Johnson, Worsham, Pedregon, Arana top qualifiers in Denver 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.
“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.
“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.
"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.
“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.”
Hector Arana Sr.
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.