RETURN ROAD: Best and Worst of the Mopar Mile-High NHRA Nationals
If you heard a massive sigh of relief in the Denver area late Sunday night, it was probably the collective NHRA traveling community as they completed the first leg of the “Western Swing”, the 35th Annual Mopar Mile-High NHRA Nationals at Bandimere Speedway. With an elevation of almost six thousand feet, the Denver race presents a unique challenge for the racecars and the men and women who are tasked with driving, tuning and servicing them. Man and machine were definitely feelin’ it this year, as evidenced by the odd reaction times and sacrifices to the aluminum gods.
The trophies have been handed out, the crew members have had a chance to catch their breath, and the rigs are rolling downhill toward the near-sea level Sonoma Raceway for the NHRA Sonoma Nationals this weekend. It’s time to take a look back at some of the highlights from the Mopar Mile-High NHRA Nationals.
Best Starting Line Reaction: Steve Torrence’s Team
Texan Steve Torrence and his Capco Contractors Top Fuel team have been hungry for a win since their last victory in 2013, and the team’s post-race reaction proved it. The Capco team erupted on the starting line when Torrence dispatched Tony Schumacher in the final round with a .001 MOV. Part-time Top Fuel driver and Torrence Racing crew member Bobby Lagana was possibly the most animated, running all over the starting line and congratulating his fellow crewmen. To top it off, Steve-O gave a passionate, sportsman-like top-end interview after the win.
Most Entertaining Final Round: Pro Stock Burndown
When Pro Stock veterans Allen Johnson and Larry Morgan rolled up to the starting line for their final-round match-up, both drivers were likely aware that a burndown would ensue. Johnson had his “King of the Mountain” title on the line, as the Mopar-sponsored driver has an almost unblemished record at Denver over the last decade. Morgan was looking for his second win of the season in his third final round. The two drivers rolled into the pre-stage beams and parked their factory hot rods there for just over a minute and a half. The reaction from the crew members, fans and even NHRA chief starter Mark Lyle was unanimously positive. Johnson staged first, but it was Morgan who left the starting line and reached the finish line first, winning on a hole shot in a 6.944-to-6.930 decision.
Most Surprising Moment: Pro Stock Rule Changes
While it was announced midway through the week leading up to the race that the NHRA would meet with Pro Stock teams to announce new rule changes, the extent of the rule changes was somewhat surprising. Three changes will be mandated at Sonoma this weekend: crew members cannot hold the cars in place to start the burnout, cars must be backed into the pit area no more than 10 feet away from the spectator ropes, and the cars must have a manufacturer or model-branded header decal along the top of the windshield. Starting January 1, 2016, teams are required to use electronically-controlled throttle body fuel injection systems, which will be equipped with a 10,500 rpm Rev Limiter. Finally, teams will need to abandon the familiar hood scoops and shorten the wheelie bars to an NHRA-specified length.
Best Off-Track Moment: Mopar Block Party
Just about every track on the tour has some sort of tradition that is unique to that one track. Norwalk has the $1-per-pound ice cream, Brainerd has “The Zoo” and Denver has the Mopar Block Party, an event that converges on downtown Golden, Colorado on the Thursday before the race. It’s a great pre-race celebration where fans can eat and drink, listen to live bands, meet their favorite Mopar drivers and see the latest offerings from Dodge and Mopar. At this year’s Block Party, Mopar announced two new Dodge Challenger Drag Pak options for Sportsman racers; a supercharged, 354 CI Hemi and a naturally aspirated, 426 CI Hemi. The Drag Paks were on display all weekend and made some exhibition runs in front of the crowd.