It's been a hot weekend on the western outskirts of Denver, where the NHRA ran its Mopar Mile High Nationals on the Bandimere Speedway dragstrip. True, the conditions have been deplorable - yet the grandstands were full of enthusiastic race fans throughout the three-day meeting who came early and stayed late.
They were duly rewarded during final eliminations that saw Antron Brown beat new father Brandon Bernstein in a straight-up Top Fuel fight, running 3.957 seconds at 308.21 mph to Bernstein’s 3.959 at 307.58 - as cooler temps and threatening clouds moved into the area. This was Brown's third win of the 2012 NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series season and second here at Bandimere. Brown started his march to a Western Swing sweep here in 2009.
"When you come out here you have to tune it up on the racetrack and keep it living," Brown said. He had nothing but praise for the fans that came out even as they were grieving for lives lost in the nearby Aurora massacre: "The fans are feeling the same emotions that we are." Working with a new chassis at this race, he said his Matco Tools/Army team "checked the chassis maybe 15-20 times to make sure everything was right on the car.
"It was great to get to the finals; that’s when you know you did your job for the day." Of Bernstein he said, "Brandon has been searching for his first win with a new team and that car is back. They struggled for a few races before, but he ran a 95 in the final. We had a great ol' drag race."
To reach the finals, Brown handily beat Rob Passey, outran Bob Vandergriff and walked past a slowing Steve Torrence to face Bernstein. Top qualifier Spencer Massey was out in the semi's to Bernstein when the latter just ran past him.
Funny Car went to Jack Beckman, a star-crossed driver if ever there was one. A cancer survivor, Beckman has been with Don Schumacher Racing for a number of years, and has probably had more crew chiefs and cars than anyone in the paddock. We all know about synergy and team efforts, but Beckman overcomes just about anything.
Earning his second win of the 2012 season in the Valvoline NextGen Dodge Charger, he vanquished rookie driver Courtney Force with his pass down the 1000-foot dragstrip of 4.277 seconds at 293.79 to Force's 4.289 at 283.49. The No. 1 qualifier didn't have it easy on the route to his 14th career Funny Car victory. "Trying to make it up there for the semi-finals, we had to put a new throttle cable on the car and had a computer wire go bad on us on the warm-up" of the engine.
This was Beckman's second win here and he was excited to have two wins already in the season. "We worked perfect today and make it down the track (not everyone did) every single pass. We forced some of the other cars to try and beat us, and that's why we got the win lights. It's important to go up, own the tree and run your race," he said.
Working from the right lane all day long, Beckman had a single run when 16th qualifier Todd Simpson fouled out in the first round, easily beat Jeff Arend in the quarters and made the bell to defeat John Force in the semi-final round. He noted he'd signed the NHRA licenses for all three of Force's daughters and for his wife Laurie.
The Bandimere family might consider changing the name of their hill, currently known as Thunder Mountain, to Johnson Mountain. Pro Stock's Allen Johnson, who drives a Mopar Dodge Avenger for his family-owned team, always comes here prepared - as much as they possibly can be - to win the sponsor's race. Taking his third win in four finals this year, Johnson drove to a 6.951-second speed down the quarter-mile at 197.31, defeating local Dodge Avenger driver V Gaines, who needed 7.144 at 160.35.
"Practice makes perfect at this track." He comes out before the race to test every year and "from the test we developed a combination that works. To win on the 75th anniversary of Mopar is extra special and becoming the points leader (over Greg Anderson, who's led since the season began) is something else. It's tough to win against those Summit cars and I just love to beat them. I beat both of them (Anderson and reigning Pro Stock champion Jason Line) today."
He also noted that his finals competitor, V Gaines told him, "Thank you for giving me my dream come true with a Mopar final round in my hometown."
Johnson used the left lane for all phases of eliminations today and beat Paul Pittman, who rolled as he hit the walls on either side of the track after crossing the center, disqualification line. He emerged from his GXP in fine condition. Johnson then beat Greg Anderson and Jason Line to meet Gaines in the finals.
It was an all Harley-Davidson finale in the Pro Stock Motorcycle category with three-time champ Andrew Hines up against reigning and two-time titleholder Eddie Krawiec - and once again Hines fouled out, giving the Harley-Davidson V-Rod win to Krawiec. While Hines missed the light by -.002, Krawiec hung one at .009 en route to his 7.301-second pass at 182.28 mph. To meet his teammate, Krawiec overcame a better-starting Shawn Gann's Buell, won a tight one against 2010 champ LE Tonglet's Suzuki and knocked out the No. 1 qualifier, Hector Arana Jr.
It's been an all-Harley year in this class thus far with seven races run and Krawiec "never expected the season to go like this. We struggled this weekend on Friday and Saturday to keep up. The extra (20 pounds) weight hurt us and we really shouldn't have won but we dug hard and went after it," Krawiec said.
There was some reward for Hines, who joined Krawiec as Countdown to the Championship qualifiers.
Next weekend at Sonoma, CA all four Full Throttle Drag Racing Series categories are back in action.