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Doug Kalitta in Top Fuel and Allen Johnson in Pro Stock broke through for their first wins of the season and were joined in the winner’s circle by Robert Hight (Funny Car) and Andrew Hines (Pro Stock Motorcycle) at the Mopar Mile-High NHRA Nationals at Bandimere Speedway outside of Denver.
During the course of the event – the final leg of the three-race Western Swing and the second to last in the Countdown to the Championship’s 17-event regular season – nine drivers locked up berths in the playoff fields that will pit the top 10 drivers in all four classes in a six-race fight to the finish that begins Labor Day weekend at the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals. [Story: Nine more lock up playoff berths; Dixon clinches top seed ]
One thing was certain in the Top Fuel final: One driver would finally find salvation, the other continued frustration as Kalitta, winless in four finals this year and without a victory since the 2009 Winternationals, paired off with Bernstein, 0-2 in finals this year for new sponsor Copart and without a tour victory since last fall’s Virginia event. Kalitta joined his uncle Connie, a two-time winner here, and late cousin Scott, a three-time Denver champ, as king of the hill, taking the victory, the 32nd of his career, 3.96 to 4.00.
“When I saw the win light come on down there it was real special, a great relief,” said Kalitta. “They do a great job here and each year the facility gets better and better, and I’m just glad to finally get a win here. I’ve been close a lot of times and fortunately we got it done today.”
“This is really going to help motivate our team and give us the confidence that we can run with these guys going into the Countdown, and hopefully we can prove it. I’m just really proud of Jim Oberhofer, my crew chief, and all the guys today. It was great team effort.”
Kalitta, who had been runner-up four times at this event, rode a trio of 3.9-second passes to reach his fifth final of the season and 63rd of his career en route to defeating Terry McMillen, Steve Torrence, and 2007 Denver winner “Hot Rod” Fuller.
Bernstein pounded out passes of 3.96 and 3.97 in the first two rounds to best Cory McClenathan and defending event champ Antron Brown, then took down points leader and former “beer wars” rival Larry Dixon in the semifinals to take a narrow 18-17 edge in their lifetime meetings. Bernstein slowed to a 4.00, but it was enough to cover the tire-hazing 4.44 of Dixon’s Al-Anabi machine to reach his 35th career Top Fuel final.
Hight, the defending world champ, closed the gap ever-so-slightly on his boss, John Force, by defeating the points leader, 4.21 to 4.38, for his fourth victory of year and the 17th of his career. Hight now trails Force by just 28 points.
“I’ve been in a couple of finals before with John and never been able to get the job done, but today was our turn,” said Hight. “You know when you go up there against John that you better give it your all because he’s going to be ready. Our cars are set up real similar, so we know what they can run and we had to go up there and give it our all.”
“It’s nice to get back on the winning side here in Denver. My crew chief, Jimmy Prock, has never had a problem making horsepower, but with racetrack being so good last year with the cooling system and everything, we just didn’t have enough horsepower, and that bothered Jimmy. He came in here with a game plan – new parts and different things – and he definitely found the horsepower that he needed.”
Hight, who won this event in his 2005 rookie season, raced back to the final, the 31st of his career and fifth this year after defeating James Day in round, defending event champ Ron Capps on a holeshot in round two, and low qualifier Matt Hagan in the semifinals.
Force, a five-time winner in Denver, assured that he’d leave the mountain with the points lead by reaching the final to face his hard-charging employee, who is chasing him in the points. Force, the all-time NHRA record holder for wins and final rounds, reached the 209th final of his career and seventh this season in pursuit of win No. 131 by defeating Paul Lee, Bob Tasca III, and fellow former world champ Cruz Pedregon, ending Pedregon’s best season outing.
Three of Johnson’s eight career national event wins have come at his sponsor’s event, and his victory this year was his first of the season and first since he won this race last year. Johnson, who also won in Denver in 2007 and was runner-up in 2008, was never challenged in the final, cutting a .004 light and racing to a 6.97 to easily beat Jeg Coughlin Jr., who had to abort his final-round pass.
“We wouldn’t mind having all 23 races here,” said Johnson. “We really have an awesome setup for here. The engine guys, the car guys, and everyone else did their job can’t say enough about them. We just made a perfect run every run. To go up against Greg in the second round, and of course against Jeg in the final, I knew that I had to be on my game. Fortunately I was able to do that. I had a .073 light in the first round and knew that I had to pick it up after that. I was tickled with the .004 that I had against Jeg in the final. We’re just going to have to keep getting after it, be aggressive in trying to win the championship and hopefully pull it off.
“It was great having all the Mopar folks here. They’re not just sponsors to us. They’re like family. This was the perfect place to get my first win of the year.”
En route to the 20th final of his career, Johnson’s Mopar Avenger raced past Bob Yonke, Greg Anderson, and Johnny Gray with a trio of six-second passes — 6.973, 6.998, and 6.997, all of which were low for the round – to earn the right to face Coughlin.
Coughlin, who won last weekend in Sonoma, reached his second straight final, his fifth this season, and the 82nd of his career with a pair of six-second passes sandwiching a solid 7-flat in trailering Erica Enders, Vinnie Deceglie, and rookie Shane Gray, who red-lighted in the semifinals.
