For the last two legs of the Western Swing in Sonoma and Seattle, former Pro Stock champ Mike Edwards will pull to the line with a break from his well-known red and gray design to fly a new graphic design to recognize his partnership with K&N Filters.
“It’s been great to represent K&N for the past two seasons as a partner with our race team,” Edwards said. “Our marketing partnership has grown during that time, and we have put together a program for the Sonoma and Seattle stops to allow K&N to have a major representation on our Pontiac. As a team, we are proud to be associated with such a reputable company and be a major component in K&N’s strategic plan of marketing its products in the drag racing arena.“
The Pontiac GXP will be decked out with the K&N logo prominent on the door, with the company’s distinct color stripes running the length of the car, all on a black canvas provided by 1320 Wraps by Fineline.
“We work closely with the entire Pro Stock field through many of our programs, including the K&N Horsepower Challenge,” said Steve Williams, vice president of K&N Filters. “A few of the teams we have an even deeper relationship with through our engineering branch. Working with Mike and his entire crew has helped us in many areas, and he is one of the true professionals in the sport.
“We all know how good of a driver and tuner Mike is based on his record, but he is truly one of the best ambassadors for Pro Stock and drag racing for his work ethic and wanting to help move the sport forward and makes it a pleasure to be associated with.
“Through this relationship, we worked on doing a specialized design for select events to help our marketing campaign and to help further Mike and his team's shot at another championship,” Williams continued. “We are excited with the look he will roll out and fits what our company is trying to promote. Nothing would be better than for Mike to roll it into the winner’s circle in Sonoma and Seattle.”
Edwards has the same hopes for the new look. “We will hit Sonoma and Seattle with the new design and plan to carry K&N to a couple of winner’s circles," he said. "As a team, we are excited to do this for K&N and want to do them proud on the West Coast.”
Reigning Pro Stock Motorcycle champion LE Tonglet will ride onto the track for the 24th annual FRAM/Autolite NHRA Nationals at Infineon Raceway aboard a unique Autolite Suzuki GSX-R. The orange graphics, designed just for the race, will complement those of Spencer Massey’s FRAM/Prestone Top Fuel dragster.
“I feel great about riding the Autolite bike,” said Tonglet. “Being able to represent Autolite at the FRAM/Autolite Nationals is awesome. I just hope we can do well for them.”
According to Sean Lyon, senior product manager for Autolite, the feeling is mutual.
"We are very excited to be able to have such a rising star represent Autolite at our event and look forward to Autolite spark plugs playing a vital role in LE’s quest for a second consecutive NHRA world championship,” said Lyon.
Last season’s Automobile Club of Southern California Road to the Future (rookie of the year) Award winner is having a solid season, sitting fourth in the Pro Stock Motorcycle standings with two victories (Atlanta and Chicago) along with two No. 1 qualifiers (Houston and Atlanta) to his credit in the 2011 NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series season.
Del Worsham in Top Fuel and Mike Neff in Funny Car, who have led the Full Throttle points in their classes for much of the season, became the first two drivers to clinch spots in the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series Countdown to 1 playoffs as the result of racing at the Mopar Mile-High NHRA Nationals at Bandimere Speedway.
With their qualifying efforts Saturday, both assured their presence in the playoffs, which begin at the O’Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Nationals in Charlotte Sept. 15-18.
“This season just continues to be amazing,” said Worsham. “Clinching a spot in the Countdown is a big deal. Now our goal is to clinch the No. 1 spot heading into the playoffs. If that happens, it would be amazing.”
On Sunday, Top Fuel winner Spencer Massey became the third driver and second in Top Fuel to clinch a berth.
The 16-race regular season of the Countdown to the Championship runs through the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals presented by Lucas Oil Aug. 31-Sept. 5 and sets 10-driver fields for the six-race Countdown to 1.
Clinched spots (in order of clinch)
1. Del Worsham
2. Spencer Massey
1. Mike Neff
Spencer Massey raced to his third Top Fuel victory of the season Sunday at the Mopar Mile-High NHRA Nationals and in the process qualified for the Full Throttle Countdown to the Championship, NHRA’s playoffs.
John Force (Funny Car), Mike Edwards (Pro Stock), and Karen Stoffer (Pro Stock Motorcycle) also were winners at the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series event at Bandimere Speedway near Denver.
Massey powered his Prestone/FRAM dragster to a performance of 4.150 seconds at 269.67 mph to hold off seven-time world champ Tony Schumacher, who trailed with a 4.255 at 266.95 in his U.S. Army dragster. Massey became the second Top Fuel driver to earn a post-season playoff berth, joining current series leader Del Worsham.
Massey outran Brandon Bernstein, Shawn Langdon, and Antron Brown in earlier rounds to advance to his fifth final of the season and move to second in the points standings, 68 behind leader Worsham, who lost in the second round to Brown.
“I’m just ecstatic,” said Massey of his fifth victory. “I wanted to do well at this race, especially with our sponsor’s race in Sonoma being next week. Now, we get to go there with a full head of steam. The final round was kind of crazy because it started hazing the tires at the eighth-mile. I just kept my foot in it and hoped that our Gates belt held on. I never saw Tony. When I saw the win light, I started going crazy.”
John Force In Funny Car, Force won his first race of the season and the 133rd of his career when he took an automatic win light after final-round opponent Matt Hagan fouled at the start in his Mopar/DieHard Dodge Charger. Force finished in 4.361 at 285.23 in his Castrol GTX High Mileage Ford Mustang to claim his sixth win in nine finals at the scenic mile-high dragstrip.
