Kicking off the annual ‘Western Swing,’ the ground-shaking machines of the NHRA flew down the quarter-mile at Bandimere Speedway in Morrison on Sunday as drivers made their bid for the coveted NHRA ‘Wally.’
The first of a three-race, three-week string on the West Coast for the professional tour, the Mopar Mile-High Nationals has been a routine stop for the National Hot Rod Association in Funny Car, Top Fuel, Pro Stock Car, Pro Bike and sportsman categories for the past 38 years. Mopar is the longest running contingent sponsor for a single race in the NHRA.
Just as the altitude presents challenges for athletes in sports, racing at altitude brings many new challenges for drivers, making Bandimere Speedway one of the most unique race tracks around the country.
Less air to cram into motors means major changes to fragile and extremely sensitive car setups. To compensate, NHRA teams spin ‘blowers,’ devices on these race cars just a little faster than usual, just like you would turn up the air conditioning on your unit when it gets hotter. This can result in big explosions and blower belts shredded on the daily. Aerodynamic wings on race cars are also adjusted to compensate for the difference in air and environment.
In Top Fuel, Leah Pritchett finished qualifying in the No. 1 spot with a blistering 3.73 at 326 MPH and rode her hot-running Papa John’s dragster all the way to the final. However, Pritchett, who came into the race second in points, ran alongside Antron Brown, who dominated the race track for his 48th win in Top Fuel. Brown went 3.79 at 319 MPH in the final and collected his Wally for the Matco Tools dragster.
“Lemme tell you something about Bandimere,” Brown said. “This family has been one of the back-bones for this sport for many, many years. When we come out here, it’s just this culture and what the Bandimere family has done, not just for this race track, but for our sport, and that’s why we love coming out here and putting on a great show.”
Funny Car featured a pair of racing veterans in Tommy Johnson Jr. and Robert Hight. Hight fired off a strong pass in the finals, covering the 1,000 feet in 3.99 at 317 MPH, denying Johnson Jr. the win. The win was Robert Hight’s 38th of his career.
Pro Stock Car’s final featured another top qualifier in Drew Skillman. Skillman, who had gobs of horsepower all day long, beat Bo Butner in the final. Skillman went low E.T. of the event with a 6.91 at 198 MPH in the race for the Wally. After the strong Denver performance, Skillman spoke about his teams chances at a ‘sweep’ of the Western Swing.
“Absolutely,” Skillman said. “When we tested, that’s when I knew we had something. We go one race at a time, right now we’re the king of the hill but we still have Sonoma left, then Seattle.”
“Those guys are hardcore, that’s what the sport is about. Those fans are why we’re here” Skillman said about the Bandimere faithful.
Pro Bike featured Eddie Krawiec and Matt Smith. Krawiec was the top qualifier after Saturday night, but also knows how strong the competition is on the mountain. “There’s no easy bikes to battle” said Krawiec, who won for the 38th time in his career over Matt Smith, riding his Screamin’ Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson.
Krawiec flew down the Bandimere quarter-mile, turning off the clocks with a 7.14 at 188 MPH in the final round, one of the quickest times Bandimere has ever seen in Pro Bike.
“This is my favorite track. I love coming to Bandimere” Krawiec said. “There’s something special about Denver. I don’t know what it is. It’s the scenary, everything. It’ such a cool place to come. This race is a special race.”
Krawiec came into Denver second in points and won for the fourth time at Bandimere in his career.
In the sportsman ranks, Dan Fletcher, arguably the greatest bracket-racer in NHRA history, won his class to collect his 101st Wally in the lower ranks, while Colorado locals Bradley Johnson won in Super Gas, Troy Grant won in Super Street, Randy Cruickshank won Top Sportsman and Kris Whitfield won in the Super Comp class. Whitfield, out of Littleton, defended his championship at the Mile-High Nationals, who won the event in the same class in 2016.