NHRA - National Hot Rod Association

Mile-High magic for Denver champions Pruett, Hight, Hartford and Smith

Leah Pruett, Robert Hight, Matt Hartford, and Matt Smith kick off the annual Western Swing with convincing wins at Bandimere Speedway.
17 Jul 2022
Kevin McKenna, NHRA National Dragster Senior Editor
Race coverage
Denver winners

A Western Swing sweep is perhaps the most elusive prize in all of Camping World NHRA championship drag racing and following the final rounds of the Dodge Power Brokers NHRA Mile-High Nationals, only Leah Pruett, Robert Hight, Matt Hartford, and Matt Smith, are still eligible to reach that lofty goal.

Pruett claimed her first win since the 2021 season-opener in Pomona, but more importantly, she scored her first win as a member of Tony Stewart Racing, the team assembled last winter by her husband, the NASCAR Hall of Famer. Pruett has struggle at times this year, but she was among the performance leaders in Denver with her Dodge Power Brokers dragster and has now solidified her spot in the Top 10.

The final was anticlimactic as Pruett was awarded a single run after Shawn Langdon’s DHL dragster was shut off after putting fluid on the starting line during the burnout. Not content to take it easy, Pruett finished the job with a 3.884, 316.38 to make it official.

“This is everything,” said an emotional Pruett. “This being the Dodge Power Brokers Nationals we brokered that Dodge power all week long. My crew has been flawless all weekend long and couldn’t be more proud to do this in front these Denver Fans. I’ll say two things; this view never gets old. Also, this is the first Top Fuel win for Tony Stewart Racing and that will also never get old.

“As far as Shawn goes, he’s really good,” Pruett said. “I know we might not be the most compatible people in terms of personalities. I hated when I lost to him in the [2020] Indy final but no matter what happened in other lane I had confidence in our team. We ran 3.88 in the final and that would have been hard to beat.”

Pruett was solid in Denver from the first qualifying session to the final. She was third quickest in the field with a 3.777 and then drove to wins against Antron Brown, Clay Millican, and Justin Ashley. Pruett’s win over Ashley was perhaps her most impressive as she cut a .015 light and also ran a 3.879 in the warmest conditions of the weekend.

Hight has been a beast this season with his Auto Club Camaro and has now won five of the season’s first 11 races. The four-time world champion ran his season record to an impressive 30-6 after stopping Bob Tasca III in the final round. Hight didn’t have lane choice but powered to a 4.065 for the win after Tasca shut off early in his Motorcraft Quick Lane Ford.

“I don’t know if I’d call it dominance. There are still a lot of good race cars out here,” said Hight. “Last year was the worst Denver race ever. We never went down the track here bit Jimmy [Prock] and Chris [Cunningham] had a year to digest it. This time, we went down track everytime and we got a little quicker and quicker.

“We raced smart today,” said Hight, who now has 58 career wins. “We could have pushed it a little harder in round one and we might have been in same boat as Hagan and smoked the tires. To have five wins this time of the year is amazing. Five wins total is a successful season. To have that many half-way through season is incredible but the next 11 are the ones that really count. I’d like to get to 60 this year. I don’t think that’s out of the question.”

In addition to his wins in Pomona, Phoenix, Richmond, and Norwalk, Hight also has runner-up finishes in Epping and Charlotte. In Denver, Hight was in the thick of the battle from start to finish as he qualified No. 2 with a 3.928 and then

For most of the 2022 season, Matt Hartford and his Total Seal team have insisted that they are better than their record showed and in Denver, they proved with a victory to kick off the Western Swing.

Racing against low qualifier Aaron Stanfield in the final, Hartford did exactly what he needed to with a .004 reaction time and his best run of eliminations, a 6.967. Stanfield was alongside Hartford for much of the track, but faded before the finish line after his engine reportedly turned sour.

Hartford, who hadn’t been past the quarterfinals in any of the previous eight races this season, now has five career wins in Pro Stock.  

“We came here in 2019 and should have won but Greg [Anderson] had a better car,” said Hartford. “This Total Seal Camaro is coming around and I’m starting to drive better. Aaron is mean. His car is fast and he’s another one of the best drivers in the class. At the last race the Elite camp got mad at me. I appreciate their games against me. This time, he went in and staged He went in and staged immediately. As soon as I pre staged, they told him to go in.

“That .004 light in the final; I’m gonna borrow a line from Jason Line and say my foot must have slipped off the clutch,” Hartford said. “I’m still looking at the time slip and a 6.96 in these conditions. That’s bad ass. We wouldn’t have turned it around without the assistance of the KB guys. This deal isn’t over yet. We’re coming.”

There aren’t many certainties in drag racing or life for that matter, but after Friday’s opening qualifying run, Matt Smith as the last man standing on Sunday would have been about the closest thing imaginable to a sure bet.

In what was easily the most dominant performance of his career, Smith dominated from start to finish. Trading his Suzuki for last year’s trusty Denso Buell, Smith finished off the rout with a 7.097 to rout Joey Gladstone’s game 7.163. For good measure, Smith also re-set the track speed record at 190.22 mph while riding to his 34th career win.

“As for the decision to run a Suzuki, we just don’t have all the parts and pieces we need to have a backup. Instead of taking a chance on hurting it, we brought out last year’s Buell. It’s the bike that won this race last year and it paid off. We qualified No. 1, won the race, and set both ends of track record. I can’t ask for much more than that. I hate to put it back up in the trailer, but I might just do that and save it for countdown if I need it.

“I really wish I’d have run [wife] Angie in the final but something happened to her bike in the semi’s. Her bike slowed up, but Denso took the win and that’s most important. Today, Joey [Gladstone] ran a 7.15 and Eddie [Krawiec] ran 7.14 so they were fast. They just missed the tune-up a little. The Suzuki’s will be better up here next year. I guarantee it.”

Smith topped the qualifying charts with a 7.090, the first sub 7.1-second run by a Pro Stock Motorcycle at Bandimere Speedway. He enjoyed a full six-hundredths cushion over the No. 2 qualifier, his wife, Angie.

Smith never let up on race day with dominant wins against Marc Ingwersen, Angelle Sampey, and Gladstone, who was appearing in his second-straight final.