship started) last year and won the championship,” Smith said. “I figure as long as I’m in the top five, I’m pretty good. We work hard and have some good power and we still have a little bit up our sleeve to bank with them. I just don’t know what that body is going to do for them. I heard it was better in the wind tunnel. I heard it was better when they tested. That’s all we need they have already won five (out of seven) races this year. I guess NHRA wants them to win all the races. I’ve won one race, and Hector (Arana) Jr., has won one, and Andrew (Hines) has won five of them. I guess they want their other teammates to win and win out the rest of the year.”
The Matt Smith Racing team consists of three other riders – Matt’s wife, Angie, Scotty Pollacheck and Michael Ray.
Matt was fourth in the qualifying ladder, Angie was eighth, Pollacheck was 10th and Ray was No. 19.
“Up here (at the Mile-High Nationals), you just have to survive,” Matt said. “If you can win a round or two out here, that’s great. You just have to survive, don’t tear stuff up. This is beautiful facility, but a hard place to run. If you get lucky and hit the tune-up you can go to the semifinals or finals and maybe win the race. Right now, we’re just banking on qualifying and trying to win two rounds.”
HINES RESPONDS TO MATT SMITH – Matt Smith was critical of the Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson riders – Andrew Hines, Eddie Krawiec and Angelle Sampey getting to debut the FXDR body at the Mile-High Nationals.
Smith felt like it was going to give the perennial powerful Harley team another advantage.
Hines, who qualified No. 1 Friday with a 7.232-second elapsed time at 186.20 mph, offered the following response to Smith.
“I don’t know why he is complaining because that EBR body is by far the best thing out here,” Hines said. “We just did what we could with the motorcycle that we have from the factory Harley-Davidson and work with NHRA and see what we could do and do different things and it still not anywhere close to the best motorcycle aerodynamically out here, unfortunately. If we had an aerodynamic package like those guys, they would be crying even harder.”
Hines’ teammates Eddie Krawiec was sixth and Angelle Sampey was seventh.
SAMPEY ENJOYING BEING PART OF HARLEY TEAM – There’s little Angelle Sampey hasn’t done in NHRA’s Pro Stock Motorcycle class.
She has won world championships – 2000-2002 and collected 42 national event wins.
Sampey had never competed on a Harley-Davidson – until this season – when she joined the vaunted Vance & Hines team.
And said acknowledged it has been a learning curve for her.
“Actually, it’s perfectly normal now,” Sampey said. “In the beginning of the season it was strange. The strangest thing of all was getting used to the motorcycle itself. Just a totally different ride. The street rod that I was on was a little difficult for me to get used to because I was never out in that much wind. I was hitting my shoulders, my arms and my hands. But I got used to it. It didn’t take real long. I was still struggling a little bit with getting the bike straight down the track just because it’s so heavy now.
When NHRA added that 15 pounds of weight to us (after the season-opening race for the Pro Stock Motorcycles in Gainesville, Fla.), that made a huge difference for me. When you look at the percentage of my body weight that 15 pounds makes up, I don’t know the right number – Andrew (Hines) is the math brainiac on here - I would guess it’s like 40 pounds. So, it did make a big difference for me. I just went to the gym a little bit more. Handling the motorcycle as far as correcting it, I have to do it a little sooner, so I don’t let it get out of the groove too much. Now we have these brand new FXDR bodies on the motorcycles. We’ve tested them once and have made three runs on it.”
Sampey and her teammates, Eddie Krawiec, and Hines all unveiled their FXDR bodies prior to Q1 Friday.
“We tested the bodies in Indy,” Sampey said. “They had some big race going on there during the Fourth of July weekend, so the track was open, and we ran out there. So, the body on it is much more comfortable for me. I’m behind a little bit more of a windshield. Still not as much as the Buells, the EBRs and the Suzukis have but better. It helps me to feel a bit more comfortable. The tanks are a little bit lower. I can lay down a little bit more on it. I’m excited about getting some runs on it and being able to focus more on the motorcycle itself rather than the feeling of the wind hitting me so much.”
Joining the perennial-powerful has been a joy for Sampey.
