DieHard Race Week Start-Up, Denver
Thursday, July 19, 2012
Wow! I can’t believe it is time once again for the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series’ heralded Western Swing. I am constantly amazed at time and how it just seems to go faster and faster every year. I guess this Go Full Throttle or Go Home! motto we have has real-life applications as well!
Having said that, we kick off the 24th version of the Swing with perhaps the biggest test that man and machine face, the Mopar Mile-High NHRA Nationals. For the statisticians in the group, the altitude at Bandimere Speedway begins at 5,800 feet. Said another way, oxygen is a little thin. Add some heat into the mix, and the next thing you know, your machine thinks that it is running at almost twice that height. And if you’ve never been, it is not only a mental test for the men and women to make their machines go fast, but it also is a physical one; you’ll notice just walking around the racetrack.
So why is this race loved by so many? The Bandimere family! They will be the focus of our Nitro Generation piece on this weekend’s ESPN2 broadcasts. In 1958, John Sr. purchased the land, and more than 50 years later, John Jr. and John III (aka “Sporty”) take great pride in the continuation of his dream. They are a full-service promoter that makes sure racers and fans all have an enjoyable experience. From their Race to Read (an elementary-school reading program that encourages literacy with race-themed incentives) to the annual Mopar Block Party (a fan fest complete with NHRA stars, music, and food on Thursday from 6 to 10 p.m. in scenic downtown Golden, Colo.), they really know how to take care of people. And by the way, the Block Party is free to the public.
Trust me, this weekend is worth the visit. Tickets can be had by calling 800-664-UWIN (8946) or by visiting Bandimere.com.
For those not fortunate enough to have Denver on their itineraries, here is the lineup for televised coverage of the 33rd Mopar Mile-High NHRA Nationals (all times ET):
Live second-session qualifying: Friday at 10 p.m. on ESPN3
Full qualifying recap: Saturday at 5 p.m. on ESPN2
Live final eliminations: Sunday at 1 p.m. on ESPN3
Eliminations recap: Sunday at 7 p.m. on ESPN2
What else do you need to know? How about the fact that this is the 13th of 17 regular-season races, which means that, including this one, only five events remain to qualify for the Countdown to the Championship. While many will start clinching a spot for the six-race playoff stretch this weekend (check out NHRA.com for all the points), I would direct your eyes to drivers at or around 10th in the standings, which is the cutoff point following the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals presented by Auto-Plus. Who is that?
In Top Fuel, Brandon Bernstein is in ninth with a three-round cushion over Clay Millican and Bob Vandergriff Jr., who are in a dead heat for 10th. Terry McMillen, who has said he must make the Countdown this year, is five rounds back in 12th. Khalid alBalooshi, who is still looking for his first round-win in Top Fuel, is still within six rounds of 10th. Many, including myself, agree that when that happens, it could open the floodgates to a lot more. But time is running out … only 20 rounds of racing are left!
In Funny Car, three rounds of racing separate sixth (Bob Tasca III) through 10th, and who would have guessed that the 15-time world champion John Force would be the man in the 10th spot? Tim Wilkerson is two rounds back in 11th, then it's Alexis DeJoria and Matt Hagan, both of whom are six rounds behind the cutoff line. You read right -- Hagan, the defending Funny Car world champion, will need to get hot and stay hot just to have a shot to defend his title.
I might not have the sharpest pencil, but if I was Pro Stock’s Ron Krisher, 10th in the standings, I’d keep adding as many points as I could because lurking, just four points behind entering this weekend, is Jeg Coughlin Jr. Larry Morgan is right there, too, in 12th. Two other stories in the naturally aspirated category include Grace Howell parting ways with Jim Cunningham’s Ford team and the two 20-somethings who have won the past two Pro Stock races (Erica Enders in Chicago and Vincent Nobile, who doubled up in Norwalk, winning the K&N Horsepower Challenge and the event).
Pro Stock Motorcycles will also climb the mountain in Colorado this weekend, and the question is still to be answered: Who is going to stop the Vance & Hines Screamin’ Eagle Harley-Davidson team? Andrew Hines’ win in Norwalk was his second straight and third overall and the sixth straight this season for the team, which also features Eddie Krawiec, and eighth consecutive for the pair dating back to last season. Three rounds of racing separate seventh (Michael Ray) and 10th (Shawn Gann). Steve Johnson is two rounds out of the top 10, and John Hall is three rounds back.
Your defending event winners in Denver are Spencer Massey (Top Fuel), Force (Funny Car), Mike Edwards (Pro Stock), and Karen Stoffer (Pro Stock Motorcycle). And as far as sweeping the trio of races known as the Western Swing, it’s only been done seven times (check us out on ESPN2 this weekend for the list). By the end of this weekend, only three will have the opportunity this year (Pro Stock Motorcycle does not race in Seattle).
Time to take a deep breath … it’s time for the Mopar Mile-High NHRA Nationals! See you there!