Tommy Johnson Jr.’s first final round in his NHRA professional career came at Bandimere Speedway in 1991, but it took until Sunday at the 40th annual Dodge Mile-High NHRA Nationals presented by Pennzoil for the Funny Car veteran to grab his first victory at the facility.
Steve Torrence (Top Fuel), Greg Anderson (Pro Stock) and Andrew Hines (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were also winners in their respective categories at the 14th of 24 races, and the first of three races on the famed Western Swing, during the 2019 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season.
Johnson raced to his second victory of 2019 and 19th in his career in the process, going 4.102-seconds at 308.50 mph in his Make-A-Wish Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat to beat Bob Tasca’s 4.158 at 302.14 in the final round. Johnson, who is second in points, had advanced to the finals in four different categories at Bandimere Speedway, including Funny Car and Top Fuel, but he came through on Sunday against Tasca. He reached the finals with wins against Jeff Diehl, Jack Beckman and Cruz Pedregon.
Tasca, who has reached the final round at three of the past four events, knocked off Jim Campbell, Ron Capps and No. 1 qualifier and points leader Robert Hight to earn his 15th career finals berth.
“We made a great run last night – my quickest and fastest ever on the mountain – and it gave the guys confidence,” Johnson said. “I knew going into today we had a good racecar and my guys did a great job. We’re a much better team now and we’ve grown so much as a team, so it’s good to get it done. It wasn’t easy, but we finally got a couple breaks and we finally got it done here. The race has a lot of prestige and it’s so much different than all the rest we run all year. You want to win the unique ones, and this is definitely the most unique of our whole tour.”
Torrence maintained his dominant pace in Top Fuel, picking up his eighth win in the past nine races after going 4.044 at 270.21 in the final round in his Capco Contractors dragster to beat Clay Millican’s 4.126 at 267.64. Torrence, the defending world champ and points leader, won for the second time in Denver and 35th time in his career, rolling to his ninth straight final round in the process. To get there, Torrence, who qualified No. 1 in Denver and has already clinched his spot in the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship, beat Richie Crampton and Brittany Force.
Millican knocked off Doug Kalitta, defending event champ Leah Pritchett and Jordan Vandergriff to advance to his fourth final this season and 19th in his career.
“I don’t believe I’ve realized what we’ve been able to accomplish over the last couple of years, and when you’re in these moments you need to relish them and enjoy them because they don’t last forever,” said Torrence, who tied Don Garlits on the NHRA’s all-time wins list. “We’ve been able to maintain that consistency and the team we’ve assembled, we’ve been able to have these guys together for six years continuously. They’ve made the right calls and decisions, and they’ve given the crew chief the right car time and time again.”
Pro Stock veteran Anderson won for the second straight year in Denver, picking up his first victory of the season and 92nd in his career after going 6.950 at 196.96 in his Summit Racing Equipment Chevrolet Camaro to beat Matt Hartford’s 6.965 at 196.96. It marks Anderson’s first victory since this race a season ago and also fourth career win in Denver, as he picked up round wins against Fernando Cuadra, No. 1 qualifier Richard Freeman and Deric Kramer to reach the finals.
Hartford advanced to his fourth career final round and third this season with victories against Alex Laughlin, Val Smeland and Jeg Coughlin Jr.
“It’s been a year since I’ve been able to win a race, and the class is just tough,” Anderson said. “It says a lot about the class and what it’s about, so I’m proud. The race car was great, just like it was a year ago out here. Obviously, my Summit Chevy loves this racetrack and loves racing at a mile high. It feels wonderful to get the job done and everybody did a great job. They were flawless today.”
Points leader Hines continued to roll in Pro Stock Motorcycle, picking up his sixth win in eight races this year by going 7.174 at 186.67 in the final round on his Screamin’ Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson FXDR to beat teammate Eddie Krawiec’s 7.222 at 186.38. Hines, who extended his points lead, put together an impressive result in the debut race of the new FXDR, beating Cory Reed, Hector Arana and defending world champ Matt Smith en route to the win.
Krawiec reached the final round with victories against Karen Stoffer, Jerry Savoie and defending event winner Hector Arana Jr., but there seems to be no stopping Hines in 2019 after he earned his class-best fifth win in Denver and 54th career victory. Hines, the winningest driver in the class, also became the first rider in Pro Stock Motorcycle to reach 500 career round wins on Sunday.
“Rolling out this new FXDR, it’s been so much work these last few months,” Hines said. “Bringing that motorcycle here, we didn’t know what quite to expect, but we put them both in the final round. You’ve got to have the full preparation and make sure your mind is right coming to these national events. Everybody in the class can step up at any time, and it seems like my bike has been in the right place at the right time in the right round. We just ride the wave when we can.”
The Mello Yello Drag Racing Series continues July 26-28 with the NHRA Sonoma Nationals at Sonoma Raceway. It is the second race of the NHRA’s famed three-race Western Swing, and eliminations will be shown live on the FOX national broadcast network.