The final round in Pro Stock Motorcycle pitted two riders whose last win came in Atlanta; for Hines that was earlier this year, for Karen Stoffer three long years ago in 2007. Hines kept her winless streak alive with a convincing 7.34 to 7.40 victory, the 21st of his career and his second in Denver. With the win, Hines pulled to within 60 points of leader Hector Arana.
“Today I was playing with fire all day long with .00 lights [.006, .004, and .007] in the first three rounds,” said Hines, who was runner-up here last year. “We backed it off for the final to make sure that we wouldn’t red-light. We wanted to have a .030 and got a .029. We know that Karen [Stoffer] is a very tough competitor, and we didn’t want to make any mistakes.
“I grew up three hours south of here in Trinidad, Colorado, so it’s good to win here on The Mountain. This place is my home. We didn’t have the best motorcycle this weekend, just like we didn’t have the best motorcycle [when we won] at Sonoma, but we were able to get the job done. That says a lot about our team. I’ve also been stressing out all weekend because we’ve got a baby coming. I was waiting for a phone call all weekend, but we never got one.”
Hines, a winner earlier this season also in Houston, reached his 35th career final round by defeating a trio of Suzukis, setting down rookie of the year hopeful LE Tonglet, Jim Underdahl, and low qualifier Michael Phillips to reach the final. In a rematch of their final round in Sonoma last weekend, Phillips red-lighted to Hines’ Harley. Prior to that race, Hines had beaten Phillips nine straight times.
Stoffer, who had yet to reach even the semifinals this season, went that much better by reaching the final round aboard her GEICO Suzuki. On the heels of a great qualifying effort, Stoffer defeated red-lighting Angie Smith and fellow Suzuki riders Craig Treble and Steve Johnson to reach the 12th final round of her career and her first since last fall’s Charlotte event.
In Lucas Oil Series action, David Bogner in Super Stock, Brad Burton in Stock, and John Dexter in Super Street each collected their second Mile-High Nationals trophy and were joined in victory by Terry Edwards in Super Comp and Mike Wiblishouser in Super Gas.
Friday: Johnson’s Dodge tops in Denver; Brown, Force, Phillips also lead
Saturday: Hagan moves to Funny Car pole; Brown, Johnson, Phillips hold Friday leads
GLENDORA, Calif. (July 22, 2010) — The fastest sport on the planet also has one of the fastest growing pages on Facebook.
Today, just 16 months after the NHRA page debuted on Facebook, it added its 100,000th fan, culminating a seven-month run in which it has quadrupled in size.
“This really validates what we’ve known all along, that NHRA fans are among the most passionate, most dedicated and most socially-connected fans in all of sports,” said Gary Darcy, NHRA senior vice president, sales and marketing.
After growing at a steady rate of close to 3,000 fans per month from its debut in March of 2009 through the end of the year, the NHRA page on Facebook has exploded in 2010, growing by 281.5 percent from 26,208 fans on Jan. 1 to 100,000 fans on July 22. In July alone, the page has grown by nearly a thousand fans a day, or 23.3 percent.
“What’s been particularly encouraging for us is the number of posts we’ve seen from fans of the page who are planning on attending, or who just attended, their first NHRA race,” Darcy said. “And I think it’s pretty clear we have our core fans to thank for that. They have always been our greatest advocates and the arrival of Facebook has given them an incredibly potent platform to spread that passion.”
NHRA originally built the page on Facebook to be the equivalent of a “24-7 virtual midway,” a place on the internet for fans to connect with one another, to talk about drag racing, and to catch up with their favorite racers and teams and that remains the intent of the page today.
Headquartered in Glendora, Calif., NHRA has 80,000 members and 140 member tracks nationwide. As the primary sanctioning body for the sport of drag racing in the United States, NHRA presents 23 national events featuring the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series, NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series and NHRA Get Screened America Pro Mod Drag Racing Series. Two NHRA-sanctioned bracket racing series provide competition opportunities for drivers of all levels: the NHRA Summit Racing Series and the NHRA Drags: Street Legal Style presented by AAA. NHRA also offers the Jr. Drag Racing League for youth ages 8 to 17. In addition, NHRA owns and operates five racing facilities: Gainesville Raceway in Florida; Atlanta Dragway in Georgia; National Trail Raceway in Ohio; O’Reilly Raceway Park at Indianapolis; and Auto Club Raceway at Pomona in Southern California. For more information, log on to NHRA.com, or visit the official NHRA pages on Facebook, YouTube and Twitter.
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Longview, Texas native Steve Torrence is signed up and ready to play a round of golf. The NHRA Top Fuel driver has committed to playing in the Greg Morris Memorial Golf Tournament on Wednesday, Sept. 22 at the Old Brickyard Golf Course in Ferris. The tournament precedes the 25th annual O’Reilly Super Start Batteries NHRA Fall Nationals. Check out the entry form and sign up to play as Torrence and other NHRA stars will be swinging clubs to help a great cause.
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