In the first three rounds, Force raced past Tony Pedregon, series leader and teammate Mike Neff, and Jeff Arend to advance to his record 214th final round.
“Like the military, it’s all about teamwork, and we have great guys,” Force said. “[Crew chiefs] Dean Antonelli and Ron Douglas have been struggling, and Mike Neff and Jimmy Prock stepped in to help them. Robert Hight, the president of the company, even spoke up and told me, ‘It’s you. You have to get back in the game. Your head is hopscotching to the air show and the Indy 500 and every place you’re going. You taught me that you need to live it.’ He was right. I’m back in the game today.”
Neff, who became the first Funny Car driver to secure a Countdown playoff berth during the weekend, maintained his series lead, 192 points ahead of teammate Hight. Force climbed from eighth to seventh in the standings with his victory.
Edwards scored his third win of the season and 31st of his career by holding off Bandimere Pro Stock dominator Allen Johnson in the final round. Edwards ran 6.970 at 197.56 in his Penhall/Interstate Batteries Pontiac GXP in the final but ultimately wouldn’t need the strong performance because Johnson turned on a rare red-light at the start in his Team Mopar/J&J Racing Dodge Avenger.
“We got the Wally, but I believe that Allen Johnson is still ‘King of the Mountain,’ ” said Edwards, who beat Warren Johnson, Jason Line, and Larry Morgan to advance to the final round.
“It’s so sweet to come up here because the Bandimere family does such an awesome job, and the fans are great,” Edwards continued. “It’s such a privilege to come up here and race because it is such a unique place. We have to change everything from one end of the car to the other [to adjust for the increased] altitude, and it’s a game to see which team can make the best guesses and best choices and who can be ‘King of the Mountain’ for one year. I just give praise to God because this team is all about Him.”
With the win, Edwards trimmed Line's series lead to six points.
Karen Stoffer Stoffer ended a four-year winless drought in Pro Stock Motorcycle by speeding to her sixth victory with a 7.283 at 182.58 on her GEICO/Powersports Suzuki and held off fellow Suzuki rider Michael Phillips, who trailed with a 7.394 at 182.01 on his The Racers Edge-sponsored bike.
“Our main goal this season was consistency and to go as many rounds as available at each racing event,” said Stoffer, who beat Shawn Gann, Jerry Savoie, and Eddie Krawiec in the first three rounds. “If you do that and do it right, you’re going to get the win lights, and you’re going to get the Wallys. We had to wait and be patient. We went to three final rounds this year and had to wait until about mid-season before we could bring it home, but we finally made it happen.”
With the victory, Stoffer regained the series lead and moves 33 points ahead of Krawiec with three bike races remaining until the playoffs.
“We got the double whammy here by taking home the Wally and also getting in front of the points,” Stoffer said. “We’re now in control of our own destiny.”
The NHRA Full Throttle Series continues July 29-31 with the FRAM/Autolite NHRA Nationals at Infineon Raceway in Sonoma. The race is the second stop in the three-race NHRA Western Swing.
Friday: Worsham, C. Pedregon, Edwards, and Krawiec lead Friday qualifying in Denver
Saturday: Johnson's Mopar atop Denver Pro Stock field; Worsham, Pedregon, Arana also lead
With three of NHRA’s most famous legends – “Big Daddy” Don Garlits, Shirley Muldowney, and Don “the Snake” Prudhomme – scheduled to be on hand to celebrate NHRA’s 60th Anniversary season visit to Infineon Raceway, the 2011 FRAM/Autolite NHRA Nationals promises to be a can’t-miss event for fans in the heart of Wine Country.
Set amid the beautiful rolling hills and vineyards of the Sonoma Valley, Infineon Raceway is already one of the most popular destination races for NHRA fans from around the country, so this year’s race (July 29-31) – featuring Muldowney and Garlits, nostalgia car displays throughout the weekend, and the induction of Prudhomme into the Infineon Raceway Wall of Fame on Sunday – will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience for NHRA fans.
The impressive lineup of NHRA legends includes the No. 1 driver on NHRA’s list of all-time greatest drivers (Garlits), a three-time world champion who was a pioneer for women in all forms of motorsports (Muldowney), and a four-time world champion who defined “California Cool” in the 1960s and 1970s (Prudhomme).
Garlits and Muldowney will be available throughout the weekend for meet-and-greets and autograph sessions with fans, and they will participate in the increasingly popular Track Walk with a Legend on Sunday morning.
Infineon Raceway will also host other special events throughout the weekend, including the Nostalgia Get-Together, the Kickoff to the Countdown Party, and a special screening of Heart Like a Wheel. Infineon has also teamed with Don Schumacher Racing to provide fans with an opportunity to get a behind-the-scenes look at NHRA Drag Racing.
The 2nd annual Nostalgia Get-Together will feature more than 30 vintage racing machines and hot rods in the paddock behind the grandstand. Guests will get an opportunity to walk down memory lane as they check out front-engine Top Fuel dragsters, nostalgia Funny Cars, Gassers, and more. Entry to the Nostalgia Get-Together is included with the price of admission into the raceway.
