story and photos by Tim Hailey (except where noted) compiled from releases from NHRA and others
Shawn Gann (above) ended a nine-year Pro Stock Motorcycle winless drought at Bandimere Speedway’s Mopar Mile-High NHRA Nationals with his first final-round appearance since 2010, earning his fifth career victory. Gann went 7.351 at 181.08 on his Pirana Z Racing Buell to knock off points leader Hector Arana Jr. and his final round time of 7.376 at 182.11 on his Lucas Oil Buell. Gann’s last win also came in Denver in 2004.
“It was a long drought, but if you give up the fight you’re never gonna get out of that drought,” Gann said. “This is a big win. My bike has always been fast but I’ve had problems that have plagued me. I’m the heaviest rider out here and I make my own clutches so I have that to deal with. Being up here on the mountain, with fat people like me, you can only move so much mass so hard but we found a way.
“When I get here from the time I walk out of my truck and get on my motorcycle to the time I walk back to my truck to leave here, I never look at anybody,” Gann continued. “What they do, what they don’t do, all I know is where I’m at and where I’m headed and if I have lane choice or I don’t. Any otherwise I don’t go shake anybody’s hand and say ‘Lets have a safe one.’ I go up there and do my thing. I’ve been doing it all my life and the only place it is going to lead me is where it does.”
Gann beat Angie Smith, Steve Johnson and three-time world champion Andrew Hines to reach the final round. He moves to the No. 10 spot in the point standings. Arana Jr. became the first rider in the class to clinch a spot in the Countdown for the Championship.
Defending NHRA Pro Stock world champion Allen Johnson continued his incredible run and raced to his fourth win of the 2013 season. In a thrilling final round, both Johnson and Gaines powered their Mopar Dodge Avengers in a repeat of last year’s final in Denver. Johnson’s performance of 6.989 seconds at 196.87 mph took down the Colorado native’s 7.015 at 196.67 in the final round. It marked the second straight Pro Stock victory for Johnson in Denver, fourth in five years and fifth overall for the Greeneville, Tenn. native who also made his seventh straight final round appearance on Thunder Mountain.
“Winning this weekend was very important to me because it was the 25th anniversary of Mopar’s sponsorship of this race,” said Johnson, who was also the No. 1 qualifier. “It’s been a great marriage between Mopar and the Bandimere family, and I can’t think of a better way to acknowledge and honor that relationship than with a win.”
Johnson outran points leader Mike Edwards in the second round and then Rickie Jones in the semifinals to reach the final round against fellow Dodge Avenger campaigner. Johnson and Jeg Coughlin also clinched spots in the Countdown to the Championship, joining Edwards in the class. “My crew is the reason that we’ve had all of this success for the last seven races here,” said Johnson. “They are just so determined to win it every year. I have to thank them and the man upstairs.”
In Top Fuel, Spencer Massey claimed his third victory of the season and 13th of his career, defeating Houston winner Bob Vandergriff in the final round in his 8,000-horsepower Battery Extender/Schumacher Electric dragster. Massey covered the distance in 3.974 at 309.27 to knock off Vandergriff’s C&J Energy Services dragster, which went 4.029 at 304.67.
Massey, who won for the second time in Denver, remains third in the Mello Yello Top Fuel points standings. Massey outran Clay Millican, Mike Strasburg and points leader Shawn Langdon to advance to the final round. Langdon and Tony Schumacher also became the first two racers in the class to qualify for the Countdown to the Championship.
“I was very surprised to see my DSR teammates Tony Schumacher and Antron Brown not running up to their full potential this weekend,” Massey said. “But again, that just shows you just how tough racing on the mountain is, and I’m sure that both teams will be very tough once we return to sea level at Sonoma. The key to winning here today was to tune smart and drive smart, and that’s exactly what we were able to do.
“We didn’t have the power that we wanted during qualifying, but this isn’t a horsepower race. I was surprised that there wasn’t as much tire smoking in eliminations as was expected. The key to winning here today was to tune smart and drive smart, and that’s exactly what we were able to do.”
