Funny Car icon John Force rocketed to the quickest run in Bandimere Speedway history to take the qualifying lead at the Mopar Mile-High NHRA Nationals on Friday.
Tony Schumacher (Top Fuel), Allen Johnson (Pro Stock), and Hector Arana Jr. (Pro Stock Motorcycle) also were qualifying leaders at the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series event in Denver.
Force set the pace in his Castrol GTX High Mileage Ford Mustang, shattering both ends of the track record with a time of 4.049 seconds at 318.39 mph. If the pass stands after the final two qualifying sessions, it will be the 16-time world champ’s fifth career No. 1 qualifier in Denver and third of the season.
Hector Arana Jr.
“With the new cooling system here at Bandimere Speedway, it just gave us confidence early,” said Force. “I think everybody was programmed how to run today. We stepped up and started getting there.”
JFR teammate and Funny Car points leader Robert Hight is second with a 4.055 at 313.15 in his Auto Club Ford Mustang. Tim Wilkerson is third in his Levi, Ray & Shoup Ford Mustang with a 4.071 at 310.77. Defending event champ Cruz Pedregon sits fourth with a 4.078 pass at 304.80 in his Snap-on Tools Toyota Camry.
Seven-time world champion Schumacher claimed the current top spot with his 3.823 pass at 319.75 on Friday night, which also obliterated the Bandimere Speedway elapsed time record in the dragster category. If the performance holds, it will be his first No. 1 qualifying position of the season and 73rd of his career. Schumacher is seeking his first career No. 1 qualifier in Denver.
“We’ve won here a few times; we just haven’t qualified No. 1,” Schumacher said. “I think you really have to find your niche. This is a tough place. It’s a different combination for up here on the mountain.”
Steve Torrence’s Capco Contractors dragster is in the second spot with a 3.831 at 322.96, and Larry Dixon is third with a 3.848 at 315.64 in his Casedhole Solutions dragster.
Following the first qualifying session Friday, Top Fuel points leader Doug Kalitta and 2012 Top Fuel world champ Antron Brown clinched a spot in the NHRA Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship playoffs.
In Pro Stock, defending event champ Allen Johnson powered his Magneti-Marelli Dodge Dart to a 6.972-second pass at 198.90, setting the track record for speed. If his time holds, it will his fourth No. 1 qualifying position of the season and his fifth in a row at Bandimere Speedway. The 2012 Mello Yello world champion has five wins at Bandimere Speedway, including 2012 and 2013.
"When it's your sponsor's race, you have to step up and do it," Johnson said. "We've really worked our tails off at this track, testing over the years, and trying to come up with a package that is superior so we can impress all the Mopar and Chrysler executives who come out to see us. We want to put that 50th anniversary Hemi into the winner's circle on Sunday."
Jason Line currently sits second with a 6.929 at 197.97 in his Summit Racing Equipment Chevy Camaro followed by category points leader Erica Enders-Stevens, who posted a 6.934 at 198.29 in her Elite Motorsports Chevy Camaro. With her first session run, Enders-Stevens secured a spot in the Countdown to the Championship playoffs. Colorado native and 2013 event runner-up V. Gaines grabbed the fourth spot with a performance of 6.944 at 198.15 in his Kendall Oil Dodge Dart.
In Pro Stock Motorcycle, Arana Jr. powered his Lucas Oil Buell to the qualifying lead with a performance of 7.178 at 185.97, setting a track record for elapsed time. Arana Jr., who was the runner-up here last season, is looking for his first No. 1 qualifying position of the season.
“The motor is running really strong,” Arana Jr. said. “The combination just all came together. Hopefully, we can keep this momentum we have here on the mountain and seal the deal finally. The track is awesome. It’s consistent and I love the scenery. I love to come out here.”
Andrew Hines, the current Pro Stock Motorcycle points leader, is second in his Screamin’ Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson with a 7.198 pass at 185.51. With his qualifying pass, Hines officially clinched the first Pro Stock Motorcycle spot in the Countdown. Defending event winner Shawn Gann powered his PiranaZ Racing Buell to the third spot with a 7.230 pass at 184.88.
The final two qualifying sessions are Saturday at 3:15 and 5:45 p.m. Sunday’s eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m.