The first half of the 2017 NHRA season featured five doubles at national events, but that remains a rare feat that has only occurred 38 times by 24 different drivers. In Denver, Kris Whitfield pulled off a feat that is even more rare when he won back-to-back Super Comp titles. Making the win even more extraordinary is the fact that Whitfield raced fellow Denver-area resident Gary Wamboldt in both final rounds and managed to win both of them. A year ago, Whitfield got the best of Wamboldt in a close double-breakout final round. This time, Whitfield grabbed a big lead at the start and won with a 9.544 on the altitude-adjusted 9.50 Super Comp index. Afterwards, Whitfield was asked if he thought it was possible to duplicate his 2016 success.
“I didn’t have any feelings like that,” he said. “Honestly, I was going around telling people ‘What are the odds, really? What are the odds I could do this back to back?’ This weekend, I just feel like we overcame the odds.”
Since Whitfield lives in the Denver suburb of Littleton, Colo., he gets plenty of practice racing at Bandimere Speedway, and he’s very familiar with the nuances of altitude racing. Not surprisingly, Whitfield’s dragster was flawless over the three-day event. Whitfield also did his part on the starting line with six competitive reaction times. During the last two years, he has won 12-straight rounds in Denver, and his worst light has been a .030. Going back to his third-round finish in 2015, Whitfield has a stout 14-1 record in elimination rounds at his home event.
“This car hasn’t thrown me any curveballs for a long time,” Whitfield said. “It was dead on all weekend. That’s exactly the kind of car you need to have in order to win one of these races. Racing Gary in the final for the second-straight year, he overcame the odds to be there, too. I’ve raced Gary a lot of times, and I have so much respect for him.
“Other than the packed stands, I tried to treat this like any other race,” Whitfield said. “Sometimes, it’s better if you don’t think about [your opponent]. I try to block it out. I don’t want to think that last time it was my turn, so maybe, it’s his turn now. It was just an incredible race.”
The best of the rest: Super Comp champ Whitfield has won just two national events in his career, but Comp champ David Rampy, Super Stock winner Dan Fletcher, and Stock victor Kevin Helms have now combined for an astonishing 203 wins. The other champions crowned at the event were Bradley Johnson (Super Gas), Troy Grant (Super Street), Randy Cruickshank (Top Sportsman presented by Racing RVs.com), and Brad Basgall (Top Dragster presented by Racing RVs.com).
Fletcher celebrated his milestone 100th national event win two weeks ago in Chicago, and Rampy appears destined to join that fraternity sooner rather than later. Following his final-round win over Jesse Oman’s B/DA, Rampy is now the owner of 96 national event Wallys. Rampy hadn’t made the trek to Denver in a decade, but he was able to successfully adapt his Skillman Auto-backed A/EA to the unique track conditions to secure the victory. After a bye run and a couple of foul starts by his opponents, Rampy’s only true race was the final, and he came through with a (-.620) 7.720 for the win. In the battle for the championship, Rampy is also the current leader and he’s got a perfect score going with three national event wins and three NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series victories.
It took Fletcher nearly eight months to go from 99 wins to 100 but only 14 days to bag No. 101 when he earned the Super Stock title in Denver. Returning to the seat of his familiar Peak Camaro, Fletcher picked up the win when opponent Justin Jenkins broke out by two-thousandths of a second in the final. Fletcher later admitted that he’d made a mistake at the finish line but somehow got away with it. Of his 101 wins, eight of them have now come at Bandimere Speedway. Fletcher is also the only Sportsman driver to sweep the Western Swing, a feat he has accomplished twice. He will now have a chance to do it again when the tour heads to Sonoma and Seattle in the next two weeks.
With his fourth Stock win of the season, Helms now enjoys a sizable lead in the battle for what could be his fifth NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series championship. Helms bagged his second national event title of the season and 26th of his career when he drove the Southland Dodge Challenger to a holeshot win against the J/SA Camaro of first-time finalist Scott Wells. Helms now has 654 points, a gaudy total which is 114 points more than second-ranked Jerry Emmons. Helms also has ample room for improvement should he need it. Like Fletcher, Helms also has a solid résumé in Denver, including his Super Stock/Stock double in 2005.
Former Jr. drag racer Johnson earned his first national event win in Super Gas after stopping Morgan Minor in the double-breakout final. Johnson, aided by a .009 light, won with a 10.464 to Minor’s 10.432 on the 10.50 index. It was Johnson’s second final round in Denver in the last four years counting his runner-up finish at the 2014 race. Johnson was also a runner-up earlier this year at the NHRA Division 5 Lucas Oil Series event in Great Bend, Kan.
Another Denver champ who was blessed with a short drive from home was Super Street champ Grant, who resides in Golden, Colo. Grant’s final-round battle against John Bianco’s ’55 Chevy was a memorable race. Grant left first .005 to.034 and held on for the win with an 11.553 after Bianco broke out by a thousandth of a second with an 11.499 on the 11.50 Denver index. Grant had previously won the Denver event in 2002 and the fall Las Vegas race in 2015, but he also has a pair of final-round losses in Denver in 2005 and 2007. He has now boosted his final round record to an impressive 3-2.
Cruickshank, another local who hails from Wheat Ridge, Colo., scored his first national event title in Top Sportsman after Bud Preuss fouled in his ‘69 Camaro. Cruickshank didn’t leave much room for his opponents with four solid reaction times during eliminations, including a very competitive .011 in the final. Historically, Cruickshank competes in just one NHRA national event each year, and he managed to make it count with his first win.
Top Sportsman champ Cruickshank made it to the third round in Top Dragster before losing to eventual champ Basgall via a foul start. Basgall went on to win the title with a coasting effort after opponent Jason Covington ran into a mechanical issue in the final. Basgall, who was making his first national event appearance of the season after a pair of early-round finishes at Lucas Oil Series events, scored a big win in the second round when he topped former Division 5 champ Phil Unruh.