Denver starts demanding three weeks for NHRA racers
Last month’s four races in four weeks was good preparation for the start of NHRA’s grueling three-race Western Swing, which takes this series on a hegira of great (literal) magnitude. Anne Proffit previews.
The series’ nitro-powered teams go from Bandimere Speedway just west of Denver to Sonoma Raceway in Sonoma, Calif., which encompasses all four professional categories, before heading further north to Pacific Raceways outside Seattle.
The elevation of Denver, more than 5,800 feet above sea level, can easily stymie even the most proficient tuners in the business, and the heat adds to the challenge. As reigning NHRA Top Fuel champion – one of only seven drivers to sweep the swing by winning all three races – Antron Brown notes, “We change almost everything on the car before we go to Denver, because the race requires a way different setup for how we run the car. We just have to land back on that combination and be competitive.”
With his three victories this season, Brown – who at Denver has won twice and been runner-up four times – sits atop the standings for the moment, but Doug Kalitta is just two points behind. Brown’s looking to retain that position through Indianapolis, which would give the two-time champ a 30-point lead heading into the Countdown to the Championship six-race playoff.
Perennial championship runner-up Funny Car pilot Ron Capps, who has scored four wins this season, has an impressive 126-point lead over Don Schumacher Racing teammate Jack Beckman, who earned his first victory of the year at Chicago two weeks ago.
Capps, who won Denver in 2009, and finished second on two occasions, commented: “Denver is the one race where you have extreme conditions with the altitude and it can be hot. We’ve lost some close races here, but I always feel we have a shot.”
Elapsed time records have been reset at 12 of 13 tracks this season – three times by Capps and his NAPA Dodge Charger R/T. “The conditions are so diverse on the Swing: high altitude and hot in Denver, sea level at Sonoma and then up to Seattle with all those trees that produce so much oxygen. Our crew will just have to adapt,” he said.
Bandimere Speedway in Denver has been Johnson Mountain to fans of Pro Stock as Allen Johnson and his Dodge products have pretty much owned the place for the last decade. Since arriving on the Pro Stock NHRA scene in 1996, “King of the Mountain” Johnson has earned six victories in 10 final rounds, losing to Larry Morgan last year after an intense staging duel. It’s going to be a bit more difficult for Johnson this year, as the category changed to electronic fuel injection and adjusted the wheelie-bar length.
The championship has been a runaway for the guys who bitched hardest about the changes, Summit Racing’s Jason Line and Greg Anderson, sitting atop the standings with a respective seven and six victories (in 13 races) this year. The pair tune each other’s Chevrolet Camaro, and believe they’re ready for this three-race challenge.
Line, who has never won at Bandimere, says: “We know what to expect in Denver, so it comes down to making sure we get the engines tuned right. There have been a couple times I thought I should have won at Bandimere, “so I would love to add this track to my list.”
In Pro Stock Motorcycle, you could say Harley-Davidson is King of the Mountain at Denver. Contesting their seventh of 16 total races in 2016, the Vance & Hines duo of Eddie Krawiec and Andrew Hines have won five races so far this year. The sole interloper has been three-time category champion Angelle Sampey, who earned the win at Englishtown, New Jersey in June.
One very interesting wrinkle in this year’s Denver race is the addition of live broadcast network coverage by FOX. While most NHRA races are available on FOX Sports 1 and FOX Sports 2, this year the Denver round marks the first time NHRA drag racing eliminations have been shown live on network TV. (FOX Sports 1 will show Friday qualifying live.)
The race is scheduled for 3-6PM EDT on FOX and will, hopefully, give fans a better idea of what actually goes on in the trenches and on the track. The only things missing from the telecast will be the overall noise of the cars and motorcycles and the scent of nitromethane, burning Goodyear rubber and the roar of an always-passionate Denver crowd.
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