Sunday news and notes from the Dodge Power Brokers NHRA Mile-High Nationals
On Saturday, final eliminations for the popular Mile-High No Time/Big Tire Shootout was held and Lance Knigge emerged the winner with his turbocharged ’67 Chevy II. The event, presented by PSCA and sponsored by Pit Mat USA, Diamond Cattle Company, On the Hook Towing, Magnafuel and Junkyard Jenny’s Quality Used Parts, features some of the quickest street cars in the Midwest.
The format includes eighth-mile racing and no elapsed times are displayed on the scoreboards. Knigge outlasted a field that included the '55 Chevy of defending event champ Shawn Fink, Kevin Guthrie’s ’62 Bel Air, Nick Johanns’ ’10 Camaro, Brett Meyer’s ’69 Mustang, Kyle Gardner’s ’68 Camaro, and Brandon McBride’s ’06 Corvette.
“Today was tough,” said Knigge, who resides in Casper, Wyo. “We fought the car. We’ve had motor problems at every race this year but it was awesome to finally pull off a win. It sucks to have a bye [in the final] but we worked hard to make it through the weekend so we’re happy.”
More than two hours before the first pair of Top Fuel dragsters was scheduled to fire, a number of crew chiefs anxiously paced the starting line at Bandimere Speedway, carefully checking each lane and measuring adhesion. It was also hard not to notice that the cloud cover that had been present for much of qualifying has been replaced by blue sky and the ambient temperature is significantly higher than it has previously been. Given the dramatic change in the weather, it's easy to believe that there will be some pedal-fests in the nitro classes and there may well be a few upset winners today.
In spite of the warm conditions, Shawn Langdon actually improved on his qualifying time during his round one win against Greg Carrillo. Langdon improved from a 3.901 to a 3.891 in his DHL dragster after Carrillo smoked the tires at half-track.
Langdon came into the Denver event ranked No. 7 in the Camping World standings with a 9-9 record in elimination rounds. He was a runner-up two races ago in Bristol, where he also won in his Super Comp dragster.
The Denver races is famous for upsets in Top Fuel but low qualifier Brittany Force was having none of that in her opening round race against Terry Totten. Force, who took over the top spot in Q4 with an impressive 3.75 run, wheeled her Flav-R-Pak dragster to a 3.800 to cover Totten, who was competitive with a 4.059 effort. Force has led the championship standings since Las Vegas but was pushed to No. 2 after Mike Salinas won in Norwalk.
Leah Pruett was solid during qualifying and that trend continued in eliminations where she wheeled her Dodge Power Brokers dragster to a win against Antron Brown in a battle between the No. 10 and No. 11 ranked drivers in the class. Pruett ran a 3.910 to outdistance Brown’s 4.189. She will race against Clay Millican in round two. Team owner Tony Stewart made it to Denver late last night after winning the SRX event at I-55 Raceway in Missouri.
The OMG moment of the first round came in round one where four-time world champion Steve Torrence lost to Austin Prock on a massive holeshot. There was daylight between the two dragsters off the starting line and Prock never looked back in a 3.92 to 3.86 win that wasn’t as close as the numbers would indicate. The reaction time numbers told the story with Prock’s .065 light well ahead of Torrence’s .226.
“It was trucking along and spun about 500 feet,” said Prock. “That Capco team is best crew and driver combo of this era and to beat them in first round is unbelievable.”
For his part, Torrence acknowledged to NHRA top end reporter Jamie Howe that he was simply distracted on the starting line, something that rarely happens.
Given the conditions, John Force’s 3.977 easily qualifies as one of the best runs of the rounds. Force, who recently won his 1,400th round of Funny Car competition, easily defeated Jim Campbell in Jim Dunn’s Dodge. Force has won eight times in Denver, including three-straight from 1994-96.
The Denver event seems to produce more than it’s fair share of upsets and the lastest came when veteran independent Jack Wyatt took out low qualifier Matt Hagan in round one. Hagan’s Dodge Power Brokers Dodge lit the tires at half track and that was all Wyatt needed to win his first elimination round since the 2009 Brainerd race. Hagan tried to recover, but his 4.91 was well behind Wyatt’s 4.18 to 4.913. Wyatt came into the Denver race with eighth career round wins but he’s going to add two more because he’ll get a bye run in round two.
An early red-light by Alexis DeJoria sent Tim Wilkerson to the second round. DeJoria left with a -118 reaction time, allowing Wilkerson to move on with a competitive 4.031. Afterwards, both drivers admitted that there was a longer-than-usual wait for the Christmas Tree to activate.