The Kickoff to the Countdown Party, which begins at 10 a.m. on Saturday at the winner’s circle stage, will feature all of the drivers who have clinched a spot in the Countdown to the Championship performing the ceremonial hanging of their names on the official Countdown banner. Drivers will then stick around for a Q&A that is open to all fans. Fans who arrive early will have the chance to walk away with one of the Team GEICO giveaways.
The screening of Heart Like a Wheel will be a one-night-only affair at the Sebastiani Theatre in downtown Sonoma on Saturday evening, July 30. The event begins with a wine and cheese reception at 6 p.m. followed by the screening at 6:30 p.m. and a Q&A at 8:30 p.m. Tickets are $50, and all proceeds will go to Speedway Children’s Charities and the Sebastiani Theatre Foundation. To order tickets while supplies last, log on to InfineonRaceway.com or call 800-870-RACE (7223).
Infineon Raceway and DSR are offering NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series fans a behind-the-ropes experience for the FRAM/Autolite NHRA Nationals. The DSR Fan Hospitality Package includes a seat in the main grandstand for Friday, July 29, access to the DSR hospitality area Friday, a chef-prepared meal, DSR driver appearances and autograph opportunities, and the chance to see how the crew of a Top Fuel dragster or nitro Funny Car tunes and rebuilds its machines between rounds. Packages are available while supplies last; log on to InfineonRaceway.com/NHRA or call 800-870-RACE (7223).
The FRAM/Autolite NHRA Nationals, July 29-31 at Infineon Raceway, will mark the 13th stop in a yearlong celebration that will pay homage to the evolution of the hot rod, the impact of the sport’s legendary racers, and the lifeblood provided by the many millions of loyal and passionate NHRA fans.
The celebration will continue throughout the year as the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series winds its way from Seattle to Dallas, Indianapolis to Pomona, and most everywhere between. NHRA Drag Racing fans from across the country will be treated to special events designed to give them the chance to personally interact with the men, women, and vehicles that have made the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series the great sport that it is today.
Race fans can frequent NHRA.com or simply Like the NHRA Facebook page to receive updated news regarding details of the many 60th-themed ticket promotions being offered and specific activities planned at each of the remaining events on the 2011 schedule.
The virtual tour through the first 60 years of NHRA Drag Racing will extend beyond the track to the desktops, laptops, and handheld devices of NHRA fans via the NHRA Facebook page. Throughout the 2011 season, NHRA will enlist the expertise of the fans of the NHRA Facebook page to help determine the greatest moments from the first 60 years of NHRA Drag Racing. Voting – based on Likes – has already begun and will continue throughout the season.
Allen Johnson continued his success at Bandimere Speedway by racing to the No. 1 qualifying position in Pro Stock Saturday at the Mopar Mile-High NHRA Nationals at the scenic track near Denver.
Del Worsham (Top Fuel), Cruz Pedregon (Funny Car), and Hector Arana Sr. (Pro Stock Motorcycle) will lead their categories into Sunday’s 11 a.m. eliminations at the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series event.
Johnson will go for his third consecutive victory and fourth in the last five seasons at Thunder Mountain from the No. 1 qualifying position. He powered his Team Mopar/J&J Racing Dodge Avenger to a 6.978-second run at 197.65 mph to earn his second No. 1 of the season, 17th of his career, and third at this event.Allen Johnson
“I just wish we could copy this Mopar race and take it with us to all the other events on the NHRA schedule,” said Johnson, who will meet Steve Kalkowski in the opening round. “Because it is an event sponsored by Mopar and we are the Mopar team in Pro Stock, we’ve taken it very seriously. We’ve tested a lot at this track the last few years and have built up a lot of very valuable data that has contributed to our success. We feel that this is our race, and we do everything we can to perform at our very best level. Tomorrow’s conditions should be very similar to what we had today, and we actually left a little bit on the table on that 6.97 run. So there’s a chance that we could improve slightly during Sunday’s eliminations.”
Local favorite V. Gaines, of nearby Lakewood, Colo., claimed the second spot in his Kendall Oil Dodge Avenger with a 6.982 at 197.02, and Mike Edwards posted a quicker run in his Penhall/Interstate Batteries Pontiac GXP at 6.986 at 197.19 but dropped from first to third in the final order.
In Top Fuel, Worsham took his fourth top-qualifying effort of the season and ninth of his career by virtue of his Friday performance of 3.933 at 314.53 in his Al-Anabi Racing dragster. He will face Steve Chrisman in the opening round of eliminations.
Del Worsham “This season just continues to be amazing,” said Worsham, who on Friday became the first Top Fuel driver to clinch a position in the Countdown to the Championship, NHRA’s six-race playoffs. “I’ve only had nine No. 1 qualifying spots in my whole career and four of those happened this season. What we ran last night gave [team manager] Alan Johnson and [crew chief] Brian Husen the chance to feel their way around the track today, and I feel good about tomorrow. Clinching a spot in the Countdown is a big deal. Now our goal is to clinch the No. 1 spot heading into the playoffs. If that happens, it would be amazing.”
Bob Vandergriff Jr. was second in his C&J Energy Services dragster with a 3.937 at 310.55, and defending winner Doug Kalitta was third with a 3.973 at 312.21 in his Kalitta Motorsports dragster.
No one bettered Pedregon’s powerful track record performance of 4.095 at 307.51 in his Snap-on Tools Toyota Camry Solara, and the two-time Funny Car world champion claimed his third No. 1 qualifying position of the season, 42nd of his career, and his first ever at the mile-high Denver dragstrip. Pedregon will race Jeff Diehl in the first round.
