2021 NHRA MILE HIGH NATIONALS - EVENT NOTEBOOK
TORRENCE ENDS HAAS’ CINDERELLA STORY IN TOP FUEL FINAL AT DENVER - Steve Torrence extended his points lead to 307 points over closest challenger Antron Brown, racked up his 45th victory, and claimed his fifth triumph in the NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series’ first eight races Sunday at Morrison, Colo., near Denver.
Hopeful class newcomer Joey Haas, making only his fourth start, was his latest final-round victim at the Dodge//SRT Mile-High NHRA Nationals presented by Pennzoil.
Torrence took the wire-to-wire victory with a 3.860-second elapsed time and 320.36-mph speed on the 1,000-foot course at Bandimere Speedway, while Haas’ slower reaction time left him with a 4.142, 262.08 effort.
It marked his second straight and third overall victory at Bandimere Speedway, which did not host an event last year because of COVID-19 restrictions.
“It was great to get back on the mountain,” Torrence said. “We didn’t get to race here last year, and we really missed it. These fans energize you. We definitely missed that during the pandemic.”
For Torrence, who has a chance to become just the eighth to sweep the Western Swing, winning never gets old.
“Winning will cure everything. It might even cure cancer,” Torrence, who actually survived a bout with Hodgkin’s lymphoma as a teenager, said. “You feel so good when you win. It’s just an unbelievable feeling.
“And to have this success on the mountain,” he said, “is even better.”
About the only thing all weekend that didn’t seem better at the time for Torrence was Brittany Force taking the No. 1 qualifying position from him during the last session Saturday night. Upon reflection Sunday, Torrence said, “It was probably better to be second than it was first today.”
After eliminating Rob Passey, he earned a second-round bye that sent him into the semifinals, where he beat Mike Salinas to advance to his 68th final round.
“So just an unbelievable race day and set-up. Can’t give enough credit to the Capco Boys. They gave me the race car,” Torrence, who’s seeking a fourth consecutive championship, said.
He’s not one to calculate his accomplishments, at least not right now: “You don’t look at all that stuff. That’s what you do at the end of a career, when you’re done. You can’t plow the field looking behind you. You got to look ahead.”
He didn’t allude to it, but surely as he shared the winners circle with Matt Hagan (Funny Car) and Matt Smith (Pro Stock Motorcycle), Torrence had to be thinking that his big, cushy points lead would be reduced to merely 20 following the U.S. Nationals in a month and a half, by the end of the next five races, thanks to Countdown to the Championship rules.
But for Sunday, he was just happy to escape any beginner’s luck that Haas might have had. After watching Haas stir up memories of true rookie Josh Hart’s Gatornationals victory to open the season, Torrence had to be taking notice of the Pleasant View, Tenn., racer’s march to the showdown past some pretty stout racers.
“Hat’s off to him. They did a great job,” he said of Haas and the Terry Totten-led Vita C/Strutmasters Dragster crew. “I was proud for that whole team. Lot of respect for ’em. “I was pulling for him all day, and I know there were a lot of people hoping he could get past us in the final. That’s a guy with a lot of heart, and I hope I get to race him a lot more. I have complete respect for that whole Totten team. It was fun to watch them.”
Just the same, Torrence didn’t want Hass’ first victory to come against him. He said he had some concerns as they line up at the Christmas Tree. “Yeah, for certain,” Torrence said. “They’re doing a great job, but he’s also got that little bit of luck with him. Luck’s harder to beat than anything. But these Capco Boys are just so bad to the bone.
“Those guys were having one of those races where it’s just your day and, after they got past Clay [Millican], I was a little concerned. But [tuner] Richard Hogan and [car chief] Bobby Lagana, my whole team, they just did what they do, and fortunately I was able to do my job, too.”
As the Camping World Drag Racing Series tour moves west for California races at Sonoma and Pomona, he said he’s “looking forward to every other race” the NHRA puts on the schedule.
So is Brittany Force, who is developing a rivalry with Torrence. He has defeated her in finals at Charlotte and Norwalk, and she just aced him out of the No. 1 starting spot at Denver with the track elapsed-time record. After qualifying No. 1 and setting low E.T. and top speed of the meet, she bowed out Sunday in the second round but said she was “leaving Mile-High Nationals in third and on a high note.
“This Monster Energy team picked up another No. 1 qualifier, a track record, and six qualifying bonus points. We hit our marks, our numbers. The team did their job, I did my job, and the car did exactly what we wanted it to do. We just got beat,” Force said. “It was a great drag race for the fans. Susan Wade
FUNNY CAR STAR MATT HAGAN CAPTURES FIRST CAREER WIN AT MILE-HIGH NATIONALS - Matt Hagan is finally the king of Thunder Mountain.
After competing for years at Bandimere Speedway, also known as Thunder Mountain, Hagan, the reigning NHRA nitro Funny Car world champion, won the Dodge//SRT Mile-High NHRA Nationals Presented By Pennzoil Sunday.
Hagan clocked a 4.105-second lap at 305.70 mph to defeat Alexis DeJoria’s 4.227-second lap in the finals at the track in Morrison, Colo., in the shadow of Denver.
“This is amazing,” Hagan said. “We have been trying to pull this down for like 15 years. Finally, we got it done at the Mile-High Nationals. This is our sponsor’s race and we got it done. We had a great car all weekend. We qualified No. 1 (with a 3.966-second lap), Dickie Venables and my whole crew just really put a h*ll of a car underneath me and it is just nice because your confidence keeps building as you’re going rounds.”
Hagan also praised DeJoria, who was making her first final-round appearance against a single car since 2017 when she defeated Tommy Johnson Jr., in Brainerd, Minn. DeJoria has five career nitro Funny Car national event wins.
“She has had some tough times and times where she got knocked out and for her to have that grit to get back in the race car and make it to the finals, I have a lot of respect for that team, Del Worsham, Nicky Boninfante, those guys they do a great job, and they are going to be tough all year,” Hagan said.
This was Hagan’s 37th career national event win and first this season. Hagan, a three-time nitro Funny Car world champ, 2011, 2014 and 2020, moved up from sixth to third in the points standings with 558 points. Bob Tasca III (643) and John Force (593) are No. 1 and No. 2 in the points.
Hagan, driving a Mopar Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat Redeye for Don Schumacher Racing, defeated Chris King in the first round, had a bye in round two, edged DSR teammate Ron Capps in the semis and then took out DeJoria in the finals.
“Up here you’re lucky to keep eight cylinders lit and go to the finish line, much less put down a No. 1 qualifying pass like we did,” Hagan said. “I’m just very blessed. I’m glad we were able to capitalize and we want to keep that momentum rolling as we go on to Sonoma (Calif., July 23-25) and see what we can do.”
Before this weekend, Hagan’s best performance in the previous seven races this season was a runner-up effort at the Four-Wide Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, April 18.
“This is 100 percent great for my confidence,” Hagan said. “You could see it in Dickie’s eyes and what he’s doing in the tune-up and how everything looks up on the computer. It looks super safe, and things are going really well. I’m just tickled. We’re back in the groove again.” Tracy Renck
PSM WORLD CHAMP MATT SMITH WINS MILE-HIGH NATIONALS FOR FIRST TIME IN 13 YEARS - The 2021 season of domination continued for reigning NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle world champion Matt Smith.
Smith, in his Denso-sponsored Buell, qualified No. 1 and then claimed his first title at the Dodge//SRT Mile-High NHRA Nationals Presented By Pennzoil win since 2008.
Smith clocked a 7.118-second elapsed time at 189.04 mph to defeat Eddie Krawiec 7.175-second lap at 189.34 mph in the finals.
“It’s good to get back winning here,” Smith said. “I love this racetrack. I came out here when I first started my own team in 2007 and won it and I came back and won it in 2008. I have been to a couple finals here since then, but just could never close the deal out. We had the bike to do it this weekend and I just had to do my job.”
Smith, who won world PSM titles in 2007, 2013, 2018 and 2020, now is a three-time Mile-High Nationals champion in 2007, 2008 and 2021.
This is Smith’s 29th career national event win and his third this season in six races. Smith, who came to Bandimere Speedway as the points leader, has wins in Gainesville, Norwalk and Denver.
Smith is atop the points standings with 626 points followed by second place Steve Johnson at 463.
Smith’s victory march Sunday started with a bye in round one, followed by wins over Cory Reed, Andrew Hines and Eddie Krawiec.