“It was a long light, so I don’t blame her a bit,” said Wilkerson “I pressed on the gas five times before the Tree finally came on. It was terrible. I heard her leave and I thought either she’s early or I’m late. Thankfully she was early.”
Bo Butner racked up a much-needed round win at the expense of reigning champ Greg Anderson, who is still in search of his elusive 100th victory. Butner ran a 7.015 for the win after Anderson pushed in the clutch before the finish line.
Butner’s Johnson’s Horsepowerd Garage team tested extensively in Tulsa before their trip to Denver and were encouraged by the results. Butner noted that the team returned to a shock absorber package that they’d previously used in pre-season testing.
In Norwalk, all three Cuadra family members lost via red-light starts. The Corral Boots team got one back in Denver when Fernando Cuadra Jr. advanced on a red-light by rookie Camrie Caruso. The foul start notwithstanding, the race was a great side-by-side affair with Cuadra’s 7.002 winning against Caruso’s 7.007.
Fernando Sr. wasn’t as fortunate as he red-lighted again in his race against Chris McGaha, who was solid with a 6.990 in the Harlow Sammons Camaro.
Cristian Cuadra faced a tough battle against 2021 Rookie of the Year Dallas Glenn. Cuadra was almost perfect off the starting line and held on for a 6.986 to 6.983 holesot. The Cuadra brothers will race each other in round two.
The upsets continued in Pro Stock where Mason McGaha handed Erica Enders just her fourth defeat of the season. Enders did absolutely nothing wrong with a competitive .022 light and a 6.951 that was the quickest run of the round. That wasn’t enough to hold off McGaha, who cut a great .002 light and made his best run of the weekend with a 6.965.
“We ‘ve been struggling on the mountain,” said McGaha “I’ve never been here before as a driver. And I struggled with my lights. I tried to get amped up like I always do and it worked out.”
As for Enders, it was hard to find the disappointment as she missed out on another chance to win at Bandimere Speedway.
“I don’t think I can properly relate that,” Enders said after top end reporter Jamie Howe asked her about her level of frustration. “I set up my clutch linkage to be between .017 and .023 and I was. It was just a sad, sorry loss but we’ve got five more Elite cars in the field.”
You like holeshots and upsets? There were more than a few in Pro Stock Motorcycle. Jerry Savoie dealt a tough blow to Steve Johnson’s championship chances with a 7.19 to 7.17 holeshot victory. Savoie was sharp off the starting line with a .002 light while Johnson was tardy with a .068.
Marc Ingwersen, who has racked up quite a few win lights recently, earned another one with a 7.24 to 7.21 holeshot win against Karen Stoffer. Earlier this year, Ingwersen made back-to-back semifinals in Richmond and Bristol and he’s solidly in the Top 10.
The Vance & Hines team still has work to do in order to catch Matt Smith but Eddie Krawiec’s 7.148 in his round one win against Kelly Clontz was certainly a step in the right direction. Krawiec was one of the few racers in any pro class that actually improved upon his qualifying time. The four-time world champ and four-time Denver winner will race Joey Gladstone in round two.
There was high drama in the first pair of Top Fuel in the quarterfinals when Clay Millican’s Parts Plus dragster would not fire for her match against Leah Pruett’s Dodge entry. Pruett’s team quickly loaned their starter to Millican, who was able to make the race after an abbreviated burnout. The end result was an entertaining race as Pruett went to her second-straight semifinal with a 4.05 to 4.19 win. Both dragsters were out of power before the finish line but Pruett’s momentum carried her through.
Josh Hart cut a solid .036 light and then followed through with a 3.907 to take out low qualifier Brittany Force, who dropped cylinders, resulting in a lengthy oil-down. The semifinal showing comes on the heels of a final round finish in Norwalk that moved the R+L Carriers team from eighth to sixth in the standings.
“I’ve been given an awesome race car and my job is to do my job and lately I haven’t been at 100 percent. My guys have been very patient with me. It’s beautiful up here. I mean, who puts a race track on top of a mountain? This is epic.”
“This place is so tricky,” added crew chief Ron Douglas. “You just take your best shot and let the chips fall where they may.”
It wasn’t pretty, but Robert Hight is going to the semifnals after beating Tim Wilkerson. Hight slowed to a 4.253 at just 260-mph, but the win light shone in his lane after Wilkerson got loose and tagged one of the finish line cones with his Levi, Ray, and Shoup Mustang. Hight has now been to the semifinals or better at eight of the 11 races held this season.
As usual, Hight’s crew chief, Jimmy Prock was unfazed, noting that “We’ll just take some power out of it for the next round and come back and try again.”
