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Mopar Mile-High Nationals at Denver Recap

MORRISON, Colo. - Who's bad to the bone? Who received an unexpectedly encouraging note Sunday morning? Who said he threatened to revoke Courtney Force's NHRA competition license? Find out the answers -- and more -- from the Mopar Mile-High Nationals recap from Bandimere Speedway.

Destination: Winners Circle - Antron Brown (Top Fuel), Jack Beckman (Funny Car), Allen Johnson (Pro Stock), Eddie Krawiec (Pro Stock Motorcycle). The double victory with Brown and Beckman gave Don Schumacher Racing its 186th and 187th triumphs.

Countdown Clinchers - The following racers secured spots in the Countdown to the Championship, the six-race playoff that will begin at Charlotte after the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals Labor Day classic at Indianapolis. Those doing so during qualifying were Funny Car's Robert Hight and Pro Stock's Greg Anderson, Allen Johnson, and Jason Line. Top Fuel's Spencer Massey secured his berth during eliminations, as did Pro Stock Motorcycle dominators Eddie Krawiec and Andrew Hines.

Biggest Winner of the Weekend - Allen Johnson. The Greeneville, Tenn., veteran defeated good friend V Gaines in an all-Mopar-branded final round to leap from third place in the standings to first. Afterward, he presented the Pro Stock trophy to the Mopar delegation to commemorate the company's 75th anniversary. Mopar is a longtime sponsor of Johnson and his father Roy, as well as longtime sponsor of this event. Johnson drove his Team Mopar/J&J Dodge Avenger to the No. 1 qualifying position with a track-record elapsed time that he rewrote to 6.916 in the opening round. On that first pass Sunday, he also set the class' top speed of the meet at 198.70 mph. His explanation for such an outstanding performance was "Practice makes perfect. For years we have come here and tested, and we've developed a tune-up that's bad to the bone."

Biggest Losers of the Weekend - The KB/Summit Racing team of Greg Anderson and Jason Line. Allen Johnson not only defeated each on his way to the victory but leapfrogged both in the standings to assume the points lead. "They're going to be teed off," Johnson said, both with glee but a sense that those two will be even more difficult to beat the next time.

Up-Down Index - Top three making improvements: Allen Johnson (Pro Stock), Brandon Bernstein (Top Fuel), V Gaines (Pro Stock). Headed the wrong direction/having bad weekend: Tony Schumacher (Top Fuel) and Paul Pittman (Pro Stock).

Most Notable Qualifying Occurrence - Funny Car's Todd Lesenko was the odd man out in his class, and the Pro Stock Motorcycle class had four DNQs (John Hall, James Surber, and the father-daughter combo of Charlie and Katie Sullivan). But the Top Fuel class had only 16 cars, and the often-overflowing Pro Stock class barley filled the eliminations ladder with just 16 entrants. The car count was low, but the attendance -- particularly given the near-triple-digit temperatures and the prominent news story of the Aurora theatre massacre on everyone's minds -- was phenomenal, arguably the best Friday and three-day crowd the NHRA has had all season.

Most Notable Elimination Occurrence - Paul Pittman's Pro Stock accident. No. 16 qualifier Paul Pittman, of Bloomington, Minn., was making his first NHRA Pro Stock start. He was unhurt after his car rolled over and ricocheted off both guard walls during the first round of Pro Stock competition. Oppenent Allen Johnson was on a record-setting quarter-mile dash in the opposite lane, but Pittman to his right, started drifting toward the center line. He tried to reel the car back in, but it fishtailed and barrel-rolled over sending it into the wall and causing it to pinball back and forth across the track and burst into flames. "It just happened. It happened quick, but just like they say, it happened in slow-motion," Pittman said. "I told myself, 'Don't go unconscious. Stay awake.' " He walked from the car on his own power. Emergency medical officials evaluated him and released him. Pittman, who won this race in the sportsman-level Super Gas class in 1998, had planned to compete at the next six races but the destroyed car was his only one, so he will be out of action until he can build another one. He said he plans to return for the 2013 season: "It's not going to deter me."

Special Salute To - Top Fuel driver Brandon Bernstein and family. He and wife Tracey welcomed son Landon Russell to the world Wednesday, July 18.

Best Promotion - Matt Hagan's video-driven campaign for the fan vote to gain a spot in the Traxxas Shootout. In a fun video that shows Hagan on his Virginia cattle farm and at the racetrack in his Aaron's Dodge Charger for Don Schumacher Racing, Hagan makes his appeal to get into the race that even Traxxas-sponsored Courtney Force, though she's sixth in points and has reached two finals, is not entered, either. He introduced a new website,, and said at the end of the video, "I'm Matt Hagan, and I endorse this message."