Cruz Pedregon "The way I felt this morning, you'd have thought that we won a race," Pedregon said. "The attention we received from the fans and the media was overwhelming. It was cool to be on the cover of the Denver Post. We didn't fare as well today in the heat, and we need to figure that out quick. I think we learned a lot about what not to do today. We tried to back it down to get it down the track, but we obviously didn't make big enough moves. Bandimere Speedway is a great track; it just got a little warm. At the same time that you want to slow a car down, you don't want to make it a turtle. I still think we're in a good position for tomorrow."
Defending event winner Robert Hight sits second in the Auto Club Ford Mustang with a 4.172 at 300.93, and Mopar/DieHard Dodge Charger driver Matt Hagan is third with a 4.194 at 300.06.
Hector Arana Sr. earned his second No. 1 of the season in Pro Stock Motorcycle by posting a 7.240 at 185.69 on his Lucas Oil Buell. It was Arana’s 17th No. 1 and second at this track. He will meet rookie Justin Finley in the opening round of eliminations.
Hector Arana Sr. “We had electrical problems in Friday’s first session and had trouble finding out what was wrong,” Arana said. “The way that my son [Hector Arana Jr.] was running, he was starting to make his dad look ‘old’. But once we figured it out, our motorcycle ran very well. I’m very pleased with the track conditions. Both lanes are great, so lane choice won’t matter tomorrow. With so many bikes running very well this weekend, the key to tomorrow’s eliminations will be who can leave the line the hardest and produce the best 60-foot times. That’s the area that we will be focusing on Sunday.”
Karen Stoffer moved into second place on her GEICO Powersports Suzuki with a 7.245 at 184.65, and Eddie Krawiec fell from first to third on his Screamin’ Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson with a 7.258 at 185.84.
Friday: Worsham, C. Pedregon, Edwards, and Krawiec lead Friday qualifying in Denver
Del Worsham raced to the Top Fuel qualifying lead Friday at the Mopar Mile-High NHRA Nationals at Bandimere Speedway near Denver. Cruz Pedregon (Funny Car), Mike Edwards (Pro Stock), and Eddie Krawiec (Pro Stock Motorcycle) also were qualifying leaders at the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series event.
By making a qualifying run, Worsham secured a spot in the Full Throttle Countdown to the Championship, NHRA’s six-race playoffs that start Sept. 15-18 at zMAX Dragway in Charlotte. He also could claim his fourth No. 1 qualifying position of the season if his performance holds through Saturday’s two qualifying rounds (1:45 and 4:15 p.m.). Sunday’s eliminations start at 11 a.m.Del Worsham
Worsham, the Top Fuel series points leader with five victories in six finals this season, covered the distance in 3.933 seconds at 314.53 mph in his Al-Anabi Racing dragster, which now features a new black paint scheme.
"It was definitely perfect timing," said Worsham of his 3.93-second blast. "We ran well in the coolest conditions with the sun off the track where we could take advantage of the most grip. I'm impressed by the entire group of guys on the Al-Anabi teams. With our car being prepared consistently well, it allows [team manager] Alan Johnson and [crew chief] Brian Husen to do these types of things.
"I don't tune the car, but I know from my tuning experience that you have to make big moves here. The altitude will eat up everything you do. I've noticed from my experience with this team that Alan and Brian will probably use the runs tomorrow to find the boundaries of what we can do on race day."
Bob Vandergriff Jr. was second with a 3.937 at 310.55 in his C&J Energy Services dragster, and Doug Kalitta posted a 3.973 at 312.21 in his Kalitta Motorsports dragster for third best.Cruz Pedregon
Two-time world champ Pedregon led Funny Car with authority by setting both ends of the track record, powering to a stellar 4.095 at 307.51 in his Snap-on Tools Toyota Solara.
“That was really the run of my career,” Pedregon said. “I’ve been in some great cars over the years, but that was the best run I’ve ever made when you consider the altitude. There is a formula where you can factor in a run for atmospheric conditions, and that was probably a 3.96 or 3.97 at sea level. It was loaded for bear, and it held on.”
Pedregon’s time was well ahead of second-place Robert Hight, who ran 4.172 at 300.93 in his Auto Club Ford Mustang. Third-place Matt Hagan covered the distance in 4.194 at 300.06 in his Mopar/DieHard Dodge Charger.
After struggling in the opening qualifying session Pedregon said he knew he was in for a great ride as soon as his car launched on his second attempt.
“As much as we thought we had our act together for this race, we broke traction in the first round after posting a good 60-foot time,” Pedregon said. “We went back to the pit knowing that it would cool down for the night session. The car picked up the front end halfway through the run, and I was worried about it getting out of the groove and crossing the centerline. I’m thrilled to make a run like that in front of these great fans at Bandimere Speedway.”
Also in Funny Car, series leader Mike Neff also secured his Countdown playoff berth by making a qualifying attempt. He sits fourth after two rounds of qualifying with a 4.204 at 302.21 in his Castrol GTX Ford Mustang.Mike Edwards
Edwards raced to the lead in Pro Stock with a 6.989 at 196.50 in his Penhall/Interstate Batteries Pontiac GXP.
