Drag racing in Denver is different

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NHRA roars into Denver, Colorado this weekend.

Racing in Denver isn’t easy for the NHRA Mello Yello pro drag racers. It’s a difficult hike from most shops in Indianapolis and it’s the start of the Western Swing, with events on succeeding weekends at Denver, Sonoma and Seattle. Very seldom is there a broom-sweep for winning all three events and the Pro Stock Motorcycle contingent contests only two of those three, not taking on the Seattle event.

The air in Denver ­ well, outside Denver in the foothills of Morrison, Colorado at Bandimere Speedway ­ is difficult for unaccustomed humans to breathe, much less the nitro­fed monsters that contest Top Fuel and Funny Car. What’s normally a 10,000­ horsepower (estimated, no dynamometer can test these things) engine is emasculated. Trying to get into the “3s” in Denver is very difficult for the Funny Cars; attempting a 1,000 ­foot pass under 3.8 seconds for Top Fuel is nigh on impossible. But these being racers, they’re certainly going to try.

This weekend, both daily qualifying sessions occur in the later afternoon or evening. That allowed, on Friday evening (which had later, cooler sessions), for track records to be broken in all four professional categories.

Hector Arana III, son of the 2009 Pro Stock Motorcycle champion Hector Arana, took top spot on Friday night on his family-­tuned Buell at 7.178 seconds at 186.72 mph, setting a track record for elapsed time (E.T.) in the process. He’s hounded by three-­time champion Andrew Hines and defending event winner Shawn Gann. Arana III was the runner­up at this track last year. “The motor is running really strong,” he said. “Hopefully we can keep this momentum; the track is awesome.”

That set the tone for the King of Bandimere Speedway, Allen Johnson to do the same in Pro Stock qualifying, taking his Dodge Dart to a top time of 6.928 sec at `98.90, both track records as well. Johnson has won five Pro Stock event titles at this track in the last seven years with seven straight final round appearances and four consecutive No. 1 pole positions. That’s why he’s the king of this particular mountain, even when racing against regular nemesis and point leader Erica Enders­Stevens, who lies third behind Jason Line after two sessions, both of them driving Chevrolet Camaros.

And the true King of NHRA, John Force­ the 16-­time champion in Funny Car ­ kept his momentum going with his own track records in his Castrol Ford Mustang on Friday night, earning the provisional No. 1 with an oh­so­close to 3­sec 4.049 seconds at 318.39 mph on the thousand­foot dragstrip, both track records. Force lauded the Bandimere family’s installation of cooling under the initial concrete on the dragstrip for his quick time: “With the cooling system here, it just gave us confidence,” Force said. He’s hounded by son­in- law Robert Hight and veteran Tim Wilkerson, both driving Ford Mustangs as well. 

Seven­time NHRA Top Fuel champion Tony Schumacher set the low E.T. (elapsed time) in his class during Friday night’s flame­filled qualifying session at a track record 3.823 seconds, while Steve Torrence claimed the best speed of the day at 322.96 mph. Schumacher notes that “this is a tough place; it’s a different combination for up here on the mountain.” Torrence is second while former champ Larry Dixon lies third in the 16­ car Top Fuel class.

Many teams don’t make the trek for the Western Swing because it’s so difficult, logistically. Still, there are 18 motorcycles preparing to qualify for the 16 available spots, while Pro Stock’s 16 entries will make the field and only 15 Funny Car teams chose to come to Bandimere Speedway.

While the temps were fairly moderate on Friday, a massive heat­up is occurring Saturday and Sunday which can change everyone’s perspective and their tuning plans for the balance of this meet. While it’s not likely, if the heat continues, that added track records will fall, that’s why we hold these meetings ­ to see what happens. ESPN2 is showing Saturday qualifying and live racing on Sunday. If you can’t make your way to the Rocky Mountain foothills, grab a seat and a cool beverage and watch all the drag racing excitement from home.

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About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers John Force, Hector Arana Jr.
Article type Preview

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