“The bike is flawless right now,” Smith said. “I kind of gave up on it a little bit in the middle part of the day and didn’t have some good reaction times, but I stepped up when I needed to.”
Smith acknowledged beating former world champ Krawiec out of the Vance & Hines stable at Bandimere Speedway was a little more special.
Since 1996, the Vance & Hines Pro Stock Motorcycle team has won the Mile-High Nationals 13 times, the last being in 2019.
“To beat them (Vance & Hines), they have set the bar so high over the last ten years,” Smith said. “They had all the money, all the support, all the technology, they have had all that. We have caught them and actually I think we have passed them a little bit, but they still have all that. They have good stuff and they can come back at any time and start winning. We’re doing a good job right now as a team and we just have to keep this Denso bike running mean.”
Smith’s win gives him a chance at history to become the first Pro Stock Motorcycle rider in history to sweep NHRA’s Western Swing. This is the first time the Pro Stock Motorcycle class will compete in all three races of the Western Swing, which is concludes in 2021 with races in Sonoma, Calif. (July 23-25) and Pomona, Calif. (July 30-Aug. 1).
“You just have to win one race at a time,” Smith said. “We have a chance to do a three-race Swing and we just have to go to Sonoma and perform. We just keep fine tuning.
When you have good equipment and you have good people on your team and you have good workers and a good wife (fellow Pro Stock Motorcycle racer, Angie), we all work together. It is just one of those deals where you tweak, tweak and tweak and you go faster and faster.” Tracy Renck
SATURDAY NOTEBOOK - THERE'S A NEW QUEEN ON THUNDER MOUNTAIN
BRITTANY FORCE TURNING AROUND LUCK ON THUNDER MOUNTAIN – Brittany Force said her Top Fuel team has been eager to get back to a racetrack after a second 2021 runner-up finish at Norwalk, Ohio.
“Our team is ready for a win,” she said.
But she also said she has “never done really well” at Bandimere Speedway in the Denver suburb of Morrison, Colo.
After trumping Top Fuel dominator Steve Torrence in the final qualifying session here for the Dodge//SRT Mile-High NHRA Nationals presented by Pennzoil, Force’s fortune on Thunder Mountain might be turning in her favor.
She drove her Monster Energy/Flav-R-Pac Dragster to a track-record 3.717-second elapsed time on the 1,000-foot course Saturday to swipe the top qualifying position. Torrence had led through two sessions of time trials but took the No. 2 qualifying spot with a 3.778-second E.T.
His track speed record – 330.31 mph – remains intact.
Leah Pruett’s 2017 track E.T. mark fell as she ran in the opposite lane from Force Saturday night.
Force’s third No. 1 starting berth this year and 23rd overall gives her a first-round bye when eliminations begin Sunday morning. In the quarterfinals, she’ll meet either Clay Millican or Shawn Langdon.
Force said she hadn’t known what to expect from Bandimere Speedway at the start of the weekend: “We’re on the mountain, so it’s tricky here. I’ve never really done well here.”
And Friday night she and her dragster overpowered the racetrack and had to sit on a 5.955-second, 106.16-mph, provision No. 5 performance overnight. She said Friday that she is “glad to be here in Denver. Unfortunately, that first run was a little disappointing. We pushed the car a little too hard, and it chattered and went into tire smoke.” But she kind of looked past Saturday’s two chances, saying, “We’ll figure it out and be ready for race day.”
She got that extra boost of confidence Saturday: “To be able to come out on Q3 and go to No. 1 by a stretch is pretty outstanding. A 3.71 – we’ll take it. That’s [crew chief] David Grubnic and this entire Monster Energy/Flav-R-Pac team.”
And she said she could sense her nighttime run was going to be special.
“I’ll tell you – it left like a frickin’ rocket,” Force said moments after her run. I knew it was on a good run if we could just hang in there till the finish line, and we did. I feel like I’m confident going into race day tomorrow. Haven’t seen the ladder yet – don’t know who we’re running, but I feel good.”
Force said she was energized by the full grandstands, too.
“When you pull up there and see the stands packed with people, there’s nothing more motivating than that to get your car down there and haul some butt. It felt good to do that,” she said. And alluding to a brief late-afternoon rain shower, she said, “Appreciate the fans coming out, sitting through the rain, and returning with NHRA and John Force Racing.” – Susan Wade
SMITH STEAMROLLS PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE FIELD – In five completed Pro Stock Motorcycle appearances on the Camping World Drag Racing Series tour so far this season, Matt Smith has advanced to four final rounds and won twice. And at the one event he didn’t make the showdown, the Las Vegas four-wide race, Smith was No. 1 qualifier and set the low elapsed time and top speed of the meet.
The four-time and reigning class champion continued his domination Saturday at the Dodge//SRT Mile-High NHRA Nationals presented by Pennzoil on the outskirts of Denver.
Smith will lead the field for Sunday eliminations with a 7.113-second elapsed time and track-best 189.47-mph speed he posted Saturday on the Morrison, Colo., quarter-mile course at Bandimere Speedway.
But Smith wasn’t totally satisfied with his run Saturday evening.
“We missed it a little bit there. We should have went a little bit better. I felt like we could’ve went a .10 or a [7.]09 there. We just didn’t have the low numbers we needed,” he said.
However, he said he was happy with the performance of his Matt Smith Racing team, which landed all three racers in the top half of the order. His wife, Angie Smith, qualified second, and teammate Scotty Pollacheck – the Atlanta winner in May – was No. 8.
“Great run for our team,” Matt Smith said after securing his second No. 1 starting spot this year and 45th overall on his Denso/Stockseth/Lucas Oil/Greg Butcher Trucking EBR bike. “I’m No. 1, and Angie’s No. 2. I think Scotty ended up No. 8 [at 7.199, 185.84]. I wish we had gotten Scotty up little bit more, but he’s right there. I think No. 3 [Steve Johnson] is a [7.]16. So he’s only three-hundredths [of a second] from No. 3. All in all, we’ve got a great team here.”
Smith won at this venue in 2007 and 2008 and has been runner-up two on other occasions.
“It’s been awhile. Like to win again,” he said.
He’ll take a 14-3 record into the first round, and his record should be 15-3 after he takes a first-round bye. His second-round opponent will be the winner of the Pollacheck-Cory Reed Round 1 match-up.
Smith said Sunday’s conditions will be unlike what racers have seen so far this weekend, but, he said, “Everybody’s got the same conditions. We’ve never been on the racetrack at all on where we’re going to race at. I don’t knw – it’s going to be a little slower, should be. Track should be a little slicker.
“All in all, we’ll be good. I think we’ll be fine,” he said. “Hopefully we’ll just take one round at a time. That’s all we got to do.”
Smith flirted with Bandimere Speedway records from the start of the weekend and finally reeled in one of them.
He nearly reset both ends of the record Friday night. His 7.145-second pass was slightly off Eddie Krawiec’s 2018 mark of 7.111, and Smith’s top speed of 188.46 mph almost erased Hector Arana Jr.’s three-year-old clocking of 188.86 mph.
He came back Saturday and in the early session lowered his E.T. to 7.128 seconds, but he broke the track speed record at 189.39 mph.
Smith closed qualifying with a 7.113-second pass that was just two-thousandths of a second shy of the Bandimere Speedway E.T. record, so he had to settle for having the second-quickest speed there ever. However, he reset his freshly minted track record with a speed of 189.47 mph.
Smith moved up from the No. 2 spot in the order to No. 1 late Friday night after Steve Johnson’s class-quickest 7.130-second run was disqualified because of a fuel violation.
Those who keep track of such things have noticed since his winners-circle pictures from the previous race, at Norwalk, Ohio, that Smith has grown his hair long. He said he has done so because Lisa Michler, the marketing communications manager for his sponsor Denso, “likes the long hair. She told me to keep wearing it, keep doing it. It’s good luck. We’re going to take it to, hopefully, some more race wins and, hopefully, a championship.” - Susan Wade
PALMER TALKS ABOUT LAUGLIN, AND HIS PLANS – Veteran Top Fuel driver/owner Scott Palmer is competing on a limited NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series schedule in 2021.
Palmer planned on competing in this weekend’s Mile-High Nationals at Bandimere Speedway in Morrison, Colo., outside of Denver, but his plans changed.