“We made a great run tonight,” Edwards said, “but I think that it’s premature to say that this is going to automatically end up as the No. 1 qualifying run for the weekend. V. Gaines has a real strong car now. He ran as quick as 6.96 in testing, and even with the later starting time for tomorrow’s first qualifying session [it was 11 a.m. in 2010], I believe that he has a chance to run quicker than we did today."
Allen Johnson, who has won three of the last four Pro Stock titles at this event, including the last two, was second in his Team Mopar/J&J Racing Dodge Avenger with a 6.992 at 196.96. Local favorite Gaines, of nearby Lakewood, Colo., was third in his Kendall Oil Avenger, posting a 7.011 at 196.19.
With Johnson and Gaines lurking, Edwards hopes he can hang on to the top spot, which would be his fourth No. 1 of the season, the 38th of his career, and his second in Denver.
“We’re just going to have to make two solid runs on Saturday if we expect to hold on to the top spot,” Edwards said. “It’s not like we’ll just be working on our tune-up for Sunday’s eliminations. I’ve been racing for 30 years, and I just love racing here at Bandimere Speedway. It’s always a challenge to make your car run real fast here, and I think that’s why I like competing here so much.”Eddie Krawiec
In Pro Stock Motorcycle, Krawiec rode his Screamin’ Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson to the top of the order with a 7.311 at 181.96. Krawiec said he was aided by his team’s test sessions at the track last week. If the time stands it will be Krawiec’s second No. 1 of the season, eighth of his career and second at the mile-high dragstrip.
“We always like racing here in Denver,” Krawiec said. “It’s one of the most unique tracks on the NHRA circuit, and Vance & Hines spent about 10-12 years in Colorado, so we still have a lot of fans and friends here. We don’t feel any pressure [when] we race here. It’s more of a confidence thing.”
David Hope was second with a 7.312 at 181.98 on his Vroom Racing Buell, and Hector Arana Sr. was third on his Lucas Oil Buell with a 7.313 at 179.95.
Allen Johnson’s streak on Thunder Mountain is at four and counting.
That’s four consecutive final rounds, for those who are keeping score.
Bandimere Speedway has long been a perplexing puzzle for NHRA’s greatest Pro Stock teams. The high altitude and warm summertime conditions typically combine to make even the sharpest crew chiefs do plenty of second-guessing when it comes to tuning the naturally aspirated engines that power the fan-favorite factory hot rods.
But Johnson, who drives the event sponsor’s flagship Team Mopar/J&J Racing Dodge Avenger, has his machine dialed in for the one race each season where Pro Stock teams need to break out an entirely different book of tuning notes.
He has won three of the last four final rounds at the scenic dragstrip just west of downtown Denver, including the last two.
The Tennessee native will try to make it three wins in a row at the 32nd annual Mopar Mile-High NHRA Nationals, July 22-24. Doug Kalitta (Top Fuel), Robert Hight (Funny Car), and Andrew Hines (Pro Stock Motorcycle) also are defending winners of the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series event.
Johnson says his edge at the kickoff for NHRA’s grueling Western Swing all comes down to docking plenty of track time.
“For years, we have tested and tested there with our Mopar Dodge, and we seem to have developed a combination that is superior,” Johnson said. “I feel like all that testing has led to our success at Mopar’s big race. And also, when you’ve done well at a track, you go back there with confidence, and we’ve definitely excelled at Thunder Mountain.”
Johnson comes into this year’s event riding high from a victory in Englishtown and a No. 1 qualifying performance at his home track in Bristol along with a semifinal appearance. He’s ready to get back on the winning track after early-round exits at the last two races in Norwalk and Chicago.
He says heading to Bandimere Speedway is a great way for his team to get back in the winning groove.
“I feel good about the Mopar/J&J Racing team’s chances of winning again at Bandimere Speedway,” Johnson said. “We have a really good race car, and our Mopar Hemi engines are performing at a high level. I really believe our success should continue.”
He’s sitting in eighth place in the Pro Stock points standings and knows that he’ll need a strong performance if he’s going to stabilize his top 10 points position and qualify for the Full Throttle Countdown to the Championship. The competition has been strong this year with series leader Jason Line scoring three victories and defending world champ Greg Anderson, 2009 champ Mike Edwards, and rookie Vincent Nobile taking two wins apiece.
“I feel good about the Countdown as it draws near,” Johnson said. “I think we had a little more momentum prior to the last two races, but we’ve still got some of our mojo left after our New Jersey win, and we’re heading to our favorite track on the circuit. We’ve got five races before the Countdown, and we’re going to go all-in starting at the Mopar Mile-High Nationals.”
In Top Fuel, longtime Funny Car ace Del Worsham switched categories this season and is leading the points standings behind the wheel of the Al-Anabi Racing dragster. He has raced to five victories and seems poised to maintain his top spot for the Countdown. His teammate, defending world champ Larry Dixon, is holding firm in third place with one victory, and Spencer Massey has scored two victories in his FRAM/Prestone dragster and sits second in the standings. Although he hasn’t won a race this season, seven-time world champ Tony Schumacher is a two-time winner at Bandimere and is hungry to win in his U.S. Army dragster before the regular season ends.
Mike Neff has been pulling double duty as driver and crew chief for his Castrol GTX Ford Mustang in Funny Car, and the combination has been working as he has raced to four victories in seven final rounds and holds a commanding series lead over his rivals. Neff’s top challengers this season are Jack Beckman, defending event winner Hight, Cruz Pedregon, Matt Hagan, Jeff Arend, and Ron Capps. Defending world champ John Force, who has yet to win a race this season and sits eighth in points, is a five-time winner in Denver and can never be counted out.