Cruz Pedregon claimed his third victory in 2013 and 33rd for his career by knocking off Tasca in the final round. Pedregon’s 8,000-horsepower Snap-on Tools Toyota Camry posted a 4.233 at 295.46 while Tasca slowed to a 4.408 at 257.04 in his Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford Shelby Mustang.
This is the third win of the season for Pedregon in four final round appearances. Pedregon, who was also the No. 1 qualifier and set the track E.T. record (4.073), picked up his 33rd career win. It is also his second win at Denver, winning 20 years after his first victory at Bandimere Speedway (1993). He moves to second in the points standings.
“I got asked what the most gratifying part of the weekend was and I’d have to say that it was breaking our own track record and having low E.T. in three of the four rounds,” Pedregon said. “In the first round we ran a 4.17 but we weren’t trying to. I didn’t care if it ran a 4.30; as long as we did not smoke the tires. We were on a three-race first round slide so this couldn’t have come at a better time.”
Pedregon, who re-set his own track speed record at Bandimere in qualifying, beat Todd Simpson, 2009 Denver winner Ron Capps and 2002 Denver champ Del Worsham to advance to the final round. Pedregon, a two-time world champion, moves to second in points with his second win at Denver, winning 20 years after his first victory at Bandimere Speedway (1993).
“This was a good race to come back and run well, and it takes a little pressure off in Sonoma and Seattle,” Pedregon said.
Gasping for Air on the Mountain
Michael Ray’s Buell scoops can’t get large enough to find oxygen on The Mountain
The NHRA Prto Stock Motorcycle teams will have to overcome the unique tuning challenges of this upcoming weekend’s Mopar Mile-High NHRA Nationals in Denver. The July 19-21 event at Bandimere Speedway will test the tuning capabilities and engine program of every team that unpacks a trailer. Engine tuning and preparation are essential at this racetrack since its 5,300-foot elevation presents entirely different conditions than any other venue on the NHRA circuit.
“It’s the biggest challenge of the entire year to run well at Denver because of all the changes you have to make to the motorcycles,” Star Racing owner George Bryce said. “The elevation and high temperatures make the corrected altitude about 10,000 feet, when it was only about 3,000 feet at the last three or four races we’ve been to. You’re about 50 horsepower lower than normal, which is why everyone runs slower at Denver. Most everybody that goes there has log sheets of their past experiences at Denver and what they did to compensate for the altitude. I’ve already done the first round tuneup for both of our bikes before we even left the shop just from past information from those races.”
Star Racing’s playbook is as deep as anybody’s, and they’ve been winning at Denver since the 1990s with John Myers and the early 2000s with Angelle Sampey. “You definitely want to be as prepared as you can be, but it’s hard to put a combination together for just one weekend,” said rider Michael Ray, winner of two national events so far this season. “Star Racing has been coming up here for 20 years and knows how to do it. I think we have a good chance of getting to another final or even winning a Wally. At this point, I’m really focusing on the points because I want to get locked into that Countdown (to the Championship), and then (our strategy) clicks over to championship mode.”
Scotty Pollacheck (near lane) and Matt Smith
The special conditions not only affect motorcycle performance but also present challenges for the racers to hit their shift points on time when they are accustomed to a much quicker pass. “I’ve been to that track a lot so that gives a little comfort and familiarity with that kind of home track advantage,” said Sovereign/Star’s Scotty Pollacheck. “It’s definitely a harder place to tune, but George and the crew have a good handle on that. So, I know they’ll do fine adjusting for it. It’s also different for me and Michael as drivers because it takes longer for the shift light to come on, so you have to really be patient and keep that in mind when you’re up there.”
On a roll is rookie Adama Arana, who sits seventh in the Pro Stock Motorcycle standings. He’s made steady progress, winning his first round, advancing to his first final, and qualifying for every race, including earning a spot in the top half of the field at six of the seven events he has attended. “I think I’m right where I thought I’d be,” Arana said. “I definitely want to go more rounds. I’ve been going past the first round ever since Englishtown (N.J.), but I want to start going to the semi’s and the finals more often. I’d like to become more of a top competitor.”
