MORRISON, Colo. – As Jack Beckman prepares to defend his Funny Car victory in the Mopar Mile-High NHRA Nationals at Bandimere Speedway, he hopes he can draw some inspiration from his outstanding effort there one year ago to perhaps ignite a spark in what has so far been a somewhat lackluster 2013 campaign.
The defending Funny Car world champion, who claimed his first Funny Car series title in dramatic fashion last season, has had a bit of a sluggish title hangover through the first half of the season, his lone bright spot a runner-up finish at Englishtown.
“We’re disappointed to be this far into the season and only have one runner-up finish and no wins,” said Beckman, who is sixth in the standings. “We feel like we’re in a good position, but the points are really tightly packed from third to eighth. The competition has been so good that it is a great effort if you can make it to a final.”
He and his Valvoline/MTS Dodge Charger team, led by crew chief Todd Smith, are determined to pick up the pace as the tour kicks off the famed Western Swing, July 19-21 at the scenic dragstrip that sits in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, 10 miles west of downtown Denver. Indianapolis-based NHRA teams will travel more than 5,300 miles roundtrip in three consecutive weeks, racing in Denver, Sonoma, Calif. and Seattle during the Western Swing.
Racers in all four categories in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series will roll into Bandimere Speedway, situated at an altitude of 5,860 feet above sea level, to compete at one of the most challenging venues they will face during the season.
Antron Brown (Top Fuel), Allen Johnson (Pro Stock) and Eddie Krawiec (Pro Stock Motorcycle) join Beckman as the defending winners at the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series event, which will be televised on ESPN2 HD (qualifying Saturday, 10 p.m. ET; eliminations, Sunday, 6 p.m. ET).
Last season at Denver, Beckman raced to the No. 1 qualifying position and then took the race victory by outrunning Courtney Force in her Traxxas Ford Mustang in the final round.
“Our confidence going in there is up based on our performance last year,” Beckman said. “After the Western Swing you only have two races left before the Countdown, so there just isn’t any room for anyone to stumble. If you do, you’ll find yourself on the outside for the Countdown.”
Beckman has a nice record at the mile-high facility. He also won at Denver in 2007 and was runner-up there in 2008. Beckman says while the track requires a totally different tuning manual, he says he really enjoys racing there given Bandimere’s distinctive set of characteristics.
“Denver is all about survival,” Beckman said. “As a driver and a fan of our sport I love it. The challenge to run in the high-altitude is a great one. The scenery is gorgeous and the whole atmosphere is so unique to our sport relative to all the other events. However, as a crew chief I would hate it. The crews have to change so much on the cars to run in those conditions it is just incredible.”
Perhaps the change of pace that Bandimere provides is what Beckman and his team needs to shake things up and get back on the winning track. Beckman says the one ingredient that has been missing to put him into the winner’s circle this season has been a just a handful of luck on Sunday.
“We just need a little good race day fortune,” Beckman said. “We haven’t had that this year. Some of our best runs, we’ve had cars in the other lane that ran just a little quicker. Drag racing is funny that way. Sometimes you can make a run that’s not your best and win, and then you can run your best and get beat.”
Which points to the incredible level of competition in the category. Series points leader Matt Hagan has won three times in his Magneti Marelli Charger and Johnny Gray has claimed four victories in his Pitch Energy Charger. Multi-time world champs John Force and Cruz Pedregon have also been winning races, as has Ron Capps and Force’s daughter Courtney.
As teams start to move into position to grab one of the 10 available spots for the Countdown to the Championship playoffs, only 120 points separate third place Pedregon from eighth place Tim Wilkerson. That difference could be made up in one race, so big position moves by drivers in the standings have become quite common this season and more are anticipated as the final five races of the regular season unfold.
Beckman says the competition is so tight, that there just isn’t enough room in the top 10 for all of the quality teams who are capable of winning races.
“Dynasties in this category are a thing of the past,” Beckman said. “We’ve seen a couple of teams put some nice winning streaks together and others win a bunch of races in the last few seasons, but those cars didn’t win the championship either. The depth in the class is just so stunning right now.”
In Top Fuel, Shawn Langdon will take his one point lead in the standings into the event striving to secure his fourth win of the season and his first NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series world championship. Tony Schumacher, second in points, along with a surging Doug Kalitta, defending event winner Brown and most recent category winner Khalid alBalooshi will all vie for wins at the Mopar Mile-High NHRA Nationals.
Two-time Denver Pro Stock winner Mike Edwards became the first racer of the year to clinch a berth into the Countdown to the Championship with his four season wins and will be looking to continue his dominance on the field. Defending world champ Allen Johnson, a four-time Denver winner, Jeg Coughlin, Jason Line, Greg Anderson and Vincent Nobile are all looking for wins in Colorado.
Riders to watch in the Pro Stock Motorcycle category include series leader Hector Arana Jr., a three-time winner this season, red-hot Michael Ray, who has won two races recently, Norwalk winner Matt Smith, Epping champ John Hall and Scotty Pollacheck, who is a win waiting to happen. The Screamin-Eagle Vance & Hines team of defending world champ Eddie Krawiec and three-time champ Andrew Hines, have local ties in the area and also will be among the pre-race favorites.
In addition to three days of intense racing, there will be loads of family-fun activities in celebration of Bandimere Speedway’s 55th anniversary. On Thursday, July 18, fans are invited to attend the tradition-rich Mopar Block Party in Downtown Golden from 6-10 p.m., featuring a live band, car displays, and a driver autograph session.
There are also spectacular jet car runs on Friday night and a special “Go Red for Women Track Walk” on Saturday morning prior to racing at 8:30 a.m. to bring awareness to heart disease. The Track Walk gives fans the chance to walk the same track where NHRA drivers race at speeds of more than 300 mph and are joined by some of NHRA’s favorite drivers. The experience is free for all Saturday ticket holders.
As always, every ticket purchased for the Mopar Mile-High NHRA Nationals is a pit pass, which offers fans an extraordinary look behind the scenes in the world of the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series. This unique opportunity in motorsports gives fans direct access to the teams, allowing them to see firsthand the highly skilled mechanics “twirl the iron” between rounds, and enjoy some cherished face time with their favorite NHRA drivers.
Mello Yello Series qualifying begins on Friday, July 19 with the first session at 5:15 p.m., followed by another session under the lights at 7:15 p.m. When 8,000-horsepower nitro machines blast off from the starting line with their header pipes full of flames during night qualifying, the scene provides one of the most sensory-filled experiences for any race motorsports fan.
The final two qualifying sessions will take place Saturday, July 20 at 1:45 p.m. and 4:45 p.m. Final eliminations begin at 11 a.m. on Sunday, July 21.