Palmer opted to sit out the event and let Alex Laughlin make his Top Fuel debut in the Havoline-sponsored dragster.
“This is a new car (dragster) that we just got last year,” Palmer said. “I ran it at Gainesville. Then Houston, we had both cars there, but I only ran one. Lee Callaway drover one of them. Then this deal came up and I had this in the trailer coming here for myself because I've got sponsors here too.
“(Alex) was in a bind because of his Pro Mod deal not coming. So, he was in a bigger bind. I'm not in one because I'm not running for points, I'm just doing whatever I want like Pro Mod races, whatever Top Fuel races I want. It just made more sense. We talked about bringing two, actually have two here, but we talked about running two but it’s Denver. He’s got a corporate deal so we might as well just focus on that, help him get through this. He was in a little bit of a bind, so it was just a fun way to work it out.”
Laughlin, who pilots a Pro Stock car, Pro Mod and Top Alcohol Dragster, didn’t have any luck in his first career Top Fuel pass. He had problems with his reverser after his backed up his burnout and his dragster didn’t leave the starting line.
Despite the hiccup, Laughlin bounced back with a 3.933-second lap at 296.89 mph and then improved even more with a 3.900-second lap at 316.67 mph in his two qualifying passes Saturday. He qualified No. 5.
Palmer was thrilled to lend a hand to Laughlin because he’s been on that side of the fence several times, especially early in his career.
“Yeah, it's cool because I've been in a bind before and there's usually not anyone to really help you get through the bind,” Palmer said. “I've always relied on the Laganas. Us and the Lagana family have kind of stuck together and helped each other throughout the last 20 years. This was kind of neat because it was a different kind of help. He had a corporate deal he's trying to take care of and honor his part of the agreement. So, this kind of a fun way to honor it.”
Palmer believes in the Top Fuel cockpit.
“He has no problem driving and testing,” Palmer said. “Sunday, it's anybody's race. We’re going to race in the heat. We're all going to throw everything we learned in qualifying out the window and start over. We got him his license in Wichita, Kan., at a match race track I was at. Alex Laughlin has some mojo. We have a nice car, and it runs good here. We expect to go some rounds. That's what we're here for.”
The final two qualifying sessions Saturday at Bandimere were at 4:45 p.m. (MDT) and 8 p.m. Race day eliminations begin at 11 a.m. Sunday.
Palmer was competing in Top Fuel full-time for the last several years and up to 2019 before he diversified his racing plans.
“I have a Top Fuel Pro Mod, a 1953 Studebaker,” Palmer said. “I just run exhibition to show off.”
Palmer said he will make at an appearance at the recently announced the “Stampede of Speed,” Oct. 3-10, that’s being run in conjunction with the FallNationals at Texas Motorplex in Ennis, near, Dallas.
“On Monday night (Oct. 4), we’ll have all of our contraptions there,” Palmer said. “They call it the Nitro Sideshow. It’ll be two Top Fuel dragsters. We're going to have a band, (punk rocker) Scott Sturgeon’s band is going to be there. We're going to roll up there, make a run with probably a couple of Top Fuel Harleys. A couple of Nostalgia Funny Cars, a couple of Pro Mods, and Outlaw Pro Mods. This will all be eighth mile and then we'll run a Chevelle and the Studebaker that runs on nitro. We’ll run those and then we'll finish off with the dragster. Lee Callaway will drive one and I'll drive the other one.”
Palmer said his plans to drive his Top Fuel dragster at the Menards NHRA Nationals Presented by By PetArmour in Topeka, Kan., Aug. 13-16.
Palmer has competed in one race in Top Fuel at the season-opening event in Gainesville, Fla.
“We've been doing the Mid-West Pro Mod Series with another guy's (Outlaw) Pro Mod, and we’ve been doing good winning races,” Palmer said. “So, we’ve been busy. We run (Jon Stouffer’s) his whole team. He has a ‘71 Cuda. It's a beautiful, awesome car. It's been a lot of fun.”
Although the COVID-19 pandemic crippled some racers, that wasn’t the case for Palmer.
“Honestly the last two years even with the COVID deal and all that, have been the best two years I've ever had,” Palmer said. “The last two years even in rough times, I haven't put all my eggs in one basket. I have my own Outlaw Pro Mod; I have an alcohol funny car. We went to the 64-car Funny Car Chaos. I think we were ninth or tenth qualifier in that. Went to the final round in their b-field. It ran great. I haven’t driven a (Top Alcohol Funny Car) in 22 years. It was fun. But I keep that open because all the people who sponsor me or help me or race with me during the COVID virus when we were all shut down with no fans, we were still racing. We were on the Midwest Series.
“My obligations to our sponsors are easy. We just go and have a good time. I have the best sponsor deal in the world still to this day. Nobody has a better deal than me. It may not be the most money but it's the best deal in the world because I’m lucky I get to do whatever I want.”
There’s was time not too long ago when Palmer was struggling to make ends meet, but that’s not case anymore.
“Nope,” Palmer said if he saw this day coming. “Even five years when Tommy and I started doing this, nope, never thought that would happen. So, it's just been fun. In 2019 before the virus Tommy said, ‘What we can do next year, Scott?’ I said, ‘I'm not running the whole season. I'll never run 24 races again. I'm going Pro Mod racing; I’m going to go do this. But we’ll go do 12 and run it like (T.J.) Zizzo. Zizzo comes out and runs hard. That’s what I want to do. Then I still have time to go Pro Mod racing. Kind of like what Alex does. Alex goes out and does a variety of things.”
STANFIELD PACES FIRST-EVER DENVER FSS FIELD - Aaron Stanfield drove his Janac Brothers Racing Chevrolet COPO Camaro to the No. 1 qualifier position in the Constant Aviation Factory Stock Showdown today at the Dodge//SRT Mile High Nationals at Bandimere Speedway. The driver from Bossier City, Louisiana, ran the quickest time of qualifying during the final session going to the top of the 16 car field with an 8.234 second pass at 164.65 mph. He will face Anthony Troyer in the first round of eliminations tomorrow.
The NHRA Gatornationals winner moved around the provisional No. 1 qualifier David Barton in the final session. Heading into the last qualifying session, which was delayed due to a rainstorm, Barton was holding onto the No. 1 position and in a side by side race he was edged out by Stanfield for the top spot. Barton from Sinking Springs, Pennsylvania improved on his previous best time but it was not enough to hold off Stanfield. Both drivers improved on their previous best times in the final session.
“That was a good drag race from start to finish. My car left pretty hard and made the best run of the weekend,” said Stanfield. “By the third run we started kind of getting a handle on the tune-up. The second run it did a really big wheelie and we had to gather it back and get it back under control. The conditions got really good tonight. The track tightened up and it cooled off. It was the makings of a fast run out here on the mountain and we were able to take advantage of it.”
With cooler conditions during the final session getting ready for race day will bring a whole new set of challenges. Starting from the top spot will be the one big advantage Stanfield will take from qualifying.
“We are here to win the race and the majority of the time elimination rounds aren’t like these conditions in qualifying. This run helps you in qualifying position but we will have different conditions on race day,” said Stanfield.
While the day might have been longer than expected for all the Factory Stock Showdown competitors, the fact that the fans enjoyed the racing action made it all worthwhile. Stanfield recognized the passion of the Denver area fans who stuck out the rain delay and were rewarded with a solid final qualifying session.
“It was a packed house tonight and the Bandimeres did a great job. They have some great fans that come out and support us. It was unbelievable. They stayed in the stands all day long watching every car go down the race track,” added Stanfield.
In the absence of Norwalk Nationals winner Chuck Watson II the bounty for the event will transfer to Barton who was the No. 1 qualifier from the previous race. Dan Condon will be the first driver to have a shot at the $1,000 prize when eliminations begin tomorrow at 11 a.m.
First Round Match-Ups
No. 1 Aaron Stanfield vs. No. 16 Anthony Troyer
No. 2 David Barton vs. No. 15 Dan Condon
No. 3 Stephen Bell vs. No. 14 Doug Hamp
No. 4 Leah Pruett vs. No. 13 Waldemar Rodriguez
No. 5 John Cerbone vs. No. 12 Scott Libersher
No. 6 David Janac vs. No. 11 Leonard Lottig
No. 7 Arthur Kohn vs. No. 10 Jesse Alexandra
No. 8 Mark Pawuk vs. No. 9 Joseph Welch
BOBBY LAGANA ENJOYING HIS RIDE WITH STR – The elevation of Bandimere Speedway – 5,800 feet – offers the biggest challenge on NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series for tuners.