That means becoming more consistent and reaching more semifinal and final rounds, including a few victories along the way. “Mentally I think I’m ready for it,” Arana said. “The bike is running well, and I just need to focus on getting a good reaction time and hitting my shift points. I just need to stay relaxed and have fun.”
Arana has been warned of Bandimere’s differences by his dad, past Pro Stock Motorcycle champion Hector Sr., and brother and current points leader Hector Jr., but their warnings come with a caveat. “It’s slower,” Arana said. “They told me that just because it is a little bit slower to not underestimate it. The shutdown area goes uphill, but they say it’s really not as long as it seems. Even though you’re running slower it’s not that big a difference.”
Hector Arana Sr.
“You can’t be afraid if it,” Adam’s dad Hector Sr. said. “It’s going to be the same for everyone. We’ll just try to make the changes that will be needed for the altitude and be ready for whatever comes our way. That’s all we can do.”
Arana and his three-bike team have prepared the best it can for this race and the event in Sonoma, Calif., the following week because there will be no time in between races to make major changes. “I sure hope we’re ready,” Arana said. “I worked hard and we finished everything we wanted to do. I feel great.”
Hector Arana Jr (left) and Epping winner John Hall
For Pro Stock Motorcycle points leader Hector Jr., the western swing means the start of two weeks on the road with his Lucas Oil Buell race team, and he couldn’t be happier. “I love it,” H2 said. “I get to see my girlfriend on the road and get to break away from home, which makes me enjoy home even more when I’m there. I’m not a picky guy when it comes to when and where I sleep (ouch girlfriend!), so I love being on the road – the sightseeing, the adventures. It’s less stress.
“Freedom is what it feels like and I enjoy that. You don’t have the stress you have when you’re at home because you don’t have to worry about different things. And we’re not just on the road; we’re on the road doing what I love: racing.”
Arana travels with the fam. The Arana Racing team pulls its race trailer with a motorhome, so they don’t rent hotels or cars while on the road, but that’s OK because they are a close-knit family. Plus, being on the road is relaxing to Arana, which helps him race better. “You get in the zone,” Arana said. “I know I’ve been messing up, but I hit the Christmas Tree hard. I’m going to have to stay at the light a little bit longer and pay more attention. I guess I want to get in that winner’s circle so bad. I’m going to have to slow myself down a little bit. It’s time to get back in the game.”
Arana won the first three races of the season, but then an engine failure ended that streak in Englishtown, N.J. He rebounded to post a semifinal finish in Chicago, but he has also struggled with redlights because, he claims, tune-up changes have quickened his bike’s launch. “It’s hard because you always try to get your best reaction time,” Arana said. “You’re going, going, going, and then you get to Sunday and you’ve got that extra adrenaline. You’re extra pumped and you want to win. I’ve got to relax again. Before, I was in the zone and was able to relax. I’ve got to forget about getting wins and focus on one round at a time.”
Arana leads the points standings by 48 over Star’s Ray as the class reaches the halfway point of its schedule in Denver. Pollacheck is at the No. 5 spot only 12 points below No. 4 John Hall and 28 behind No. 3 Matt Smith.
Andrew Hines and the V&H Harley-Davidson team have struggled to play by the same rules as the Buells
Andrew Hines would trade his season for any of these guys’ seasons, but he’s looking forward to his Colorado return. Bandimere Speedway is located 195 miles north of the former Screamin’ Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson team headquarters, which was based in the sex change capitol of the world—Trinidad, Colorado—until 2004. Hines graduated from Trinidad High School, made his first career NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series start at the track and expects a large contingent of fans rooting for him and his Screamin’ Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson team during the event.
“I have a lot of friends up there since I went to high school in southern Colorado and they will come out and hang out,” Hines said. “I have an aunt that lives in southern Colorado and I’m sure they will come out and have a great time. It’s a great environment and the atmosphere around the track is amazing. The fans up there are awesome and when we’re there we see some of the best sights on the tour for a racetrack.”
