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.