Even for racers in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series, racing in the high altitude of Bandimere Speedway can be a big challenge, but Justin Jenkins and Gary Riley were able to not only conquer the elements in Denver but also their opponents en route to wins in Super Stock and Stock, respectively. For Jenkins, who resides in Nebraska, the win was the fourth of his career and second in Denver, and Riley, in his lumbering ’74 Pontiac wagon, earned the Stock title for the first time in his career.
Jenkins and Riley received their hard-earned NHRA Wallys alongside fellow Denver champs Mitch Mustard (Super Comp), Todd Nielsen (Super Gas), Tony Stark (Top Dragster presented by Racing RVs), and Greg Lair, who successfully defended his 2018 Denver title in Top Sportsman presented by Racing RVs.
Jenkins, who has a pair of Topeka wins to his credit in 2005 and 2016 to go with his 2008 Denver victory, did a stellar job behind the wheel of his GT/GA Cobalt with a couple of near-perfect reaction times in eliminations. Jenkins was .006 and .004 off the starting line in his wins over Carroll Warling and Henry Sliwinski to earn a bye run into the Super Stock final. Facing the clean ’69 Camaro of NHRA National Dragster contributor Brenda Grubbs, Jenkins remained sharp with a .011 light and a 10.369 on his 10.31 dial. Grubbs, who also made the late rounds in Stock, cut a very respectable .023 light but broke out at the finish line. [video]
Riley’s lumbering ’74 Pontiac station wagon was one of the slowest cars in Stock, but the 13-second Poncho was also one of the most consistent. Riley downed Division 5 champ Chris Chaney early in eliminations and later stopped Randy Hyman to reach the final. Paired with Dwaine Davis’ ’74 Firebird in the final, Riley got a big lead at the start and was able to coast to the win with a 13.247 o his 13.17 dial for the victory. Riley opened eliminations with a pair of .010 lights to earn a bye in the quarterfinals, where he was perfect off the starting line with a .000 light. He missed the Tree in the semifinals but ran right on his 13.18 dial to make up for it. [video]
Mustard joined his daughter, Trisha, as a national event champion after driving to the Super Comp title against Dale Maher. Racing on an altitude-adjusted 9.50 index, Mustard left first and won on a holeshot, 9.550 to 9.528. Mustard, a runner-up in Denver in 2014, also beat Blake Johnson, Jay Bunce, Michael Miller, and Shannon Nicolletti to reach the final. Mustard’s best performance came against Miller, where he came out on the winning end of a close 9.514 to 9.515 battle, in a race decided by four-thousandths at the finish line. [video]
In 1994, Nielsen defeated the near-unbeatable Scotty Richardson to win the Super Street title in Topeka and a quarter-century later, he returned to win a second national event title in Super Gas in Denver. Nielsen, in his ’90 Firebird, put together a solid run in the final that included a .018 light and a 10.511 on the 10.50 Bandimere index while opponent Kevin Moore was close behind with a .032 light and a 10.520 in his ’34 Chevrolet roadster. Nielsen got to the final following a quarterfinal victory against Michael Miller and a semifinal win against Ethan Conyers, who fouled. [video]
Stark made it to his first national event final in Top Dragster presented by Racing RVs and then scored his first Wally by stopping Adam Chiodo for the title. Both drivers were solid off the starting line, and Stark, in his Undercover chassis dragster, turned on the win light with a 6.802 on his 6.73 dial after Chiodo slowed. Stark’s path to the final included wins against Fred Jaramillo, Josh Herman, and Dan Fletcher, who fouled by a thousandth of a second. Greg Christensen and his daughter, Elizabeth, both reached the semifinals in Top Dragster but came up short in their bid for a father-daughter final round. [video]
A year ago, Lair won his third national event title in Top Sportsman presented by Racing RVs when he beat Monte Green in the final. Lair was able to successfully defend his 2018 title after stopping Monte Weaver in the final round. Lair defeated Wade Kiefer, Allen Firestone, and Jim Thorp to reach the final and then sealed the deal with a 6.999 on his 6.96 dial in the final against Weaver, who crossed the finish line first in his ’63 Corvette but broke out by five-thousandths. In addition to his four national event wins, Lair was also a runner-up in Denver in 2013. [video]