The Mile High City played host to that traveling band of rubber shredding, alcohol burning fanatics known as the NHRA Sport Compact Drag Series. Denver's Bandimere Speedway and its crew worked hard to crown the King of the Mountain at the Mopar Mountain Madness Nationals. Spring thunderstorms would test the patience of officials and racers alike to add to the tuning challenge inherent with the track's 5,800-foot elevation.
Thunderstorms wrecked havoc on the Denver area on Friday, closing the airport for a few hours and canceling the much needed test-and-tune session at Bandimere. Saturday's three rounds of qualifications went off under sunny skies and only a handful of cars didn't hit it hard in the first round. By the second round the engines were dialed-in and some impressive times were put up on the board.
As expected, the All Motor guys had it hardest as the top qualifying effort was Tony Shagday's 10.51 in the Skunk2 Integra, a car that can string 9s together without breaking a sweat with sea level conditions.
From the get-go the Turbo Magazine Hot Rod class shaped up to be a Gary Gardella/Ron Lummus showdown. Lummus in the Garrett Turbo Pontiac Sunfire fired first with an 8.173 and Gardella followed suit with an 8.271. After the smoke cleared on Saturday, Gardella was top dog with an 8.096 and Lummus in the number two spot with the 8.173.
In Modified, Paul Efantis was atop the qualification chart with an impressive 7.472 in his Lucas Oil-backed Toyota Solara.
In Pro FWD, Marty Ladwig was brutally impressive slamming a 7.592 at an awe-inspiring 199.32 mph.
As alone as Ladwig was atop the Pro FWD ladder was how crowded it was in Pro RWD where five of the eight cars were in the 6s, with Matt Scranton on top with a 6.741-second pass at 210 mph.
Popping open the curtains on Sunday revealed menacing skies that were not an empty promise. It rained steadily from 9:00 a.m. to around 1 p.m. At 2:06 the cars entered the field of battle but sporadic showers persisted between rounds.
The first set of cars matched the All Motor entries of Shawn Hillier in the Skunk2 RSX against Scott Mohler in the Mopar Neon. Hillier wasted a winning 10.64 with a super-early .351-second redlight. Mohler proved he had his act together running in the 10s for the first time all weekend with a 10.93. In the next round, Mohler posted a 10.94 to advance to the final. Tony Shagday blasted a 10.64 single in the other semifinal. In the money race Shagday never broke the beams as Mohler parlayed an 11.14 into a Wally. He won the Mopar Nats event in 2004, which shows he knows how to impress a sponsor.
In Hot Rod, Mike Crawford put his Mopar Neon in contention running an 8.92 to dispatch Kenny Tran and the Q-Power Civic. Gardella ran an 8.15 unopposed while Lummus moved on with an 8.18. In the semis Lummus had a bye run and posted an 8.50. Gardella had a single when Crawford failed to make the call. Gardella power-shifted his Dupont/Ecko Cobalt to an 8.087 to grab lane choice in the final.
This was an awesome match-up as both drivers reacted with nearly identical times. Gardella's car had the better first-half performance, carrying a .140-second advantage at half-track. Lummus began to reel him in at the top end but ran out of track before he could overtake him. The board flashed Gardella, 8.127 at 175, and Lummus, 8.242 at 178, giving Jersey-bred Gardella his second Wally in as many races.
The Modified field had only three participants and it shaped up as a Humphreys versus Efantis final. The third entrant was Ali Afshar who has yet to fully sort out his new Subaru racer. With Gary Kubo in the pits the Easy Street/SPT WRX posted its best ever e.t. in qualifying, an 8.855, but it was still more than a second off the pace of top qualifier Paul Efantis.
The expected final was confirmed when Humphreys posted a 7.83 against Afshar's 9.97. The final would be worth the price of admission and suffering through a few cloud bursts during the day. It was the Back-Pedal Nats as both cars got way squirrely as they tail-wagged their way down the strip. Efantis worked the magic best and took the win, 8.826 to 8.876.
In Pro FWD, Ed Bergenholtz put his Mazda in the 7s with a 7.993 in the first round, running a bye because Shaun Carlson had taken chunks out the cylinder walls of his Mopar Neon on Saturday. The second pairing found 200-mph Ladwig matched with Jerrold Rhodes, who was debuting a new car, Stephan Papadakis' old FWD Civic coupe, that hadn't dipped into the burnout box in three or four years. At the flash of the green the upset of the year unfolded as Ladwig's Pontiac stalled and Rhodes skated to 10.84-second, 113-mph slalom run and the win.
In the finals Rhodes was no match for the hard-charging Team Bergenholtz as Ed Bergenholtz dropped an 8.056 on Rhodes who managed only an 11.61.
In Pro RWD the first round proved to be a barometer of the final as Brad Personett and Matt Scranton were the only drivers to post 6-second e.t.s. Things heated up big time in the semis as Titan teammates Brad Personett and Vince Fourcade had a date with destiny. This was an epic battle from the flash of the green where Personett had a scant advantage with a .032- to .074-second reaction time. At the big end the final margin of victory was barely a blink of the eye as Personett's 6.832 was just enough to put down Fourcade's 6.837. This put Personett and Scranton on a collision course.
In the money race Scranton produced the best light of the weekend, a .007, but Personett's .031 was nothing to sneeze at. The Supra-powered Celicas accelerated in tandem down the 1320 with Personett's power advantage proving the difference and took the win with a time of 6.848 to Scranton's 6.905.
The points races tightened up after the Mopar Mountain Madness Nationals in the two most competitive classes, All Motor and Pro RWD. The points leaders in both of these classes were out of the picture early. None of the championships are foregone conclusions as the series enters a very interesting stretch with more than two months between races.
What will the racers do to better their cars during this dry season? Who will have cars completed in the interim? And how will these new cars impact the points chase? Yep, things are heating up.