Bobby Lagana, the co-crew chief with Richard Hogan on Steve Torrence’s Top Fuel dragster, is aware of the challenges Bandimere Speedway presents.
Torrence is the reigning three-time NHRA Top Fuel world champion.
“The biggest thing is you don't want to do any damage,” Lagana said. “When you have everything right it doesn't hurt a lot of parts because it doesn't make as much power up here, but all it takes is one thing to go wrong and you hurt a lot of parts.”
Lagana and Hogan were on their game Friday night as Torrence took the provisional No. 1 qualifying spot with a 3.778-second lap at 327.11 mph. Torrence, who came to Denver atop the points standings, 193 points in front of second-place Doug Kalitta.
Torrence finished second the qualifying ladder with his Friday night pass. Brittany Force took the No. 1 spot with a track-record 3.717-second lap.
The last time Torrence raced in Bandimere 2019 – the 2020 race was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic – he was victorious beating Clay Millican in the final round.
“Right off of one of our qualifying runs, just all the same data punching it in,” said Lagana about the approach his crew took.
As good as Torrence has been in qualifying at Bandimere, Lagana knows everything changes on Sunday as race day begins at 11 a.m. (MDT).
“It's two totally different race cars as hot as it's going to be (Sunday),” Lagana said. “Just hope that you have good notes that you took. First round is usually OK. Then, second round it just completely goes sideways and that's when you really got to make big changes, if you're fortunate enough to make it.”
Not in the too distant past, Lagana was scrapping and clawing in the drag racing ranks. His plight completely changed when he started helping Torrence win countless races and three world titles.
“We never really set goals for ourselves when we were working our way to surviving, I would say,” Lagana said. “We were just always happy to be able to just race and we still feel that way now. When we get a win, we go crazy, like it's our first and it could be your last sure. And that's why we appreciate it so much because you never know when your last one is going to be. You’ve just got to really cherish the moments and just make memories.
“We've been really fortunate. Racing with Mama Kay, Billy and Steve and Hoagie, and all the guys. Got some pretty stout crew guys on our team. Very friendly, very close with each other. Enjoy each other's company and just love racing with each other.”
There’s no question Lagana is passionate about drag racing, but he also is a diehard New York Yankees fans and the MLB team from the Bronx is sporting a sub-.500 record, which isn’t sitting well with Lagana.
“It's not good,” Lagana said about the Yankees. “It's a big struggle bus. If I'm an armchair guy I would maybe make a change in the managerial department. We need a little bit of fire. We just need something to light them up, light the players up, get them excited, make them get fired up. Bring the passion back. There’s way too much talent. Make them earn the money. Make them earn their dollar. That's what they don't do. That's the problem with all that stuff, there's no accountability. You can go out there and make that big contract and then just stink it up.”
KALITTA MOTORSPORTS HAS STORIED HISTORY AT BANDIMERE – J.R. Todd, who drives the DHL Toyota Camry Funny Car for Kalitta Motorsports is aiming to add to his name to the Mile-High Nationals history book Sunday.
Todd picked up two Top Fuel wins at Bandimere Speedway including a 2006 win his rookie season and then another win in 2014. Only 10 Top Fuel drivers have multiple wins at the racetrack carved into the side of the mountain.
Todd will be looking to join another elite group of drivers. Only two NHRA nitro competitors, Kenny Bernstein and Mike Dunn, have won the Mile-High Nationals in Top Fuel and Funny Car. Todd could add his name to that list by turning on four win lights in his DHL Funny Car on Sunday.
Todd qualified No. 7 at 4.055 seconds at 314.90 mph. He will face off against XXX Sunday in the first round.
Doug Kalitta who drives the Mac Tools Top Fuel Dragster for Kalitta Motorsports, came to Denver second in the points standings and try and reach the winner’s circle on Sunday.
Kalitta won the event in 2010 in Top Fuel national event winner. Kalitta, who has won 49 national events, also was runner-up at the track in 1999, 2001, 2003 and 2009 with his most recent final round in 2018.
Kalitta qualified No. 4 with a 3.849-second run at 299.33 mph. Former Top Fuel world champion Shawn Langdon, who also drives a dragster for Kalitta Motorsports, qualified No. 8 at 3.973 seconds.
Connie Kalitta won at the Mile-High Nationals in 1984-85 and the late Scott Kalitta was the Mile-High Nationals champ in Top Fuel three times in 1994, 1995 and 2004.
JOHN FORCE TALKS BANDIMERE, RECENT FINE – There’s no NHRA nitro Funny Car driver who compares to the legendary John Force.
Force has won 16 world championships and 153 national events both NHRA records.
Force and his PEAK / BlueDEF team came to the Mile-High Nationals just 53 points out of first place in the points standings.
Force has two wins this season and could add to that if history is any indication. He has a Mile-High Nationals best eight wins in 1994-96, 2001, 2003, 2011, 2016 and 2018. He also has seven No. 1 qualifiers at the Mile-High Nationals, his most recent in 2017.
“I go back a million years with the Bandimere family, but to come here and see the crowds, Camping World a new sponsor, and then to pack them in,” Force said. “Yes, we drive for Peak and Chey and Auto Club and Monster and Cornwell Tools, you have to plug them all. But to have a new series sponsor see crowds like this is unbelievable. I’m glad to be running as well as my family and we will see where it goes.”
Force qualified No. 5 with a 4.014-second lap at 320.74 mph.
Force also addressed with Competition Plus a recent $10,000 fine he received from NHRA.
“They have rules, and you have to stay within the rules, and I guess we went a little bit outside,” Force said. “We call it a ticket and fix it. It was no big deal. I’m not going to get into the debate. They make the rules and we read the rules wrong or whatever we did. They didn’t like it and we changed it and it didn’t affect us.”
On July 9, 2021, NHRA issued the following statement. The NHRA Tech Department has fined John Force Racing $10,000 for making unauthorized modifications to an approved part. It was discovered that injector hats had been altered from their original state. The fine must be paid in full before being allowed to participate at any future NHRA events.
Force was quick to admit he’s not looking for any type of redemption this weekend.
“I want to win always, not just because somebody says something,” Force said. “A lot of things go on out here and we feel like we weren’t wrong, but they said we were wrong, so that’s the rule. So, I guess we were wrong, so we fixed it and we will move on.”
Force’s son-in-law and fellow world champ Robert Hight qualified No. 10 at 4.097 seconds at 310.70 mph.
CAMPBELL LOOKS TO MAKE STRIDES AT MILE-HIGH NATIONALS – Jim Campbell is a fan-favorite nitro Funny Car driver.
Campbell drives for the legendary Jim Dunn. This season, Campbell and his team have struggled. Through seven national events in NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series has qualified for every race but has yet to win a round.
Campbell and Jim Dunn Racing began the famed Western Swing with a new sponsor, getting support from Lescure Company at the Mile-High Nationals in Denver and the Sonoma (Calif.) Nationals, July 23-25.
Campbell started on the right foot in Friday’s lone qualifying session, clocking a 4.272-second lap at 292.90, which placed him No. 5 on the ladder. Campbell dropped to No. 12 with that elapsed time as he couldn’t improve with Saturday’s final two qualifying laps.
“This is a totally different race,” Campbell said. “First off, excited to be back at Bandimere, fabulous facility. This is just a unique track. We don't run this altitude anywhere else. So, the data that we get from here doesn't really apply to any other tracks. But it definitely is a challenge to the tuners, the drivers and everybody involved.”
Besides getting in the field, Campbell knows there are layers to qualifying laps.
“Again, it's all about collecting data and how far we get down and stuff like that,” Campbell said. “So, this is one of those races where the car likes to drop cylinders. Hopefully, we can keep eight all lit, it stays right in the middle. We do well when qualify high in the field.
“The car has been going down the track,” Campbell said. “We just need to go a little bit faster, and I know that everybody's working hard over here, and we got some good brain power and a lot of knowledge over here.”
JERRY SAVOIE LOOKS FOR IMPROVEMENT AT BANDIMERE – Jerry Savoie has nothing to prove in the business arena and in the Pro Stock Motorcycle ranks, he has been highly-successful in both.