From the heart -

Tributes to Aurora theatre mass murder victims, in prayers and moments of silence throughout he weekend, as well as with expressions of sympathy from racers.


Bandimere Speedway and the NHRA joined NoCo Rebuilding Network to help those affected by the recent Colorado wildfires. NoCo Rebuilding Network supports sustainable rebuilding and recovery by raising funds that are distributed directly to those affected by natural disasters, and its representatives were at the racetrack Saturday and Sunday to receive donations. Popular Denver radio show host Willie B. of station KBPI broadcast live from the event during those two days and offered an incentive to fans to contribute to the cause. Every fan making a $2 minimum donation received a raffle ticket for Willy B.'s giveaway of a 1958 Dodge Royal. Speedway owner John Bandimere said, "Our hearts go out to those affected by the wildfires this season. It has been a challenging year for those who lost property, as well as for the firefighters and support staff. Our hope would be the fundraising effort provides monetary relief, as well as emotional and spiritual encouragement."

Sportsman Highlights - Jeg Coughlin competed in Stock Eliminator class in his Dodge Challenger Drag Pak entry as well as in Pro Stock. He made it to the semifinals in Stock, but he lost in the first round of Pro Stock to Greg Anderson. Three winners -- Michael Brand II (Stock), A.J. Percival (Super Comp), and Joey Horan (Super Street) -- are from Colorado. Other winners were Dan Fletcher (Super Stock) and Ken Harkema (Super Gas).

Most Memorable Quotes of the Weekend -

Allen Johnson, who lost the chance for a repeat victory here with a red-light foul in the final round and red-lit also in the second round in 2009, said Saturday he wasn't concerned about disqualifying himself again this time. Knowing he would face first-time Pro Stock racer Paul Pittman, he dismissed any notion that he might get too amped up against an unfamiliar opponent. Said Johnson, "I don't worry about that. For me to red-light, I'd have to go brain-dead."

Allen Johnson, after winning his third race of the season, said this marks the first time in his 17-year career he has won three races in one campaign. "This is a tough dang sport. We came loaded for bear."

V Gaines, the Pro Stock runner-up, approached Johnson in the pits before they faced each other in the final round. Gaines, a Lakewood, Colo., businessman, long had wanted to see an all-Mopar final round. He hugged Johnson and said, "Thank you for making my dream come true."

Jack Beckman won the Funny Car final, squaring off against Courtney Force. She (as were sisters Ashley and Brittany and mom Laurie) was his student at the Frank Hawley Drag Racing School, and he signed her NHRA competition license. He denied Force her first victory in her second final-round appearance in the past three races. After his 4.277-second victory at 293.79 mph that barely defeated her 4.289 / 283.49, Beckman teased, "I signed her license, and I was about to revoke the damned thing if she didn't let me win."

Eddie Krawiec, who has won four Pro Stock Motorcycle races, defeated red-lighting teammate Andrew Hines, who has won the other three races this year. Krawiec said, "Talk a bout a dream season. To be honest with you, this race shouldn’t have been ours. We were struggling to keep up. I had to go after it. But we're making minimal mistakes. Eventually we're going to be on the losing side, but for now, we're enjoying it."

Antron Brown brought Brandon Bernstein's week-long excitement to an end with an 11-thousandth-of-a-second margin of victory. He understood that winning would be a thrill beyond compare for Bernstein, who became a dad for the second time this past Wednesday (he and wife Tracey welcomed son Landon to join daughter Lyla) and who desperately was overdue to win for the first time in 60 races. Said Brown, "I know he wanted to win, but I wanted to win, too."

Down the Road - July 27-29, FRAM/Autolite Nationals, Infineon Raceway, Sonoma, Calif.

At The Back Gate - Seldom does a crew chief leave a thoughtful note on a driver's helmet, but it happened in the Al-Anabi/Toyota Dragster pit Sunday -- and it brought much-needed good luck to Top Fuel rookie Khalid al Balooshi. The Los Angeles-based Dubai native entered race day 0-12 in eliminations, and tuner Jason McCulloch stuck a Post-It Note on al Balooshi's helmet. It read, "Balooshi, today is your day -- You can do it. - Jake" Inspired, al Balooshi went out and defeated seven-time champion Tony Schumacher by one-thousandth of a second. Afterward he unzipped his fire suit to reveal the note stuck to his shirt. It turns out that al Balooshi had wanted to post the note inside his dragster but figured it would blow away. So he stuck it to himself, on his fireproof undershirt. "I saw the win light, but I didn't believe it," he said. "Before the first round, I felt good. I felt everything was OK." The scoreboard: 4.014, 301.81 for al Balooshi, 4.020, 304.19 for Schumacher. Spencer Massey ended al Balooshi's fun in the quarterfinal.

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