In Pro Stock Motorcycle, past world champ Eddie Krawiec holds the series lead on his Screamin’ Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson with two victories this season. Defending world champ LE Tonglet has posted two victories on his Nitro Fish Suzuki, and 2007 world champ Matt Smith has emerged as a serious contender for the title this season on his Buell. Others to watch in the two-wheel category include the Lucas Oil Buell duo of Hector Arana Sr. and Hector Arana Jr., Jim Underdahl, Michael Phillips, Steve Johnson, Jerry Savoie, and defending event winner Hines.
* SCHEDULE: NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series qualifying sessions are scheduled for 4:45 and 7:15 p.m. on Friday, July 22, and at 1:45 and 4:15 p.m. on Saturday, July 23. Final eliminations will begin at 11 a.m. on Sunday, July 24.
* TICKETS: For tickets for the Mopar Mile-High NHRA Nationals, call Bandimere Speedway, 800-664-UWIN (8946), or log on to www.ticketreturn.com.
* ON TV: ESPN2 and ESPN2HD will televise two hours of qualifying coverage at 7 p.m. ET on Saturday, July 23. ESPN2 and ESPN2HD will televise three hours of eliminations coverage at 7 p.m. ET on Sunday, July 24.
* LUCAS OIL SERIES: The Mopar Mile-High NHRA Nationals also will feature competition in five categories in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series, where some of the future stars of the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series are born. Lucas Oil Series qualifying begins at noon on July 22. Lucas Oil Series eliminations begin at 10 a.m. on July 23 and continue through July 24.
He finished a respectable fifth in the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series Top Fuel standings last year – a career best for a driver now in only his third season of Pro racing – and as the tour heads to the higher elevation of Denver for the Mopar Mile-High NHRA Nationals, Shawn Langdon is working hard to continue pulling in round-wins in his Lucas Oil/Speedco rail and earn a berth in the Countdown to the Championship.
The 2011 season-opening O'Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Winternationals presented by Valvoline in Pomona gave indication that Langdon and his John Stewart-tuned machine had the capability of continuing their impressive ways of the year before, when they had qualified for every race and went to the final round twice. Langdon's gang had everything required for success at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona – including a little luck – but it was teammate Morgan Lucas who was to win the fight in the final, blocking Langdon from obtaining the first victory of his Top Fuel career.
The two have been friends since high school, and it was neither the first nor the last time that Lucas would stand in the way of Langdon's success on the racetrack; they had met during eliminations three times prior to that final-round battle in Pomona, and they have squared off twice since. Each time, Lucas was the victor.
"When we're in the pits, we're teammates," said Langdon, a former NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series standout with a pair of Super Comp national-championship titles. "We share data and try to help each other do as well as we can, but when you're racing somebody – whether it's your teammate or not – they are a competitor. That's someone in the other lane trying to beat you. We don't take anybody lightly."
That would include another young gun who has also seemed to have Langdon's number: returning driver Spencer Massey, the 2009 Automobile Club of Southern California Road to the Future Award winner who surpassed fellow newcomer Langdon for top rookie honors with two wins in five final rounds as the driver of the Don Prudhomme-owned Top Fueler that season. Langdon, though, holds no grudge.
"It's really a good feeling to be part of such a great group of guys, and everyone in the class today gets along really well," he said. "There is no big animosity amongst the drivers, and I've become really good friends with a lot of the competitors. It's kind of like how it was when I was Super-class racing. The more you get out there, the more you get to know everybody, and it's a big family.
"But in my eyes, I still want to beat everybody out there just the same. Every one of them is stopping me from getting my first win, and we want to get that first win out of the way because we know others will follow. So I give 100 percent every time in testing, qualifying, or eliminations. I expect no less of myself, and I know that you have to do your best and let it fall where it does."
Langdon acknowledges that the competition this year is rich with the addition of Del Worsham in a second Al-Anabi Racing dragster and the return of Massey. With reigning champion Larry Dixon and all the Don Schumacher Racing cars along with Brandon Bernstein and the Kalitta Motorsports entries pushing back from within the tentative confines of the top 10, keeping hold of a position in the critical bunch is tough.
"We've been trying to keep up, but we've struggled this year," said Langdon. "We had a little bit of luck on our side at the beginning of the year, and we have been running better as the season has progressed. We have a stronger car now, but we've been on the tough side of the ladder and haven't had too much luck. We just need to keep progressing and keep moving forward as a team to get into the Countdown."
Though he has qualified well and was in the top half at six of the first 11 races of the season, a string of first-round losses and the only nonqualifying performance of Langdon's career tugged him from high in the standings to a precarious ninth.1997 Jr. Dragster champ Shawn Langdon, age 14
Langdon and his team will have their work cut out for them to be among the lucky and skillful 10 who will challenge for the Top Fuel world championship, but the Denver event – the first of the notoriously strenuous Western Swing and the first of just five races left before the Countdown to the Championship begins – could hold the key.
Langdon has a lifelong history at the mile-high facility owned by the Bandimere family: His father, Chad Langdon, won Super Gas there in 1984 over nitro pilot in the making Tommy Johnson Jr., and a 2-year-old Langdon was there to celebrate in the winner's circle. A mere 13 years later, Langdon himself was honored in Colorado as a 1997 NHRA Jr. Drag Racing League national champion.