Savoie, who won the 2016 NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle world championship and has collected 13 career Wallys, has had a tough go in 2021 with his White Alligator Racing team.
Savoie entered the Mile-High Nationals 12th in the points and has an 0-5 elimination round record.
And he knows things will be easy at Bandimere.
“It's a challenge because at the altitude, you don’t make the power and being naturally aspirated, can't change a pulley or put a little more nitro,” Savoie said. “It's a gear ratio and throw everything you can at it and see what you get out of it. But Denver is a beautiful place. So as far as racing up here, I enjoy it. You don't go fast but it's an enjoyable place to come and race.”
Savoie acknowledged his season has only one way to go – up.
“Terrible,” said Savoie about his season. “We've been struggling. We’re trying to run a new bike (a Suzuki) and a new package and just haven't quite figured it out. It's a completely new motorcycle. Karen's running my old stuff that's why she's running well. I'm the guinea pig so I'm the one that’s trying.
“Just a matter of a lot of things (about the new bike). A lot of gremlins, wiring problems, broke a gear on the transmission. Just small stuff but big stuff. Stuff that’ll eat you. We’ll see what happens this weekend.”
Savoie qualified No. 11 with a 7.220-second lap at 182.21 mph lap at XXX mph.
Karen Stoffer, Savoie’s teammate is eighth in the season points. Stoffer qualified No. 10 at 7.220 seconds at 183.59 mph.
The last several years Savoie has toyed with the idea of retiring from competing and this season he seems more serious than ever about calling it a career at season’s end.
“It won't be long,” said Savoie about retiring from racing. “I told my wife; this is my last year. We'll see what happens. I love it. I don't like to travel and I'm a homeboy. I don't like being in airports and I don't like sleeping in hotels. I like being home with my wife and just business. I like to work and coming out here to just go down the track a few times, travel all the way across the country on a weekend, just kind of takes the fun out of it.”
Savoie lives in Cutoff, La., and has several business ventures, including being an alligator farmer.
“We just started to finish harvesting the eggs,” Savoie said. “We’re just about done with it. We got about two more days left for it be finished.”
ANDREW HINES GLAD TO BACK AT BANDIMERE – There are many racetracks where Andrew Hines has walked away a champion and Bandimere Speedway is on that list.
Hines has won the Mile-High Nationals at Bandimere Speedway five times – 2006, 2010, 2014, 2016 and 2019.
In Hines’ most recent win at Bandimere Speedway, he was debuting the FXDR body for the Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson team.
That isn’t the case in 2021.
Back in April it was announced, six-time NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle champion Hines and his teammate, four-time champion Eddie Krawiec would return to the track for the remainder of the 2021 season beginning at the Lucas Oil NHRA Southern Nationals in Atlanta after sitting out the first two Pro Stock Motorcycle events.
Hines and Krawiec are riding motorcycles equipped with Vance & Hines’ VH160VT engine and NHRA-approved Buell 1190RX bodywork. They joined three-time champion Angelle Sampey as part of the winningest team in NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle history.
The Vance & Hines team prior to the start of the 2021 NHRA season Sampey, NHRA's winningest female racer, would ride the company's new four-valve Suzuki-powered Pro Stock Motorcycle.
Hines has 56 career national event wins 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 in 2019 was the 13th for the team since 1996.
Matt Hines, Andrew’s older brother, and Krawiec have four wins each at the Mile-High Nationals.
Hines spent 10 years in Trinidad, Colo., about three hours south of Morrison, where the track is located. Byron Hines, Andrew’s dad, ran the Freedom Motorsports Pro Stock Motorcycle shop in Trinidad, before the family moved to Brownsburg, Ind., years ago.
Matt Hines, won at Bandimere four times in 1996, ’97, ’98 and 2002 all on a Suzuki.
“We’ll see what this year holds,” Andrew said. “Our engine combo is a little different than a couple years ago when we're here and now we're bringing out the Suzuki. I haven't tuned a Suzuki or heck even when I was here on my Suzuki in 2002, I didn't tune it. That’s kind of a new deal. We're feeling confident.
“Most of the class is running the new Sunoco Cyclone 17 fuel so that’ll be something different to run up here. It's been legal all year. You can run SR 18 or Cyclone 17. So, you can kind of figure out what you want to do. That's something a little different. It might burn a little different up here on the mountain, so we got to chase the tune up a little bit, see what the timing wants, and the fuel wants. For us, we’ve got the Buell bodywork on here now and the stuff is so aerodynamic, we're running less gear ratio than we typically would. It's kind of thrown our transmission ratios for a curve. We haven't got back into the swing of changing those yet. Figuring everything out. Eddie and I have been really sucking 60-foot here lately at sea level. We're hoping that the mountain is kind of the equalizer.”
Andrew qualified fourth at the Mile-High Nationals with a 7.170-second lap at 188.10 mph. Krawiec had a 7.182-second best lap at 189.18 mph and he’s No. 6 on the ladder. Teammate Sampey qualified No. 5 at 7.171 seconds at 185.54 mph.
“We have not tested here since like 2012,” Andrew said. “We learned a lot of stuff back then, so we still apply it to the same deal. Our Suzuki customers Joey (Gladstone) and Cory (Reed), they tested here last week so they supplied us some info for our 4-valve Suzuki. So, we kind of get a baseline from them and they get that going. We’re throwing the dice here a little bit. We've changed a lot of stuff in two years.”
Matt Hines did claim his Bandimere victories on a Suzuki, but that data is no use to Andrew now.
“He ran all the way through 2002 with a Suzuki and then I started here at Bandimere Speedway in 2002 with a Suzuki,” Andrew said. “But that was a long, long time ago, those engines on the Suzuki’s were 1500 ccs back then. Now they're 1850 and four valves. So, they're probably well more than a hundred horsepower better at sea level than they were back then. When I ran here, I probably went 7.60 on my Suzuki and we're going to try and go 7.0’s here now. That's almost what they were going at sea level back in 2002.”
Andrew said he’s yet to make any laps on Sampey’s Suzuki.
“I haven't ridden it yet,” Hines said. “But Angelle, she went back to it just like a fish to water. She had no problem going back from the V-twin Suzuki. We'll see how that goes. But coming here, we've been playing around with stuff on her bike. We went back to a 5-speed from Vegas through last race just to get some durability in the transmission, get her used to riding the Suzuki again. Obviously coming here, we need as much gear ratio as we can, so we put the 6-speed back in it. I'm not being kind to her on changing the bike setup all the time. So, she's still not quite getting used to it yet but she's doing a decent job at getting down the track. So anytime we get it to leave the starting line good to 60-foot, her bike is a frontrunner for sure.”
Despite all the change in the Vance & Hines camp, Andrew is keeping things in perspective.
“Really not much has changed,” Andrew said. “I'm kind of just the same mindset just different paint, different vinyl wrapped around everything else and running two different power plants. So, we don't get the same amount of data as we did with running three Harley's because now, we got one 4-cylinder in the camp that requires its own different set of rules and different set of attention. So, we get less information for our two bikes to go out there and get track data on 60-foot and what it needs for the tune-up.
POLLACHECK WOULD LOVE TO RACE AT BONNEVILLE SALT FLATS – Scotty Pollacheck has not only raced at Bandimere in the Pro Stock Motorcycle ranks, but also on an electric-powered motorcycle – the KillaCycle, which was the world’s quickest electric bike.
The team that Pollacheck ran the KillaCycle with moved on competing at the Bonneville (Utah) Salt Flats and now have the world’s fastest electric motorcycle.
“I would love to do it,” said Pollacheck about racing in Bonneville. “I think they have been competing in Bonneville for Probably four or five years. It's amazing the kind of power electric stuff makes and how fast it goes nowadays. When I first started it was a way different deal as far as technology goes than what we have now. It’s come a long way in that amount of time.”
JOHNSON’S NO. 1 RUN DISQUALIFIED – Steve Johnson appeared headed toward his second straight No. 1 qualifying position in the Pro Stock Motorcycle class as action kicked off Friday at the Dodge//SRT Mile-High NHRA Nationals Presented By Pennzoil at Denver’s Bandimere Speedway.
Johnson recorded the third-quickest elapsed time in the history of the Morrison, Colo., facility – 7.130 seconds on the quarter-mile course – to claim the provisional No. 1 berth.
