MORRISON, Colo. - For the NHRA West Central Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series Thunder on the Mountain event at mile-high Bandimere Speedway, reigning national champion Jim Whiteley regained the lead in the Top Alcohol Dragster national standings, and Tony Bartone took over the top spot in Top Alcohol Funny Car with what surprisingly was his first divisional/regional victory in nearly two years.
Whiteley dominated Top Alcohol Dragster qualifying, running back-to-back-to-back 5.40s on a surface on which no other driver was able to get out of the 5.70s. "I don't know if I've ever had that much of an advantage on the field before," said Whiteley, whose J&A Service/YNot dragster led the pack with an aggregate best of 5.44, 265.06. "It's almost more pressure than when a bunch of other people are running right with you."
After the three flawless qualifying runs, Whiteley was up in smoke instantly on a first-round single when opponent Kevin Wayman was unable to appear and ran a backpedaling 5.69 in the semifinals when former Top Dragster racer Dean Dubbin narrowly red-lighted. "It didn't go three inches in the first round," said Whiteley, who coasted to a 12.02. "In the semi's, I had it at half-throttle at one point and it was still spinning the tires. We took some gear ratio out and some timing of it for the final, and the car ran better than we really expected it to."
Whiteley jumped all the way back to the 5.40s with a 5.47 to erase Greg Hunter, who was making his first career final-round appearance. Hunter qualified the Exact Air dragster No. 2 with a 5.70, defeated Denver's Geno Tumbarello in the opening round with a 5.99, and returned to form with a another 5.70 in the semifinals against 2012 runner-up Edwin Schmeeckle and a 5.71 opposite Whiteley in the final. Schmeeckle got off the mark six-thousandths ahead of Hunter in the semifinals and nearly matched Hunter's 5.70 with a 5.71 that left him just three-thousandths of a second short at the finish line.
For Whiteley, the win was his sixth in a row at his home track, a record for this event. "What can I say?" he asked. "I love racing here. I wish there still was a national event here."
If there was, Bartone would probably win Alcohol Funny Car. With a string of final-round appearances - he's been at least runner-up more than half the time - he has won more rounds at national events than anybody over the past year and a half, but that success has eluded him in regional competition.
"I think the last divisional I won was in Bowling Green, Ky., in about 1993," he joked. (Actually it was there in August 2011.) "We do great at national events, which are supposed to be harder, and never get a break at these things."
Bartone has two wins, a runner-up, and an 11-1 win-loss mark in his three most recent national event starts with Rick Jackson's Centre Pointe Collision team. But he had won just a single round in 2013 regional competition until this race, which, for a few hours, was looking like his worst one yet. "We went 0-for-2 on the first two qualifying runs, couldn't get down the track at all, and it was raining before the last session," he said. "We were really starting to think that it wasn't going to happen."
When the skies eventually cleared, Bartone not only made the cut; he went all the way to the top spot with the only run all weekend in the 5.70s, a 5.76. That put more than a tenth on the tough field, which included early qualifying leader Jay Payne and defending West Region champion Annie Whiteley but not recent Topeka winner Jirka Kaplan or longtime crew chief Dave Allison, who ran a 6.09 in his driving debut.
Bartone ran a 5.96 in the opening round to erase veteran Lance Van Hauen but was outperformed by Payne, who advanced with a 5.89, and former Division 7 champ Terry Ruckman, who ran low e.t. of the round in a 5.87 win over Kris Hool. In the semi's, Bartone stopped Scott McVey with a 5.89 and Payne shut off to a 7.29 to when Ruckman veered into his lane.
Payne had an excellent .049 reaction time in the final, but Bartone mowed down his 5.95 with a 5.80, low e.t. of eliminations by far. "You come to Denver, and it's a whole different tune-up," he said. "People were smoking the tires and driving all over the place. It's always a tough place to race because it's just so different with all the altitude, but [crew chief Steve] Boggs really has this place figured out."
Stock Eliminator saw a great side by side final round with Michael Brand, Thorton, Colo., beating out fellow Colorado racer Jim Hughes, Grand Junction, Colo., by about two feet at the finish line. Brand went 11.848 at 101.51 to Hughes' 11.649, 113.87.
A pair of home state racers also battled for the Fineline/Madcap Top Dragster trophy with Mitch Mustard, Arvada, Colo., taking the win in 6.964 seconds at 186.15 mph over Robert Ross, Pueblo, Colo., who went too fast and broke out by .014 seconds at 6.956.
Tommy Grimes grabbed his second win in the Top Fuel Harley class, closing the gap on Doug Horne for the championship. Grimes qualified No. 1 with low elapsed time and top speed of the event at 6.688 seconds, 218.30 mph the clicked off a 6.720 at 212.59 in the final where he was to race Ron Gledhill whose engine would not fire.
Denver's Leland Sykes was perfect at the line as he took the win in the Sportsman Motorcycle Series presented by Harley Davidson running 9.235, 139.91 against Jason Clampitt, Lino Lakes, Minn.