"I've always enjoyed coming here," said Langdon. "It's a beautiful facility, and the Bandimeres put on an excellent race; we always have a good turnout. It does have a little extra special place in my heart. I roll into the gates of this track with fond memories. I'd like to make more."
For tickets for the Mopar Mile-High NHRA Nationals, call Bandimere Speedway, 800-664-UWIN (8946), or log on to www.ticketreturn.com.
I’m not sure what the biggest reason is why I love the Western Swing. It could be the racetracks, Denver’s Bandimere Speedway, Sonoma’s Infineon Raceway, and Seattle's Pacific Raceways. It might be the challenge the tracks provide: 5,800 feet of high heat in Colorado; the surreal setting of the Napa wineries in Sonoma, which is near sea level but again typically hot; or the oxygen-rich pine trees and Mount Rainier in Seattle, where there are typically cooler conditions. It could be because of the drama; there are only five races left to determine the 10 that will race for the Full Throttle championships.
Then again, it could be all of the above. It all kicks off this weekend with the annual stop in Colorado, home of the Mopar Mile-High NHRA Nationals!
Only seven Professional racers have swept the Swing since it began in 1989, and all will be touched on as I predict who to watch for in what is expected to be another grueling yet totally enjoyable three-race stretch.
Top Fuel has FIVE racers that have tallied the trio, and that is the most in any class. Five-time world champ Joe Amato was the first ever in 1991. Cory McClenathan pulled the trick in 1997, as did three-time titlist Larry Dixon in 2003. Seven-time world champ Tony Schumacher (still winless this season … wow!) started back-to-back Swing wins in Top Fuel in 2008, with his DSR teammate Antron Brown scoring a year later. Who could pull the trick this season? Two words … Del Worsham. Already with five wins this season, the Funny Car racer turned Top Fuel pilot has the opportunity to win three in a row for the first time in his career for the nation of Qatar and Al-Anabi. Oh, if he did that he’d really extend his points lead. FRAM’s Spencer Massey would also be a good pick. Despite smoking the tires for just the first time in 40 runs at the last race, don’t think for a moment that their tune-up just disappeared.
And keep an eye on Dave Grubnic (10th), Terry McMillen (11th), and Bob Vandergriff Jr. (12th) because only 35 points separate them in the standings.
It may come as a bit of a shock, but John Force is the only man in Funny Car to go three-for-three on the Swing. He did it in 1994 and gets credit for being the second racer to pull off the feat. Like another former world champ mentioned above, the 15-time champ has yet to hoist a Wally this season, and that is a major surprise. What wouldn’t be alarming is to see Mike Neff add his name next to John’s as winner of the Western Swing. Five wins this season, the points lead, and a whole lot of confidence, Castrol’s “Zippy” IS the one to watch. Other challengers to sweep include Auto Club’s Robert Hight (four wins), Aaron's/Valvoline’s Jack Beckman (two wins), and, despite still looking for his first win, Snap-on Tools' Cruz Pedregon.
Johnny Gray (10th) sits just two points in front of Tim Wilkerson (11th) and 17 ahead of Tony Pedregon with only five races remaining to decide who races for the championship.
Greg Anderson, in 2004, is the only Pro Stock driver to sweep the Swing. The most recent winner is surely one to keep your eyes on for a repeat Swing, that is if he can figure out how to get around Allen Johnson at the Mile-High Nationals. The Mopar driver has dominated the Mopar event and looks to win his third straight and fourth in the last five years in Denver. If he can pull it off, that could provide the boost he needs to add his name to the record books.
Pro Stock Motorcycle competes at the first two of the Swing events and is being paced in the points by Harley-Davidson’s Eddie Kraweic. But GEICO’s Karen Stoffer in less than one round behind in the points and should make the battle for the No. 1 spot in the Countdown as interesting the battle for 10th. Only 57 points separate positions nine through 13.
You want tickets? They got tickets! Just head to www.bandimere.com, or call 800-664-UWIN (8946). What the atmosphere robs from the machines, it more than makes up for in the skill it takes to muscle a race car down the edge of the hogback leading up to the Rocky Mountains.
Whit Bazemore will be joining our ESPN2 crew this weekend as a pit analyst, no doubt bringing some really great insight. Plus, Mike Dunn will reveal his number four pick in his Top 5 Coolest Cars. The only clue I’ll give … consider the race! Both the qualifying and elimination portions of the Mopar Mile-High NHRA Nationals begin at 7 p.m. ET on Saturday and Sunday. Please make plans to catch us live or on the DVR. As always, we’ll have the brooms ready!
With only five races remaining in the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series regular season, it’s now crunch time for teams in each of the four categories. It’s time for many of the teams on the bubble to take a quick inventory of their status to determine the best route for gaining entry into the Countdown to the Championship, NHRA’s six-race playoffs.
Teams won’t have much time to gather their bearings because the first three of those final five regular-season races will provide a mini gut check.
With this weekend’s Mopar Mile-High NHRA Nationals, July 22-24 at scenic Bandimere Speedway near Denver, NHRA Full Throttle Series teams will embark on a three-week challenge that will test their tune-ups, the quality of their high-performance machines under very different atmospheric conditions, and, most important, their patience.
Following the race in Denver, teams will head to Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, then forge on to Pacific Raceways near Seattle to complete the brutal three-week stretch that has become known as the Western Swing.