However, NHRA tech officials disqualified the run immediately afterward because of a fuel violation and awarded the tentative No. 1 spot in the order to Matt Smith, who posted the second-quickest time Friday at 7.145 seconds with the class’ fastest speed (188.46 mph).
Johnson said he thought the NHRA’s decision was a fair call and took responsibility for the error. However, he said he and his team did not tamper with or alter the fuel and that the reason for the problem remains unknown.
“The fuel didn’t pass,” Johnson said. “At the end of the run, they take a fuel sample, and it has to fit within a certain range. And it’s the responsibility of the team to check that.
“Something happened with the fuel. We don’t tamper with the fuel, except buy the fuel from Sunoco at the track and put it in our motorcycle. Something obviously happened,” he said. “I’m not a chemist. I can’t tell you what happened. We don’t push any limits. We don’t engage in any kind of chemistry. We don’t tamper with anything you’re not supposed to do. And fuel is a no-no. You just don’t touch fuel.
“We took fuel out of our gas tank and poured it in, just like we do at every race. And clearly, the temperature, the heat, something’s changed in our fuel. The top was left open. Something happened,” Johnson said.
He said he knows “somebody who wants to buy fuel for everybody in the staging lanes, but we’ve got two different kinds of fuel now. There’s a Cyclone 17 and an SR 18. New this year is the Cyclone 17, and that’s the fuel that we use.
“It’s quite a story,” Johnson said without providing details, “but I’m trying to be careful. I just had a big meeting about trashing people who help the sport.”
Ultimately, Johnson said, the responsibility lies with him: “Yeah, for sure.”
He said, “If we would have just checked the fuel before the run, we would have known whatever reason it doesn’t pass. We should have just bought new fuel.
“We buy fuel. We don’t touch it. We store it. We use it. And we go to the next race. Clearly, something changes with the fuel. I don’t know anything about it. The sanction body just checks it. So the right thing to do is to check the fuel before the run, before the weekend starts. And we didn’t do that.”
Smith, the current and four-time champion, is the Pro Stock Motorcycle points leader, and Johnson is his closest challenger. They entered the weekend separated in the standings by 93 points.
Other tentative pro-class leaders Friday night were Steve Torrence (Top Fuel) and Matt Hagan (Funny Car).
TORRENCE CAN REST EASIER AFTER FRIDAY RUmN – Top Fuel points leader and reigning champion Steve Torrence was excited to have a night qualifying session Friday to open the Dodge//SRT Mile-High NHRA Nationals Presented By Pennzoil at Bandimere Speedway – even though he said, “It’s way past my bedtime.”
But the Capco Contractors Dragster driver salvaged the class’ sketchy performance, grabbing the provisional No. 1 qualifying position with the only three-second Top Fuel pass on the suburban Denver 1,000-foot course.
He used a 3.778-second elapsed time at 327.11 mph “to put on a show like that, just to cap the day off. There were not a lot of good runs out there. To finish strong for the fans like that – and for the Capco team - was awesome.
“It’s always an awesome track to come to. The fans are unbelievable,” Torrence said of his triumphant return to Morrison, Colo., as the 2019 race winner. This staple on the Camping World Drag Racing Series tour was axed last season because of COVID-19 restrictions. “It feels great,” he said of both his results and the chance to add a Western Swing sweep to his list of shiny accomplishments.
In the past five years, Torrence has earned three Top Fuel crowns and 36 victories. He has reached the final round at 48 of 90 events. He was the first to claim championships in both the Top Alcohol (2005) and Top Fuel divisions and the first to sweep the races in NHRA’s Countdown to the Championship (2018).
“I’ve got so much pride and so much confidence in these guys,” he said of his Richard Hogan- and Bobby Lagana-led team, “because time and time again, they continue to rise to the occasion and show why we’re all the champs. Whatever the conditions, whatever the adversity, they always adapt and overcome.”
Only 10 Top Fuel cars made qualifying attempts Friday. And the tentative Nos. 2 and 3 racers – Joey Haas (4.054, 259.56) and Antron Brown (4.180, 269.78), respectively – were the only ones quicker than 5.8 seconds.
Torrence said the factors at play at this venue can be challenging: “Every time you come to Denver, it’s always different – no air . . . the car doesn’t stop as good . . . it feels sluggish. But when you go [3.]77 on the mountain and first night out of the box, it definitely gives you a little bit of confidence going into tomorrow.”
Two Saturday qualifying sessions are scheduled before the racing order is set for eliminations that begin Sunday morning.
But, Torrence cautioned, he’s expecting a “totally different day on Sunday.” He said, “We’ll just try to get ready for it.”
Also atop the leaderboard Friday night were Funny Car’s Matt Hagan and Pro Stock Motorcycle’s Matt Smith, who moved to the top when Steve Johnson’s third-quickest pass in track history at 7.145 seconds in the quarter-mile was disqualified because of a fuel irregularity. - Susan Wade
HAGAN TAKES POVISION NO. 1 QUALIFYING SPOT - Matt Hagan has accomplished plenty in his nitro Funny Car career, winning multiple world championships.
However, Hagan has never won at Bandimere Speedway, something he hopes to change in 2021 in his DSR Mopar Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat Redeye.
“I think I've been dragging up here at least since 2009,” Hagan said. “It's just one of those things that I've never won. I went to the finals, just different things like that, but just never really came together for me. It's our sponsor (Mopar) race. We’ve been obviously wanting to but what’s tough about up here is you drag a whole new combination up. You’ve got different rods, you spin the blower faster, you got different compression, different pistons. You’ve got 52 parts and pieces of things that you never ever run again. It's kind of crazy. But yeah, it's just eluded me a little bit. Unfortunately, it's been a little thorn in my side so, I’d really like to be able to pull one down here.”
Hagan got off to a great start, grabbing the provisional No. 1 qualifying spot with a 3.966-second elapsed time at 319.22 mph.
“I thought that run was great,” Hagan said. “It’s always great when you can go all the way down to the end of the racetrack at Bandimere. You bring so many parts and pieces up there and you just never know what is going to happen. Dickie (Venables, Hagan’s crew chief) over the years I think we are finally getting a handle on this place. We watched Alexis (DeJoria), I think she tested up here a couple of weeks ago, run 98 right in front of us. Dickie crawled back in the box and made a couple of adjustments and away we went. It was a good smooth run, and it ran on all eight cylinders, and I couldn’t ask for anything more up here on the hill, especially being a Dodge sponsored race and we are running a Dodge SRT car. That’s what you’re supposed to do.
“Now, I want to win this race more than ever. I definitely want this trophy on the shelf, and we are starting it off right. I think we will switch for the fences (Saturday), what do we have to lose, especially with just 14 cars here.”
Hagan is aiming to capture his 42nd career No. 1 qualifying position.
Hagan’s best finish at the Mile-High Nationals was a runner-up finish in 2011.
“If it (my Funny Car) sounded like that (how it does at Bandimere) at sea level I would shut it off,” Hagan said. “Everything gets hot really fast, starts popping when it idles. It’s just crazy. It just doesn’t sound right when you’re used to hearing them sound a certain way.”
Hagan was thrilled about the way his Funny Car sounded Friday night.
“It felt like a really good run,” Hagan said. “It kind of had some movement on the top end, but other than that it was good solid run. It was just digging, and it kept pulling and I was ‘Here we go.’ It was just great feeling run and then you throw the parachutes out and they don’t hit very hard so it kind of messed with your mind a little bit, but other than that we were really, really happy with it.”
Hagan only made one run Friday night, but he drove the wheels off a car during a Mopar event Tuesday and Wednesday at Bandimere Speedway.
“We’ve been doing a Mopar event that we had,” Hagan said. “I got in on Tuesday, we had a Wednesday and Thursday gig that we ran cars down the track with Hellcats. The last two days I haven’t really been drag racing, but I’ve been running cars. They’re great. To be a grocery getter that you can get off the floor and something that'll light the tires up and run those numbers like that that they did out here, it's impressive.
“I don’t even know to be honest (about the elapsed times the Hellcats were running). Low 8’s running to the eighth mile. This was a dealer-based deal where you sign up with your dealer as a potential customer and they take them out and play with them. I made 50 or more (laps).”
Hagan said stopping his nitro Funny Car at Bandimere Speedway brings about a different thought process.
