Seven NHRA Camping World Series pros and one more in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series ranks have pulled off the elusive sweep of the three events held in Denver, Sonoma, and Seattle on consecutive weekends that have been a tradition on the NHRA tour since 1989. The feat has a high degree of difficulty with one of the events being at the high altitudes of the Rocky Mountains and the other two in coastal climates. It requires versatility along with three races worth of mistake-free racing.
The difficulty in mastering the combination at the Mile-High City cannot be emphasized enough. At this coming weekend’s Dodge Power Brokers NHRA Mile-High Nationals, nitro teams will pull out racks of rods and pistons that have been shelved since the last time they visited Bandimere Speedway, spin their blowers hard, and utilize wing angles that compensate for the thin air. They pull out all the stops with the engine combination to make the clutch think it’s at sea level in order to perform as such.
In Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle, which have no power adders such as superchargers, the engines are destined to lose power in the atmospheric conditions, so teams make up as much as they can in the drivetrain with shorter transmission and rear-end gears and setups they don’t use at any other track.
More than a decade has passed since a Pro driver last swept all three races of the Western Swing. No professional driver has swept the Western Swing more than once. It has occurred five times in Top Fuel by five different drivers and only once in Funny Car and Pro Stock. (Pro Stock Motorcycle has never been contested at the Seattle event.) Consider how dominant Bob Glidden, Warren Johnson, Erica Enders, and Greg Anderson were during some of their championship seasons, and it is amazing that Anderson’s 2004 sweep was the only time it has ever happened in the factory hot rod category — same with John Force in Funny Car.
The following is a look at the elusive club of drivers who have swept the Western Swing.
Joe Amato (1991, Top Fuel)
The first five-time Top Fuel world champion always brought something special to Denver, whether Tim Richards was tuning him as he did during his 1991 sweep of the Western Swing or Jimmy Prock did years later when Amato set a track record of 4.58 in 1999 that was never broken during the quarter-mile era. Amato faced big challenges in 1991 from former Funny Car champions Kenny Bernstein and Don “the Snake” Prudhomme and running the table at the Western Swing helped pad his lead enough to keep them at bay during his second of three consecutive titles.
John Force (1994, Funny Car)
Coming off his most dominant season until his all-world 1996 campaign, Force donned a Chevy Lumina body on his Austin Coil-tuned hot rod. At the first two events of the Western Swing, John Force qualified No. 1 and defeated the late Chuck Etchells in the final round. The Sonoma final was particularly captivating with Etchells outrunning Force, 5.12 to 5.14, but Force eking out a holeshot win by a .001-second margin. Etchells ended Force’s No. 1 qualifying streak in Seattle but couldn’t go the distance on Sunday. Force met another one of his biggest antagonists in the final, Al Hofmann, and won the race to make it three in a row.
Dan Fletcher (1994, Super Stock; 2013 Super Stock/Stock)
Fletcher is the only Lucas Oil driver to sweep the Western Swing and the only driver to do it twice, period. He did it in Super Stock in 1994 and in Super Stock and Stock in 2013 by winning Denver in Stock, Sonoma in Super Stock, and doubling up in both categories in Seattle (pictured). The win in 1994 was a life-changing feat: The coup from winning all three events enabled Fletcher to quit his job at Xerox and becoming a touring racer.
Cory McClenathan (1997, Top Fuel)
McClenathan may not have won a season title, but he had one of the most dominant calendar years of racing from his Denver wins in 1997 and 1998 with 11 wins during that span. The Mike Green-led McDonald’s team owned by Joe Gibbs turned on the wick during the Denver win in 1997 that kicked off four consecutive victories. The rally wasn’t enough to unseat points leader Gary Scelzi, but they fought hard to the end. McClenathan’s crew featured future tuners such as Mike Neff, Brian Husen, Dickie Venables, and Joe Barlam.
Larry Dixon (2003, Top Fuel)
During his first of two straight championship seasons and the height of the “Beer Wars,” Dick LaHaie tuned Dixon in Don Prudhomme’s Miller Lite-sponsored dragster to wins at all three Western Swing events. Dixon ran the table at the first two events in Denver and Seattle by also qualifying No. 1 and setting low e.t. and top speed. Doug Kalitta took that away from Dixon during qualifying at the Sonoma event, but Dixon went on to win the race by defeating local favorite David Baca in the final.
Greg Anderson (2004, Pro Stock)
If you think that KB Racing is dominant this season, Anderson’s performance was downright suffocating his competitors in 2004. Anderson won 15 events, and three of them just so happened to be during the Western Swing. One factor that has prevented Pro Stock drivers from accomplishing the feat in years since is Allen Johnson’s performance at the Denver races. Johnson nearly pulled it off in 2011 with wins in Denver and Sonoma, but his streak ended in Seattle.
Tony Schumacher (2008, Top Fuel)
Like Greg Anderson in 2004, “the Sarge” won every race in sight in 2008, so why not the three events on the Western Swing, too? In the final season of his legendary run with crew chief Alan Johnson, Schumacher’s win in Denver started the longest winning streak in Top Fuel history. He won seven consecutive events and 31 consecutive rounds before he was finally beaten by J.R. Todd in the final round of the Dallas event.
Antron Brown (2009, Top Fuel)
The last time a Mello Yello driver swept the Western Swing was during the first season that crew chiefs Brian Corradi and Mark Oswald did the tuning chores on the Matco Tools dragster. The team was put together by Mike Ashley that offseason before being absorbed by Don Schumacher Racing late in the year, and they had wild success with six wins. Brown held the broom handle by completing the sweep in Sonoma.