With leader Matt Hagan on the sidelines, there is a chance for everyone else in Funny Car to gain ground and no one understand that better than Bob Tasca III, who punched his ticket to the semifinals following a critical quarterfinal win against Ron Capps. Tasca, the No. 6 driver coming into the race, used a 4.22 to win after Capps’ NAPA Toyota knocked the tires loose at half-track.
Tasca also has an excellent chance to make the final as he’s got a date with Jack Wyatt in the semifinal
"On Sunday, you do whatever it takes," said Tasca "I'm just glad its is the first race of Western Swing and not the last. This is crazy with the crew chiefs making changes right up to the last minute."
The semifnals are set in Pro Stock and there is a decent chance that someone will get their first win of the season. Of the four remaining drivers; Aaron Stanfield, Troy Coughlin Jr., Matt Hartford, and Cristian Cuadra, only Stanfield has a win this season.
Stanfield was the low qualifier and he’ll be tough to beat especially after his 6.997 win over Bo Butner in the quarterfinals. Stanfield, however didn’t have the quickest car in the second round. Troy Coughlin Jr. ran 6.988 after Chris McGaha shook the tires and Cristian Cuadra was even quicker with a 6.987 when he defeated his older brother Fernando Jr.
Matt Hartford got the job done with the clutch pedal when he delivered a 6.99 to 6.98 holeshot win over Mason McGaha in the quarters. Surprisingly, Hartford had not been past the second round at any race this season.
Nobody should think that Joey Gladstone’s recent runner-up in Norwalk was a fluke but just in case, the Reed Motorsports rider is back in the semifinals in Denver. Gladstone was particularly impressive with his 7.151 that beat Eddie Krawiec in the quarterfinals. Gladstone grabbed a slim lead at the start and won the race by just .009-second. He’ll race Angie Smith in the semifinals.
For the second time in as many years, Leah Pruett will race in the final of the Dodge Power Brokers NHRA Mile-High Nationals. Following her runner-up finish to Steve Torrence last year, Pruett returned to the final after stopping Justin Ashley in the semi’s. Pruett left with a .015 reaction time, and then powered to a 3.879 after Ashley hazed the tires.
There will be a first-time Top Fuel winner this season as Shawn Langdon will race against Pruett. Langdon, who went to the final in Bristol, used a 3.900 to hold off Josh Hart’s 3.925. Langdon defeated Pruett in their only heads-to-head match this season at the Houston event in April.
Bob Tasca III and the Motorcraft Quick Lane team will race in back-to-back finals after their win over Jack Wyatt in the semifinal round. Tasca managed to avoid an upset with a 4.034 that easily outdistanced Wyatt’s shut off 4.75.
“We didn’t come here to get sunburned. We’re gonna win the race,” said Tasca’s father, Bob Jr.
In order to win, Tasca will have to defeat the same driver who he lost to in Norwalk, Robert Hight. The Auto Club driver defeated his boss, John Force, on a holeshot, 4.041 to 4.033. Hight has defeated Tasca all four times they’ve raced this season.
Aaron Stanfield is one round away from a clean sweep in Denver as the low qualifier is in the final round for the sixth time this season. Stanfield, a winner in Phoenix and Bristol, won the semifinals against Troy Coughlin Jr. with a 6.986. Stanfield has now appeared in the final of the last four events.
Matt Hartford will have lane choice in the final with a 6.973 after beating Cristian Cuadra, who fouled by a thousandth of a second in the semi’s. Cuadra threw away the quickest run of the round with a 6.967.
After losing the final round in Norwalk, Joey Gladstone will have another chance to win his first professional event, but he’s got a tall mountain to climb in order to make that happen. Gladstone defeated Angie Smith in the semifinals, 7.194 to 7.216, but not he’s got to beat the “other” Denso Buell of Matt Smith.
Smith, the five-time world champion, has been unstoppable this weekend with a string of track record performances. Smith ran a 7.121 in the semi’s to beat Angelle Sampey. Smith also recorded the first 190-mph run at Bandimere Speedway with a 190.05 blast.
Final round results: Mile-High magic for Denver champions Pruett, Hight, Hartford and Smith
LUCAS OIL DRAG RACING SERIES RESULTS
Tyler Wudarczyk def. Bill Jenkins
John Brimer def. Jay Storey
Marty Simpson def. Todd McCann
Kris Whitfield def. Ray Schonemann
TOP DRAGSTER presented by Vortech Superchargers
Chandler Thyssen def. Daria Vang
TOP SPORTSMAN presented by Vortech Superchargers
David Scutt def. Wade Keifer