The first day of qualifying at the Dodge Power Brokers NHRA Mile-High Nationals took place before a sell-out crowd under a bright blue sky at Bandimere Speedway. During the 65th anniversary of the historic facility, Dodge Direct Connection Funny Car racer Matt Hagan, Antron Brown (Top Fuel), Erica Enders (Pro Stock), and Hector Arana Jr. (Pro Stock Motorcycle) nabbed provisional poles in their respective classes.
Hagan's 3.895-second pass at 324.59 mph missed resetting the Bandimere Speedway track record for elapsed time – a record set by Courtney Force in 2017 – by just six-thousandths of a second. The driver of the Dodge Direct Connection Funny Car is also holding down the points lead in the class after reaching the final round in Norwalk, the most recent event, and he's looking to seal the deal on the 50th No. 1 qualifier award of his career.
"It's an emotional weekend with Dodge having a long, continuous sponsorship here at Bandimere, and the thought of not coming back here is kind of tough," said Hagan, addressing the fact that this event will be the last held on Thunder Mountain. "But we're putting on a strong showing at the Dodge-sponsored event and we just have to finish strong throughout the whole weekend, not just qualifying. At the end of the day, [crew chief] Dickie Venables put a great tune-up underneath me, and my guys put together a great car, and I got to drive the wheels off of it.
"It was a great crowd out here tonight, and it was unbelievable to do a burnout, back up, and look up and see everybody up against the fence and in the stands. It was just a special moment. At the end of the day, I'm just excited to be here. I'm trying to take in every lap and every moment. You want to make it count this weekend, and that's what we're out there trying to do."
John Force, the most winning driver on the mountain, made a strong 3.920 run for the No. 2 position, with Bob Tasca III and Robert Hight No. 3 and 4, respectively, with a set of 3.94s. Tim Wilkerson's 4.00 was good for the No. 4 spot for now, while reigning champ Ron Capps is No. 6 (4.01), Alexis DeJoria is No. 7 (4.10), and Alex Laughlin is No. 8 (4.20).
In Top Fuel, Antron Brown began an impressive rebound from a first-round loss in Norwalk. His 3.78 at 327 in the Matco Tools Toyota dragster vaulted him to the No. 1 position. Las Vegas winner Brown was most recently the No. 1 qualifier at the New England Nationals, and although he exited early in that event, he raced to the final round at the Bristol Dragway Thunder Valley Nationals. Here in Denver, he has a pleasing record with three event wins in the oxygen-starved conditions that make tuning tricky.
"Everything is different on the mountain," said Brown. "When you leave the starting line, it takes off smooth, but then you know if you have power – the car will either start marching or labor flat. But that run there, it felt real good. We got to half-track and I felt that thing was lit on all eight, I felt it arch up, and I was like, oh we're on a run. I looked at the scoreboard and saw that 3.78 and I said, oh there we go. That's the run we've been looking for.
"After testing at Indy last week, this was a true testament. Coming to Bandimere on the mountain will show you if you have power or not. That run showed we have some power, and we're looking forward to tomorrow and getting some more runs down the track."
Doug Kalitta made a very good run for the No. 2 spot (3.79), as did Steve Torrence, whose 3.80 has him No. 3. Leah Pruett put her Dodge Direct Connection rail in the No. 4 position on a 3.81, and Clay Millican's 3.81 was good for fifth.
Greg Carrillo was spectacular in the first round of qualifying and recorded a 3.83 at a career-best 324.75 in his first run of the season. With Rip Reynolds on the wrenches, Carrillo was No. 6 after the second session. Shawn Langdon landed No. 7 on a 3.83, and Josh Hart is No. 8 on a 3.85.
Enders, driving her Johnson's Horsepowered Garage Chevrolet Camaro, was No. 5 after the first session but held top speed with a 6.987, 196.42 pass. In the second session, she rocketed down the quarter-mile to a 6.919 at 195.70 that beat out Norwalk winner Matt Hartford's 6.919, 195.34 on speed.
"We went up to Wisconsin for C-Tech Manufacturing and had a match race up there – it was all in good fun, but for myself, I wanted to work on some things with my clutch pedal and bell housing to try to get better on the tree," said Enders. "You can't really get ready for this race unless you come to Denver and test, because it's the only track with these atmospheric conditions. It's super challenging up here on the mountain but I'm really excited for our performance so far.
"I always say I don't care about the No. 1 position, but it's kind of one of those ego boosters for our entire team, especially on a Friday night session, to mow the scoreboard over and post that No. 1 position."
If it holds, it will be the 52nd No. 1 of Enders' career. Her most recent start from the top spot was in Bristol just two races ago, and there she won the event. The former Jr. drag racer is also competing in Mountain Motor Pro Stock at the event, as is her team owner, Richard Freeman. Freeman, who won the first Mountain Motor Pro Stock race of the season, is currently the No. 1 qualifier, while Enders is No. 2 in the alternate Pro Stock category.
Points leader Dallas Glenn is No. 3 in the line-up with a 6.921, and Troy Coughlin Jr. is No. 4 on a 6.923, 196.67 that was top speed of the day. Greg Anderson is No. 5 (6.927), Camrie Caruso is No. 6 (6.946), Jerry Tucker is holding down the No. 7 position (6.956), and Denver native Deric Kramer rounds out the top eight with a 6.959.
Norwalk winner Arana Jr. spoke at the most recent event of building momentum aboard his GETTRX Buell, and he showed it on Friday at Bandimere Speedway as he clocked low elapsed time in the first session and then followed up with a powerful 7.047 that reset the track record for elapsed time. If he retains the pole after Saturday qualifying, it will be the 23rd No. 1 of Arana's career and first of the season.
"Q1 was an awesome run, and we definitely saw that there was room for improvement," said Arana. "We made the adjustments for the tune-up, and I tell you what. The second I popped the clutch, the bike left so hard I knew I was on an awesome run. I knew as long as everything else did what it was supposed to do the rest of the run, it was going to be fast. It was so awesome to run off the track and get that ticket, I was in shock. I was like, am I looking at the right thing?
"It means everything to hold a track record. Hopefully, we can keep it and be the last one with a record on the mountain. There are still some fast bikes out there, and there is another day of qualifying to go, but hopefully we can keep the No. 1 and improve on that number."
Chase Van Sant heads into the second day of qualifying in the No. 2 position (7.12), Angie Smith is No. 3 (7.13), Eddie Krawiec is No. 4 (7.13), Gaige Herrera is No. 5 (7.14), Ryan Oehler is No. 6 (7.17), Steve Johnson is No. 7 (7.24), and Matt Smith completes the top eight (7.25).