John Bandimere Sr. built the Safety Proving Grounds of America in 1958 after he purchased 180 acres of land for $13,500.
His plan was to provide a place for young men and women to drag-race and learn about automobiles.
John Bandimere Sr. passed away in 1986, but his proving grounds, now named Bandimere Speedway, located along the Hogback near Morrison, is celebrating its 55th year of drag racing and will host its biggest event of the season, the Mopar Mile High Nationals, July 19-21.
“I'm a Wheat Ridge kid,” said John Bandimere Jr. “I'm a Wheat Ridge Farmer. I graduated from high school in 1956. I raced on the street and so did a lot of kids. My dad wanted a place for us to be away from all the dangers.
“I first came out after Dad bought the property and was moving dirt. Rooney Road was a dirt road. Actually Alameda wasn't totally paved. The way you came in was off Colfax.”
Bandimere Jr. took an active role in the track operations in the mid-1970s and tried to find a national event to host because the track was not making money. In 1977 the track, nicknamed Thunder Mountain, hosted the NHRA Sports Nationals and the next year the NHRA Mile High Nationals was the first race with professional categories to compete at Bandimere.
“In 1987 the president of the NHRA at that time, Dallas Gardner, came to me after the event and said, `You need to do something because we can't come back here,'” recalled Bandimere. “The reason was, we were putting 100 matches in a matchbox that maybe held 50. That sort of thing.
“I said to Dallas, `I have one question. If we spend the money and we bring this facility up to stature, will you give us a sabbatical where we could have a year off and then come back?' He said, `Absolutely.'”
Bandimere Speedway overcame financial difficulties and underwent a $4.2 million renovation in 1988.
“Highway 470 started being built in September 1987,” said Bandimere. “So what happened, we needed to move a lot of dirt. We were on the side of a mountain and needed to flatten things out. I went to the (Jefferson) County and in those days got a permit for $15. They asked me what we were going to do and I said we had to move a little bit of dirt. They didn't ask me how much. They wanted their $15.
“They were building the highway and we were moving all this dirt. We moved almost 4 million yards of dirt. While we were moving all the dirt, the public thought the highway was being built.”
The track renovation, however, was red-flagged.
“The day came when they were ready to dedicate the bridge on Morrison Road,” continued Bandimere. “They were all there with dignitaries and I've got tractors going up and down the hill. They came over that day and red-tagged it. I said we were moving some dirt and rebuilding our facility. I thought that was probably going to be the end of the rebuilding.
“The county realized this was a needed thing and went along with us, took the red flags off and we had to meet a few rules. The track is in the exact same place. What we changed was all the parking, the pit area, building of the tower and the Eliminator Club.”
After the track facelift, Mopar came on as the sponsor of the Mile High Nationals.
“They have been our sponsor of this event from that day until now,” Bandimere said of the 25-year partnership with parts, service and customer care branches within Chyrsler Group LLC. “It's been among the longest-running sponsorships in racing history. They redid the contract a year ago for three more years. This is the first of another three years that we're involved with them.”
In 2008 an all-concrete racing surface was installed, with a cooling system under each lane to circulate chilled water in an area 20 feet wide, extending from 40 feet behind the staging beams to 120 feet after it. The system reduces the track temperature between 15-20 degrees.
A trans-lux scoreboard was installed in 2009 and a timing system with fiber optic lines has also been added to the track.
“This is one of the only tracks that has a downhill for staging and an uphill to shutoff,” pointed out Bandimere. “That's what my dad really, really wanted. There are a lot of tracks around the country that you have to go uphill to get to the staging. You have to start and stop and many times they get up there ready to make a run and their battery is dead because these cars don't run generators. ”
Bandimere, 75, admits he almost sold the track several years ago, when he considered joining a group that was pondering building a NASCAR track with a drag strip in Aurora. Several factors were involved in rejecting that project.
More than 125 events a season, including the Mile High Nationals, are held at Bandimere Speedway each season to help keep the track profitable.
Bandimere says 2008 set a standard for the track.
“That particular year was the best year the facility has had,” he said. “Everything, the weather and events, worked out really good that year. We've never been able to hit that same standard. We always kind of look at things and say, `How does it compare to 2008?'
“There are not many facilities in the country like this that make any money. The reason they don't in most cases is that they are not willing to pay the price. We develop relationships. God has blessed us. We are not at 2008 this year, but we're way ahead of last year. We're happy with that.”
Bandimere has future plans for the track his dad built.
“I have no interest in leaving at this point,” he said. “We have a lot of things on our plate but what we really want to do is get water and sewer onto the property. For 55 years we've run this facility with port-a-pots, and actually, with this type of race, even if we had water we would use a lot of port-a-lets. The reason is because it is so spread out.
“I want to make changes. I want to build some new buildings. I want to build better concessions, hopefully by next year.”
Two sessions of professional preliminaries of this year's Mile High Nationals, set for 5:15 and 7:15 p.m., will be held July 19. Two more qualifying runs will be held at 1:45 and 4:45 p.m. July 20, with the final eliminations set to begin at 11 a.m. Sunday July 21.
Defending Mile High pro winners are Antron Brown (Top Fuel), Jack Beckman (Funny Car), Allen Johnson (Pro Stock) and Eddie Krawiec (Pro Stock Motorcycle).