Hines is currently in an unfamiliar position of being outside of the top 10 in the Countdown to the Championship, in 12th position, with three races remaining until the playoffs begin at the NHRA Carolina Nationals. The team has been working and testing tirelessly. “If we can knock off a round win here or there, I’m going to need at least three or four round wins from here to fight for a top 10 spot,” he continued. “It is so tough out here this year, everybody has stepped up their game. We are obviously in a different position this year than we were last year with trying to figure out the tuning at each track. We are starting to get a handle on it and at Norwalk we were running better than we have at the previous four races. It is coming together slowly and we are going to have to make a run for it.”
The Screamin’ Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson team has enjoyed success at Bandimere Speedway through the years with Andrew, brother Matt who serves as crew chief for the team, and his teammate Eddie Krawiec claiming eight wins between the three of them. Matt is the winningest Pro Stock Motorcycle racer at the track with four wins (2002, 1998-1996), Krawiec is the defending winner and won at the track in 2009 and Andrew also has two victories at the track (2010, 2006).
“We do have a lot of knowledge there because our shop was based there for eight years so we did a lot of development work there at high altitude,” Hines said. “We knew at the time what it would like. Now with us being based in Indianapolis we have kind of lost our edge up there on the mountain, but we still have a good base line for what it takes up there at that track.”
“Racing at Bandimere puts a premium on rider skill,” Krawiec said. “Because we are down on power the effect of every mistake is magnified. We need to be very smooth off the line, can’t short shift or the engine will fall on its face. In many ways rider or driver skill is substituting for the loss of power.”
Antron Brown (Top Fuel), Jack Beckman (Funny Car), Allen Johnson (Pro Stock) and Krawiec all took home wins in 2012 at the high altitude track. The high altitude will challenge racers and crew chiefs from every team as they attempt to make horsepower at a track that sits 5,860 feet above sea level. Shawn Langdon in Top Fuel will take his one point lead in the standings into the event striving to secure his fourth win of the season and his first NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series world championship. Tony Schumacher, second in points, along with a surging Doug Kalitta, defending event winner Brown and most recent category winner Khalid alBalooshi will all vie for wins at the Mopar Mile-High NHRA Nationals.
Johnny Gray has four Funny Car wins so far this year
Matt Hagan is the Funny Car points leader and the 2011 Funny Car world champion is looking to retain his points lead in a tough category. Johnny Gray leads the category with four wins and a hard-charging John Force, Ron Capps and Cruz Pedregon will all look for wins at the event.
Allen Johnson, a four-time Denver winner, and Mopar teammate Jeg Coughlin
Two-time Denver Pro Stock winner Mike Edwards became the first racer of the year to clinch a berth into the Countdown to the Championship with his four season wins and will be looking to continue his dominance on the field. Defending world champ Allen Johnson, a four-time Denver winner, and his teammate Jeg Coughlin, Jason Line, Greg Anderson and Vincent Nobile are all looking for wins in Colorado.
In addition to three days of intense racing, there will be loads of family-fun activities in celebration of Bandimere Speedway’s 55th anniversary. On Thursday, July 18, fans are invited to attend the tradition-rich Mopar Block Party in Downtown Golden from 6-10 p.m., featuring a live band, car displays, and a driver autograph session.
There are also spectacular jet car runs on Friday night and a special “Go Red for Women Track Walk” on Saturday morning prior to racing at 8:30 a.m. to bring awareness to heart disease. The Track Walk gives fans the chance to walk the same track where NHRA drivers race at speeds of more than 300 mph and are joined by some of NHRA’s favorite drivers. The experience is free for all Saturday ticket holders.
Television coverage for the Mopar Mile-High NHRA Nationals will air on ESPN2 beginning with qualifying sessions from 10 p.m. – 12 a.m. (EST) on Saturday, July 20 and final eliminations from 6 – 9 p.m. (EST) on Sunday, July 21.