The Western Swing for NHRA’s Mello Yello Drag Racing Series includes three of the most compelling races on the series’ 24-race docket. One takes place at the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, the second adjacent to Napa Valley’s wine country and the third in the sultry, soggy Pacific Northwest.
The logistics facing teams in Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock and, in two of the three, contests for Pro Stock Motorcycle can get a bit overwhelming during these three weeks. True, NHRA does have four-in-a-row races throughout the year, but no swing is quite like the Western Swing.
It starts this weekend with the Dodge Mile High Nationals, as Dodge and Mopar celebrate 30 years of sponsorship for this race, now in its 39th iteration. With its setting at 5,869 feet above sea level, Bandimere Speedway presents a singular challenge to every racer, and with expected high temperatures, it’s not terribly likely any records will be broken.
That doesn’t mean this race won’t be competitive. It always is. And with full fields in the entry list, at least one Funny Car and one Pro Stock Motorcycle racer won’t get the opportunity to compete in Sunday eliminations.
Top Fuel has all the regulars on-hand with the addition of Norwalk winner Blake Alexander, Terry Totten and Greg Carrillo, as Mike Salinas continues to put forth a full-season effort for the first time, making a field of 16 dragsters. Although Steve Torrence has set a torrid pace thus far in the season, remember the Texan had similar results throughout the 2017 campaign, only to fall in the season finale to Brittany Force. Will he finally make it this year? Too many races remain to tell. Seven drivers have notched victories in these 13 races.
Funny Car has 17 entries for this race, with semi-regulars Terry Haddock and Todd Simpson adding to the championship contenders. Jeff Diehl elected to remain in California, but will be back on the trail at Sonoma. Everyone is chasing Courtney Force, who came out of the blocks on fire – not literally, as her father, 16-time champion John Force did over the first few races – but Matt Hagan has been the mid-season sensation, closing the points gap with two consecutive victories as six drivers have been to NHRA’s Winner’s Circle.
There are 16 entries for Pro Stock, a class gaining momentum, but the Chevy-powered class doesn’t have the clout of former Mopar-powered Allen Johnson to give it credence for added competition. At this point, single-race-winner Erica Enders has a 16-point lead over non-winner Greg Anderson, while triple-race-winning Tanner Gray is third. After 13 races in 2018, there are seven race winners, making the factory hot rod class a toss-up everywhere they go.
Pro Stock Motorcycle has only run six of their 16 races thus far in the year; every single race is crucial for the two-wheelers, who have four winners thus far in the year. Reigning titleholder Eddie Krawiec has the most number of victories, three, yet has only a five-point lead over his Harley-Davidson Screamin’ Eagle teammate Andrew Hines. 2010 champ LE Tonglet is third but 75 points back of Krawiec. There are 17 bikes vying for 16 elimination spots.
It’s going to be a hot weekend – nothing new for Denver – at the feet of the Rocky Mountains; there is a slight chance of a thunderstorm on Sunday afternoon, which could throw a wrench into everyone’s plans. Will we see status quo or a breakout like Blake Alexander’s? We’ll have to tune in to find out.