After a one-year absence, the hills surrounding Denver’s Bandimere Speedway reverberated with the sound of nitro engines as the NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series returned for the Dodge/SRT Mile-High NHRA Nationals. During Friday’s thrilling under-the-lights nighttime qualifying session, Steve Torrence, Matt Hagan, and Matt Smith turned in the quickest performances in Top Fuel, Funny Car, and Pro Stock Motorcycle respectively.
The atmosphere at Bandimere Speedway, especially during a nighttime qualifying session is electric, but the track also has a reputation as one of the most challenging venues on the Camping World NHRA Drag Racing tour. That certainly proved to be the case on Friday, especially in Top Fuel, where full runs were at a premium.
Torrence, the winner of the most recent Denver event in 2019, was the only Top Fuel driver to make a full run but it was a thing of beauty with the Capco Contractors dragster lighting up the scoreboards with a very competitive 3.777 at 327.11 mph. Torrence, who has been the No. 1 qualifier at three of the first seven events this season and has not been ranked lower than fourth at any event this season.
Joey Haas, driving the Totten Racing dragster, collected the first qualifying points of his brief career when his 4.054, 259.56 held up for the No. 2 spot in the field. Totten outran a number of tour regulars including Antron Brown, who is third-quickest with a 4.180 at 269.78 in his Matco Tools dragster.
A number of other runs ended prematurely with tire smoke and/or tire shake but past Denver finalist Leah Pruett never got to make a run after her Dodge-backed dragster had a throttle pedal malfunction during the burnout. The official Top Fuel debut for Pro Stock and Pro Mod driver Alex Laughlin will also have to wait an extra day after his Havoline dragster was shut off on the starting line.
After running the table last season, the Don Schumacher Racing Funny Cars are surprisingly winless this season but they’re off to a great start in Denver with Hagan and teammate Ron Capps both solidly in the field. Hagan, driving the Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat to a 3.966 to grab the provisional pole. Hagan who was also the top qualifier in Epping is in search of his 42nd career low qualifier award.
Hagan ran alongside teammate Capps and both Dodge’s put on a show for the fans with header flames over the roof from start to finish. Capps’ scoreboard rang up with a 3.986 for the No. 3 spot on the grid. The DSR teammates were split by Alexis DeJoria, who posted the first three-second run of the event with a 3.982 in her ROKiT/Bandero Premium Tequila Toyota.
Given the tricky conditions that define Bandimere Speedway and the rare nighttime qualifying session, it wasn’t a surprise to see some of the top Funny Car contenders smoke the tires including points leader Bob Tasca III, who is carrying a special color scheme from Olympic PPG and Liquid Nails. Teammates John Force and Robert Hight also failed to make it to the finish line under power and the same goes for Gainesville champ J.R. Todd.
Coming off a win at the Summit Racing Equipment Nationals, Smith continued to show he has arguably the best bike in the field. The reigning world champ reaffirmed that notion on Friday in Denver with a 7.145 aboard his Denso Buell. In the last pair of the evening, Smith was initially outrun by Norwalk runner-up Steve Johnson, but Johnson's run was disqualified due to a technical infraction.
Andrew Hines settled into the No. 2 position after riding his Vance & Hines Buell to a 7.205 while SMith's wife, Angie Smith is solidly in the field with a 7.210 on her Denso Buell.
The E3 Spark Plugs Pro Mod Series is making its first official appearance at Bandimere Speedway so not many people knew what to expect when it came to predicting performance. Not surprisingly, Steve Jackson was able to figure out a tune-up for the thing Denver air and drove his Bahrain1 Camaro to a 6.038, 234.29 to lead the field. He’s got a slight lead over Brandon Snider (6.055) and Khalid alBalooshi (6.064).