Other winners in the NHRA Harley Davidson Drag Racing Series were Scott Truett over Dale Nilles in Pro Dragster, Stan Sheppard won in Pro Gas against Lance Bonham, Edward Golson in Street Pro, Larry Fore won Draggin' Bagger, and Hot Street went to Larry Fore
Local racer John Dexter, Morrison, Colo., led the Super Shootout winners as Dexter defeated Darrel Schwartz in Super Street, Gary Stinnett beat Mathew Berckefeldt in Super Comp and Michael Miller won over Doug Legner in Super Gas.
Rain showers returned Sunday evening that forced officials to postpone the remainder of eliminations. Final rounds in Comp, Super Stock, Super Comp, Super Street, and Top Sportsman as well as semifinals and the final round in Super Gas will be completed at a later date.
West Central Division racers head to Cordova Dragway for the next NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series event this coming weekend, June 21-22.
The following are Sunday's final results from the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series, West Central Division Thunder on the Mountain Presented by Grease Monkey:
TOP ALCOHOL DRAGSTER: Round 1 3) Edwin Schmeeckle, Gothenburg, Neb., 5.676, 243.90 def. 6) Christine Chambless, Scott City, Kan., 5.984, 234.61; 2) Greg Hunter, Sheridan, Wyo., 5.998, 248.11 def. 7) Eugene Tumbarello, Denver, 6.481, 189.44; 5) Dean Dubbin, Royalton, Minn., 5.701, 251.11 def. 4) James Stevens, Gothenburg, Neb., foul; 1) Jim Whiteley, Grand Junction, Colo., 12.022, 105.75 def. 8) Kevin Wayman, South Jordan, Utah, broke; Semifinals Hunter, 5.702, 251.81 def. Schmeeckle, 5.711, 250.32 Whiteley, 5.691, 258.27 def. Dubbin, foul; Final Whiteley, 5.473, 264.96 def. Hunter, 5.719, 251.30. TOP ALCOHOL FUNNY CAR: Round 1 1) Tony Bartone, Long Island City, N.Y., '09 Mustang, 5.960, 248.61 def. 8) Lance Van Hauen, Reinbeck, Iowa, '12 Camaro, 11.046, 131.48; 5) Scott McVey, Winnipeg, Manit., '06 Monte Carlo, 6.325, 233.76 def. 4) Annie Whiteley, Grand Junction, Colo., '09 Mustang, 6.550, 184.04; 2) Jay Payne, Claremont, Calif., '09 Mustang, 5.892, 246.44 def. 7) Steve Griboski, Aurora, Colo., '04 Firebird, 5.953, 240.94; 3) Terry Ruckman, Grand Junction, Colo., '06 Monte Carlo, 5.872, 245.14 def. 6) Kris Hool, Casper, Wyo., '06 Monte Carlo, 6.019, 242.23; Semifinals Bartone, 5.898, 249.76 def. McVey, 12.317, 70.26 Payne, 7.296, 138.26 def. Ruckman, broke; Final Bartone, 5.800, 250.74 def. Payne, 5.953, 244.87. STOCK ELIMINATOR Michael Brand II, Thornton, Colo., '73 Firebird, G/SA, 11.848, 101.51 def. Jim Hughes, Grand Junction, Colo., '67 Camaro, E/S, 11.649, 113.87. TOP DRAGSTER Mitch Mustard, Arvada, Colo., dragster, 6.964, 186.15 def. Robert Ross, Pueblo, Colo., dragster, 6.956, 192.19. SPORTSMAN MOTORCYCLE PRESENTED BY HARLEY DAVIDSON Leland Sykes, Denver, Colo., '99 Kawasaki, 9.235, 139.91 def. Jason Clampitt, Lino Lakes, Minn., '79 Kawasaki, foul. TOP FUEL HARLEY Tommy Grimes, Clemmon, N.C., '12 Harley, 6.720, 212.59 def. Ron Gledhill, Taylorsville, Utah, '07 Harley, broke. PRO DRAGSTER HARLEY Scott Truett, Wichita, Kan., '12 Magnum, 7.928, 167.61 def. Dale Nilles, Purlear, N.C., '11 Derringer, 8.138, 161.85. PRO GAS HARLEY Stan Sheppard, Castro Valley, Calif., '96 Buell, 8.402, 155.56 def. Lance Bonham, Sunnyvale, Calif., '98 Kosman, 9.559, 140.08. DRAGGIN BAGGER HARLEY Larry Fore, Commerce City, Colo., '02 Harley, 12.028, 111.06 was unopposed. STREET PRO HARLEY Edward Golson, Conifer, Colo., '08 V-Rod, 12.104, 111.50 was unopposed. HOT STREET HARLEY Larry Fore, Commerce City, Colo., '95 Harley, 13.532, 104.16 was unopposed.