“There’s no air up here,” Hagan said. “The parachutes don't really hit. So, you're always grabbing a whole lot of brake. I never let go of the brake until the parachutes hit and up here you barely feel them hit. I've never been in the sand anywhere. We’ll try to keep that going.”
Hagan, who is the reigning NHRA nitro Funny Car world champ, expects nothing less than a repeat in 2021.
“When you’re honing your craft and every run, I learn something new,” Hagan said. “I really genuinely try to process it every run and try to figure out what I can do to make it better. What did the car do? What did I feel? How do I relate this to the crew chief? Just different things here and there because everyone is so different. You never have the same run.”
The night qualifying at Bandimere Speedway is something Hagan welcomes, but he knows race day at 11 a.m. (MDT) will offer a completely different challenge for his tuner Dickie Venables.
“I love night qualifying and plus we're not sweating to death,” he said. “The only thing that’s tough with night qualifying is you’ve got a lot of clutch wear, so it makes it really dark in the car and then you have to worry about your visor and stuff fogging up. But other than that, I love running these cars at night.
“Every time it changes the crew chiefs just adapt to it. But we got a lot of data for all the years we’ve been coming up here, so we got a pretty good idea of what we need to be. But it's like anything, it always changes.”
MILLICAN BACK IN DRIVER’S SEAT – Top Fuel driver Clay Millican loves to be behind the wheel competing for NHRA national event wins.
Millican, a fan favorite, had to sit out the last event on NHRA’s Camping World Drag Racing Series – the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals in Norwalk, Ohio – with an inner ear infection.
Austin Prock filled in for Millican in the Stringer Performance and advanced to the semifinals before losing to eventual event champion Steve Torrence.
Now, is eager more than ever to be back driving at the Dodge//SRT Mile-High Nationals NHRA Nationals Presented by Pennzoil on July 16-18 in Morrison, Colo., just outside of Denver.
“I’m 100% ready to go,” Millican said. “I can’t wait.”
Millican slowed to 7.301 seconds in Q1 Friday, but it didn’t dampen his enthusiasm to be back at Bandimere Speedway.
Millican has competed at the Bandimere Speedway for years and his last trip to the track at the 2019 Mile-High Nationals he lost in the final round to Steve Torrence.
Torrence clocked a 4.044-second run to defeat Milllican’s 4.126-second lap.
The 2020 Mile-High Nationals were canceled because of the COVId-19 pandemic.
“I’m very much looking forward to stomping on that loud pedal this weekend,” Millican said.
The elevation of Bandimere Speedway is 5,800 feet, easily the highest elevation NHRA’s Top Fuel drivers will compete at during the season.
Although the high altitude of the track is something Millican is aware of, it is not something he’s worrying about behind the wheel.
“As a driver (the higher elevation) doesn’t change anything we do,” Millican said. “The hard part and the hard is certainly on the team and the tuner and the crew to try and make the changes necessary to keep up with the ever-changing altitude here because this place is definitely located in such a spot that it is difficult. The air is thin. You have a lot of altitude.
“For me as a driver, it is really the same once the car is started and running. I think it is one of the most unique racetracks anywhere. It is such a cool, beautiful location and the layout is awesome. It is unbelievable what the Bandimere family has done here.”
At the Mile-High Nationals, two of the three qualifying sessions are at 8 p.m. (MDT), which Millican relishes.
“I wish we had races at night, I’m a nighttime person,” Millican said. “I don’t like getting up early in the morning. I wish we had complete races at night. People love the header flames. They the excitement of watching these cars go down the racetrack at night. I do this a lot on my show on Facebook Live that if I were NHRA president for a day, we would definitely have some nighttime races. I love nighttime.
“We made a lot of night runs in the IHRA (where Millican was a six-time champion) and I just enjoy them.”
Millican enters the Mile-High Nationals 11th in the points standings. He has two semifinal finishes at Las Vegas and Houston. His elimination-round record in 5-6.
“It is pretty simple, I want to turn on win lights and make a run for that championship,” Millican said. “I want to get ourselves in position to make a run for that championship. That’s definitely the goal. One run at a time, one win light at a time and the rest of it will take care of itself.”
LAUGHLIN’S FIRST RUN IN TOP FUEL ON HOLD – Alex Laughlin turned heads in drag racing circles when he licensed in Top Fuel and was making his debut at the Mile-High Nationals.
Laughlin, who competes in Pro Stock, Pro Mod, Top Alcohol Dragster, didn’t have the inaugural lap he wanted. Actually, the lap never happened.
In Q1 Friday night, Laughlin never left the starting line as he had engine problems.
Laughlin is driving Scott Palmer’s dragster. Laughlin will have two chances to get down the strip at 4:45 p.m. and 8 p.m. (MDT) in the final two qualifying sessions.
HULL DRIVING AT BANDIMERE FOR FIRST TIME – Buddy Hull is experiencing a lot of firsts this season as he’s competing in the Top Fuel ranks for the first time.
Friday night was no different as he muscled down the track in 6.446 seconds which put him No. 7 on the qualifying ladder.
Hull’s driving a dragster for Terry Haddock.
“I’ve been in Denver many times (working on crews), but never driving,” Hull said. “It’s my favorite racetrack in the country in terms of looks. It’s beautiful. It’s sandwiched between two mountains, it’s on like three shelves. It’s just super cool. The Bandimeres are really good people. I’ve worked with them in the past on match racing fueled altered here at this track. It’s awesome to come back here. It’s the Mile-Highs.
Doesn’t get any better."
Hull wasn’t getting too amped up about making his first Top Fuel run.
“It sounds crazy, but I really don't get that excited,” Hull said. “Everywhere I go, I try to just get in the car or just do the same thing every single time. This may sound crazy; I don't even look at what's going on around me. I just look at my crew and I look at the track. That’s just how I was taught. I don’t pay attention to anything else. Only what's going on with my car, my job, my crew and the track.”
Hull, who has qualified for two races this season, Atlanta and Epping, knows he has a learning curve in Top Fuel.
“Every time I get in the car, I feel like I get better,” Hull said. “I just get that much more comfortable. I get a better feel for the car. They’re animals. Nothing beats experience. There’s no replacement on this planet except for experience and seat time.
“I’m in pretty good shape. I work out four or five days a week. Actually, I notice it (the altitude), I'm not going to say, ‘hey, it's like not there.’ I'm all good. I can still function just like I would anywhere else, it just takes a touch more effort.”
CAPPS NO STRANGER TO BANDIMERE – Some drivers are experiencing driving at Bandimere Speedway for the first time this weekend.
Not Ron Capps.
“When I licensed in John Mitchell’s A-Fuel car, the Montana Express, it was my first time here at Bandimere and I think that was 1994,” Capps said. “I started driving for Don Prudhomme was the first time I went there to professionally race. That was 1997.”
With years of experience at Thunder Mountain, as Bandimere Speedway is known. Capps was glad to share his thoughts about the track. Capps drives the Pennzoil Synthetics/NAPA AUTO PARTS Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat for Don Schumacher Racing.
“Obviously it's something you hear everybody talk about it and everybody knows how difficult it is,” Capps said. “You kind of prepare for it in the offseason, as crew chiefs and crew members, you just put aside what you think you're going to run as far as parts and your approach well before the normal season starts, you’re already thinking about what you're going to have. A lot of the crew chiefs put that stuff aside because it's the only place you run certain parts. It’s the only place you make an approach like you do it at Bandimere.”
And, Capps has done plenty of learning since his early days of competing at Bandimere Speedway.
“As a driver there’s things you learn quickly and then there's things that you mentally retain once you become a veteran and you've been there a few times,” Capps said. “It never fails that you'll have somebody either first time racing the nitro car there, or any car for that matter, that ends up putting in the sand because they think with the uphill shutdown area that you're going to have plenty of time to slow down and make the turn. But what they don't realize is the parachutes, they don't have a lot of air to grab when you’re at this altitude.
“So, if you're on top of the parachutes and you are lackadaisical about getting your car stopped thinking that that uphill is going to help you, you're in a world of hurt because you will put in the sand. The first session somebody does that, especially somebody new. Little things like that you learn from experience, and I think I did it when I first started driving.”
Engine sound also is completely different on Thunder Mountain as Capps explained.
“I was always bred on not trying to hurt parts,” Capps said. “I started driving for these teams that rely on you having a good feel for the car. The thing about Bandimere is the car never sounds great. At idle, during the burnout, and especially during the run. It doesn't sound like it's happy. But that's just normal. So, you have to put that out of your head because normally if a car sounds like it does during a run at Denver, you would shut it off because you would think something is wrong. It's very hard for the drivers because you're not used to the sound that it makes up here on the mountain.”
Capps has made his share of laps at Bandimere he thought weren’t good, but he was pleasantly surprised with the results.
“I have an in-car video that I'm going to post (Friday afternoon) from a couple years ago (at Bandimere),” he said. “We made the run, and it was the No. 1 qualifier, I think we ended up being No. 2. But I almost shut it off. And I even said so, you can hear me in my helmet saying that in the shutdown area because it just sounded like crap. It felt okay but at the same time I'm thinking, ‘oh my gosh, I don't want to burn parts up.’ That's it just a great example of what things are like when you come to this race and conversely you have to take that out of your head when you go back to (the Sonoma, (Calif.) Nationals, July 23-25), and you've got a few days before you get in the car at Sonoma and it is completely different when you come from up here down to the first run in Sonoma.”
Capps, who won the 2016 NHRA nitro Funny Car world championship, had to make a transition this season when his longtime crew chief Rahn Tobler retired.
John Medlen and Dean Antonelli were named co-chiefs for Capps’ Funny Car.
“I'm having a great time,” Capps said about working with Medlen and Antonelli. “I've been blessed to be around really great crew people. With all things considered in fact, (Friday) I talked to Rahn Tobler on the phone twice. He’s going to help Jason Rupert out in Pomona. He had a few questions about me and my driving because he wanted to relay that and make sure that he was on the same page with Jason because he’s setting that car up a lot like our car used to be set up. Just little questions here and there and it was kind of neat for me to have him asking me questions instead of me calling him to ask him questions.
“I'm really enjoying the team that I have. Guido has obviously been a long, long, long time friend. So, to have him as a crew chief it's really cool. I figured I was going to have a chance to work with him sooner in life, but it just never happened. Unforeseen circumstances put us together but to have him and John Medlen, it's so much fun to really prepare for a race day. I've been really lucky throughout my career to be able to race with crew chiefs that were fun to be around, even though they were serious, and they raced hard, and Guido and John are the same way. They make it enjoyable, and they make it fun. But we've had a great time.”
This season, Capps has put together an impressive qualifying report card, having earned a ‘top five’ qualifying position – including two poles – through the first seven events of 2021, and is looking to break through for his first win of the year. He’s fifth in the season points standings.
“We’ve qualified top five of every race with two poles,” Capps said. “So, the cars been there, it's just a win waiting to happen. Too many good people on a team not to know it's going to happen soon. So, just being patient and trying to keep doing what we're doing, and we’ll be all right.”
There are three qualifying sessions at Bandimere – two at 8 p.m. (MDT) – which hasn’t gone unnoticed by Capps.
“It is unique because of that and plus we're going to have, I think, a 14-car show,” Capps said. “So, there is going to be bye runs either first round or second round much like it was in Epping (N.H.). So, there's a little more emphasis on trying to qualify better but I mean I can't say that we're going to try any harder than we normally do. You definitely know that you want to go for it because the sessions to run well, are definitely Friday night and of course Saturday (night). Saturday night, Funny Cars run after dragster so we're going to get better air than we would Friday because we run before (Top Fuel) on Friday.
“But that's a great question and a good point because we're going to go from those great conditions that we won't see again to 92-plus degrees on Sunday in the middle of the day. So that's where it pays off to have the crew chiefs like Guido and Medlen. Guido's worked under Austin Coil for many years, and he didn't get dumb working under Austin Coil, and he took a lot of experience and a lot of what he does are things that I see that he learned from Austin Coil. It's a lot of fun to watch Guido, watch his mentality and the way he approaches this race car. I love going up for qualifying and swinging for the fence and that's what Guido likes to do when the conditions are good. So, it'll be fun.”
Capps was solid Friday night qualifying No. 3 with a 3.986-second lap at 318.09 mph.
JOHN FORCE LOOKS TO IMPROVE SATURDAY – Legendary John Force has been to the top of Thunder Mountain.
Unfortunately, he didn’t get there Friday night in Q1. Force slowed to 8.131 seconds and his son-in-law Robert Hight came in at 15.372 second, leaving them No. 11 and No. 12 in the qualifying ladder.
Force and his PEAK / BlueDEF PLATINUM Chevrolet Camaro SS team have a chance to secure the Funny Car Championship points lead at Bandimere Speedway this weekend. Sitting in second by only 53 points, the No. 1 spot is in reach for the 16-time world champion.
Force and his Daniel Hood and Tim Fabrisi led PEAK / BlueDEF team steadily worked their way to dominating the Funny Car field.
They kicked off the 2021 NHRA Camping World Series season with a quarterfinal finish at the season opening Gatornationals. At the first four-wide event of 2021 at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway,
Force would qualify No. 2 and at the NHRA Southern Nationals at Atlanta Dragway, Force and his PEAK / BlueDEF team would make their 257th final round appearance. Force earned his 161st No. 1 qualifying position before continuing his dominance into race day at the NHRA Four Wide-Nationals at zMAX Dragway and coming out with his 152nd national event victory. Force then tallied his second win of the season, 153rd of his career at the NHRA New England Nationals. At the most recent event in Norwalk, Force qualified No. 4 and had a quarterfinal finish.
“It’s been a good season. This PEAK Chevy has been running really well. Daniel Hood and Fabrisi, they have a handle on it,” Force said. “I just have to get out there and do my job, and that’s not easy with all these young guys out there running against me. I’ve got to work hard to keep up with them. It’s working so far.”
POLLACHECK IS QUITE FAMILIAR WITH BANDIMERE – Scotty Pollacheck finished a career-best third in NHRA’s Pro Stock Motorcycle world standings in his Buell that’s part of Matt Smith’s Racing team.
“We have all kind of been on a roll, especially Matt,” Pollacheck said. “Everybody has been running well and everybody's went rounds, everybody's won races. We just kind of want to keep that same thing rolling. Everything's been going pretty well. Can't complain about that.”
Pollacheck is third in the points standings on the strength of one win at Atlanta and two semifinal runs.
Pollacheck has not only raced at Bandimere in the Pro Stock Motorcycle ranks, but also on an electric-powered motorcycle – the KillaCycle, which was the world’s quickest
“We used to run the electric bike, the electric bike lived here (it was based in Denver),” Pollacheck said. “So, we used to rent the track and test here all the time. I started riding (the KillaCycle) in 2000. We were the quickest, fastest, anything electric on the planet for probably a decade.”
So, when Pollacheck arrived at Bandimere Friday it brought back fond memories.
“We’ve filmed shows, TV shows, all kinds of stuff here with it (the KillaCycle),” Pollacheck said. “This has always been a cool place for us to come back to.
We did MythBusters. We had a deal on the Today Show. The motorcycle was really, really famous all over the world because it was quicker and faster than anything on the planet back then that was electric. Everybody in the electric realm of things wanted to know about it, see it. We went
to Iceland with it, we went to New Zealand with it, all over the U.S. It was a really cool program.
“It’s definitely different (at Bandimere). I love it here. It’s awesome.”
Pollacheck knows Bandimere Speedway offers a challenge to crew chiefs in his case Matt Smith.
“It’s easy for me because it's not a whole lot different just actually being on the bike and riding it,” Pollacheck said. “That's a nightmare for the tuners. That's Matt’s job. He's got to worry about that part of it. But for me, just riding it, it's not a way big different thing. It's cool running at night. Something kind of different. We don't usually get to run in the dark so that's kind of fun.”
Pollacheck does appreciate the role he’s in now as a championship contender.
“Well, one of the biggest differences is that when I come to the racetrack or I talk to somebody like you, I never get asked anymore ‘When are you finally going to win a race?’,” Pollacheck said. “It definitely gives you confidence knowing that you've done it before it and that you can do it again. And so then after the first one, winning the second one in Atlanta was like, okay, we'll now we're not a one-hit wonder. Finishing third last year, going into the last race in second place and having a shot at the championship, that's kind of a rare position for us. It was nice to know that we're good enough that we could be there at the end and have a shot at it.”
Pollacheck has a simple approach moving forward.
“You don't want to worry too much about the points,” Pollacheck said. “Just focus on doing your job turn on as many win lights as you can and see where everything shakes out at the end.”