For those drivers who are on the bubble in the points standings, a hot streak during the Western Swing may just provide the boost needed to secure a playoff spot. On the other hand, should a team get in a slump, points positions can slip away at a rapid pace.Dave Grubnic
For Top Fuel driver Dave Grubnic, who posted a runner-up finish at Route 66 Raceway two weeks ago, he’s eager to hold on to his 10th-place position or if possible keep the momentum going and move higher in the standings.
“Moving into the top 10 in points was a huge accomplishment for us [in Chicago],” Grubnic said. “Hopefully now we can start getting more and more round-wins and climb even further up in the points.”
The two Top Fuel drivers on the outside looking in are Terry McMillen, who has held the 10th spot for most of the season, and Bob Vandergriff Jr., who is less than two rounds out of 10th after posting a runner-up finish in Topeka in his C&J Energy Services dragster.
A cluster of veteran drivers are hungry to make the top 10 in Funny Car. Two-time world champ Tony Pedregon and veteran racers Tim Wilkerson and Jim Head are sitting 11th through 13th and desperately want to take the 10th spot that Service Central Dodge Charger driver Johnny Gray holds. Gray knows that the next five races are going to provide a great challenge to make the playoffs.
“This is a very competitive, superb Funny Car group,” Gray said. “You can’t take anything for granted, and the results from one race can mean jumping or falling multiple places in the standings – and now is not the time for falling.”Larry Morgan
In Pro Stock, four drivers will jockey for the final two spots. Shane Gray and Ron Krisher are holding down the final two positions after the Chicago race, but Ronnie Humphrey and veteran driver Larry Morgan, who posted a runner-up finish in Norwalk in his Lucas Oil Ford Mustang, are gaining ground.
“For us to make the Countdown just a year and a half into this program with Ford would surprise some people, I promise you,” Morgan said. “It was the impossible dream, but we’re only a few rounds out now. We’re going to do what we can to make it happen.”
Only four races remain in the regular season for the Pro Stock Motorcycle teams, and as many as seven riders will be competing for the final two spots in the top 10. Though rookie Hector Arana Jr. seems to be making strides toward keeping one of the spots with back-to-back No. 1 qualifying efforts at the last two races, Michael Phillips’ DNQ in Chicago has opened the door for Chicago runner-up Chip Ellis, who is sitting 11th, and Chicago quarterfinalist David Hope, who is 12th, to crash the party in the final hour. Veteran rider Steve Johnson, Angie Smith, and Shawn Gann are also still mathematically eligible.
* SCHEDULE: NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series qualifying sessions are scheduled for 4:45 and 7:15 p.m. on Friday, July 22, and for 1:45 and 4:15 p.m. on Saturday, July 23. Final eliminations will begin at 11 a.m. on Sunday, July 24.
* TICKETS: For tickets for the Mopar Mile-High NHRA Nationals, call Bandimere Speedway, 800-664-UWIN (8946) or log on to www.ticketreturn.com.
* ON TV: ESPN2 and ESPN2HD will televise two hours of qualifying coverage at 7 p.m. ET on Saturday, July 23. ESPN2 and ESPN2HD will televise three hours of eliminations coverage at 7 p.m. ET on Sunday, July 24.
* LUCAS OIL SERIES: The Mopar Mile-High NHRA Nationals also will feature competition in five categories in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series, in which some of the future stars of the NHRA Full Throttle Series are born. Lucas Oil Series qualifying will begin at noon on July 22. Lucas Oil Series eliminations will begin at 10 a.m. on July 23 and continue through July 24.
As the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series heads into Denver for the opening race of the Western Swing, title sponsor Full Throttle Energy Drink is elevating the excitement in the Mile-High City by giving fans the opportunity to meet two of the sport’s biggest stars.
On Thursday, Pro Stock driver Erica Enders and Top Fuel champion Tony Schumacher will make appearances in the Denver area on behalf of the series sponsor. The popular drivers will sign autographs and meet fans at a local Circle K and Bass Pro Shops. Both events will include free samples of Full Throttle Energy Drink and other giveaways.
Enders, driver of the ZaZa Energy Chevy Cobalt Pro Stocker for Cagnazzi Racing, will kick off the duo of appearances at the Circle K at 8663 South Quebec in Highlands Ranch, a suburb of Denver. Fresh off her latest final-round appearance at the O’Reilly Auto Parts Route 66 NHRA Nationals, Enders will sign autographs and meet fans from 5 to 6 p.m.
"I love coming out to Denver, and I can't wait to meet the fans and give away some Full Throttle Energy Drink," she said. "I'm blessed to have some great fans, and I hope a lot of them come by and say hello. I'm sure I'll sample some product, too!"
Schumacher, who drives the U.S. Army Top Fuel dragster for Don Schumacher Racing, will appear from 7 to 8 p.m. at the Bass Pro Shops at 7970 Northfield Blvd. in Denver. Immediately following his appearance, the seven-time Top Fuel champion will pick the winning number in a drawing for a Matco Tools toolbox, valued at approximately $500.
Attendees are encouraged to register for the drawing upon arrival at Bass Pro Shops and must be present to win. Fans also will have the opportunity to pick up other giveaways and can check out an Army Top Fuel show car upon entrance to the store.
For tickets for the Mopar Mile-High NHRA Nationals, log on to the Bandimere Speedway website or call 800-664-UWIN (8946).