“That was really weird in the beginning because Eddie and I have had a long-time rivalry, and Andrew and I as well,” she said. “Andrew’s rivalry with me is a little more friendly. Eddie and I really want to choke each other most of the time. And that’s all still there. I want to beat Andrew just as bad as I ever have, and I want to beat Eddie up just as bad as I ever have. It’s all fun though. We’ve always respected each other off the race track. We have kids that play together. Actually, our three children did so good together at the last few races. They just get along so good. It’s like a family environment. I’ve learned so much about this team that I had no idea before. I was the one on the other side of the fence listening to everybody talk about them and I had no idea. I knew they worked hard, and I knew they were probably the most professional race team out here as far as Pro Stock bikes and maybe even the whole series. But now that I’ve seen it first hand, these guys work their butts off and they don’t accept anything less than perfection, in every aspect of it. From how we look when we’re in uniform, how the pit is clean, how the rig is clean, how the shop is clean, how the bikes are put together, how everything fits and everything is clean and perfect. I understand now, why they are so hard to beat. And on top of that you have two riders that barely make any mistakes ever. So, you’ve got a perfect combination with a perfect rider, a perfect team and perfect sponsor… man, it’s just hard to believe I beat them at all. But I still want to beat them as much as I ever did.”
Sampey said debuting the FXDR body at the Mile-High Nationals just adds another challenge to competing on the mountain.
“Yeah, it’s gonna be weird,” Sampey said. “It’ll be my first time on a Harley here on the mountain. It slows everything down. I’ve been struggling to catch up with this motorcycle because it’s so fast. It’s powerful. I’ve been on very powerful motorcycles. I still haven’t been as fast as I have been in the past. I ran a 6.73 in Sonoma and I haven’t been that fast on this bike but just the feeling of this bike. I don’t know if it’s the torque or how it operates but it just feels so strong. And now I get to slow down a little bit at least in my mind because we do go back a bit in ET. It’s not as fun not going as fast as you want to but it’s still just as much of a challenge because everything changes. The RPM on the starting line changes, the length of the gear shift changes so you actually have to be more focused here than you have to be anywhere else because it’s a whole different story.”
The Mile-High Nationals do have a special place in Sampey’s heart.
“This is my anniversary weekend,” Sampey said. “I started racing here in 1996 so we’re debuting the new bodies at the place I debuted myself. This is a perfect combination so I’m looking forward to it. I’m really excited about the fact that mine is barracuda silver, it’s a production paint scheme from the factory and theirs (Andrew’s and Eddie’s) are the performance orange. At first, I was a little bummed because I wanted to be a trio like we were, the three of us matching, but then when I saw mine standing out all by itself, all nice and silver and putting theirs to shame I was pretty excited about that. I actually like mine more than theirs.”
ARANA JR. EYES MORE SUCCESS – Hector Arana Jr. has accomplished plenty in his NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle career.
Yet it seems like he’s overlooked when it comes to being a championship contender in his Lucas Oil-sponsored EBR motorcycle.
He has won 15 NHRA national events, including the Mile-High Nationals last year, and he comes to the Morrison, Colo., racing facility third in the points standings thanks to winning in Las Vegas in the spring.
Arana Jr. has a 13-6 elimination round record this season.
“Well, this year we’re working on consistency and going rounds,” said Arana Jr. “If you look at what we’ve done this year, up until (Norwalk) Ohio we were the only bike to go to the semifinals or better every race. Unfortunately, we had a little bit of a mechanical failure in (Norwalk) where I feel that we had a good shot at winning the race. We were on a good run and then unfortunately we had an issue. That always happens but better to happen now than in the Countdown. We’ve been consistent, consistent leaving the line and I’m working on myself as being a rider that’s consistent. All I can control is that I have to be consistent, race smart and race good and just believe in my bike.”
The high-altitude of Bandimere Speedway can play mind games on some drivers but not Arana Jr.
“Honestly, I treat every race the same,” Arana Jr. said. “I go to every run and I just get dialed in and I focus every run the same.”
Arana Jr. also did give an update on the racing status of his brother-in-law Vincent Nobile, a standout in NHRA’s Pro Stock class, who isn’t racing full-time this year.
“He ran a Mountain Motor car and maybe you’ll see him out here next year racing a Mountain Motor car,” Arana Jr. But right now, they’re just working on the business. They have sand and gravel tractor trailers then they have a couple other little businesses.”
Hector Arana Sr. qualified No. 2 (7.232 seconds at 184.65 mph) and Hector Jr. was third at 7.240 seconds at 183.47 mph.