From Kelly Wade | NHRA
Qualifying for the Dodge Power Brokers NHRA Mile-High Nationals tied up neatly with a thunderous track record-setting run by Top Fuel's Brittany Force, and Dodge-campaigner Matt Hagan sealed the deal on his 50th Funny Car No. 1. Pro Stock champion Erica Enders and Pro Stock Motorcycle's Hector Arana Jr. also earned the top spot in their respective classes to celebrate Bandimere Speedway's 65th anniversary.
Points leader Hagan, driving his Dodge Direct Connection entry, has had an incredible two days of qualifying on Thunder Mountain, where he was the low qualifier and went on to win on Sunday in 2021. Hagan tamed his fierce Funny Car to claim not only his 50th pole, but also the Mission #2Fast2Tasty NHRA Challenge title. His 3.89-second pass at 324 mph on Friday held through for his first No. 1 of the season.
"There's so much going on this weekend, it's incredible," said an emotional Hagan, who shared that his success so far this weekend has been even more meaningful as his mother, Judy, passed away late last year, and Saturday would have been her 67th birthday. "We did what we needed to do today, and I hate that this is our last event here. It's been a real emotional day, and this is just super special."
The productivity of Hagan's Dickie Venables-tuned Dodge was remarkable for conditions that were sunny and hot on top of the thin, mile-high air. Hagan believes the secret comes down to his crew chief's process following their previous success on the mountain.
"[Dodge Pro Stock racer] Allen Johnson used to win up here all the time, so I always played second fiddle to a Pro Stock car," Hagan continued. "He would come up here and test all the time, and they had a great combination. Right now, I feel like we have that combination. We won up here, we were No. 1 qualifier, and Dickie put everything to the side – clutch disc, motor combo, blower combo, so we could bring it back out. It's proven itself again up here, and I feel like we have a great combo again for tomorrow. Rolling into raceday, I feel very, very confident."
John Force qualified second with his 3.920 at 323.74 from Friday and Bob Tasca III's 3.943 at 315.12 put him third.
Brittany Force already owned the Bandimere Speedway track record for elapsed time, but she rounded out her Denver records when she clocked the fastest speed the facility had ever seen for Top Fuel in her final qualifying effort. Heading into the last session, Force was No. 9 in the line-up in her Monster Energy Flav-R-Pac Chevrolet. Her blazing 3.72 at 337.33 mph sent her right up to the top and well past Friday low qualifier Antron Brown's 3.78. Ultimately, Brown was bumped to No. 3 as Doug Kalitta recorded a 3.77 in his Mac Tools rail.
The No. 1 was Force's fourth of the season and 46th of her career.
"We struggled all weekend – our best was a 3.90, and every one we'd been dropping holes right from the step," said Force. "When they said 3.72, I thought, 'That can't be right.' But to make such an improvement as the first car right out of the box, to come up here and make such a move, this team needed it. We've been struggling this year, and it really feels good.
"This track is so special to me. I've been coming here with my mom and sisters watching my dad in the stands since we were little kids. This is a track I grew up on, and it's sad to see it go away. With that, we want to end on a good note. We want to end strong. Being able to lay down a 337-mph run and have the track record, it's huge for us, for the entire team, to leave our mark like that. We really want to leave tomorrow with four win lights."
Enders has never won Denver before, and with this slated to be the final event, the pressure is on. She's on good footing as the No. 1 qualifier based on a 6.91 clocked on Friday in her Johnson's Horsepowered Garage Chevrolet. It is the 31st pole for the reigning and five-time champion, who is also racing in Mountain Motor Pro Stock at the event and is the No. 2 qualifier there.
Historically, Enders has performed well under pressure, and with only one more chance to win at Bandimere Speedway, she's ready.
"I'm feeling really good," she said. "It's always challenging to come up here on the mountain with these Pro Stock cars – we're down quite a bit of horsepower and our shift points come at different increments than normal – but I feel like we performed pretty awesome this weekend. We'll have a long battle to be victorious, but we're starting off on the right foot.
"I feel like I've been driving really well, and if I can continue that tomorrow, I think we'll be all set. Having said that, there are 15 other drivers thinking the same thing. We'll have our work cut out for us, but we do well when our backs are against the wall, and I'm going to try to have that mindset tomorrow."
Defending event winner Matt Hartford stayed second with a 6.91 at 195 and points leader Dallas Glenn took third with a 6.92 at 195.
Norwalk winner Arana had little trouble keeping hold of the 23rd No. 1 of his career after racing to a track record 7.047 at 189 mph on Friday aboard his GETTRX Buell. Arana won this event in 2018, and with a bit of momentum, he feels he can repeat on the final raceday on the mountain.
"I feel awesome, and we have a great bike," said Arana. "Our GETTRX Buell is mean, she's bad to the bone. I just need to do my job and get her down the track, and we should be good. We're going to take it one round at a time and enjoy our last passes we get down this beautiful track here at Bandimere speedway. How awesome is it to be able to get the last No. 1 and set the track record the last time here. I'm so excited. What an awesome way to end it."
Although he left the starting line too soon in the Mission #2Fast2Tasty NHRA Challenge, Arana did not fixate on the bump.
"You always want to win," he said. "But bikes react so much faster here on the mountain, everything is reacting quicker, and I know what to do now. It gave me a preview for tomorrow, and we'll be good to go."
Rookie Chase Van Sant stayed second with a 7.121 at 188.52, and points leader Gaige Herrera moved up to third with a 7.123 at 187.39.
See all of the latest from the NHRA:
Dodge Power Brokers NHRA Mile-High Nationals Saturday photo gallery: