Frank Evancich spent three days last week armed with a hose and broom.
Evancich, an Alameda High School graduate and Denver resident, worked the water box for the National Hot Rod Association’s Mopar Mile High Nationals, held July 19-21 at Bandimere Speedway in Morrison.
His job was to make sure there was water on the track, so when cars rolled toward the starting line, they would get the tires wet to do burnouts. Then, he would grab a broom to help sweep away rocks.
“I’ve been working this race for 25 years,” said Evancich. “I’d been racing sprint cars on Saturdays for 35 or 40 years. I love drag racing. With this job, it’s the idea of being out with everybody and watching the action. In between what we’re doing we glance every once in a while and watch a race.”
An estimated 114,000 people watched Mile High Nationals events, which actually started July 18 with a Mopar block party in Golden. Fans are allowed to walk around the pit area and scrutinize crews as they work on the cars. Unlike most sports, there were seven divisions of amateur drivers competing on the same track and same venue as the professionals. Two sportsman classes, Top Dragster and Top Sportsman, competed for national honors for the first time this summer at Bandimere.
The monsoon rains that hit some areas of the state avoided Morrison and the Mile High National drag races were contested with good weather and near-capacity crowds. The Bandimere stop is the 14th race on the 2013 NHRA tour, with four remaining before the points are reset for the Countdown to the Championship, which is the NHRA’s version of the playoffs.
Funny Car driver Cruz Pedregon and Steve Torrence, in a Top Fuel dragster, set track records in the qualifying rounds that were held during the first two days.
Pedregon and Torrence were the No. 1 qualifiers in their respective classes going into the July 21 elimination rounds. Allen Johnson’s magic on the Thunder Mountain track near Morrison continued, and he was the top seed for the fourth straight year in Pro Stock, while Adam Arana was the No. 1 seed in Pro Stock Motorcycle.
Johnson defeated Lakewood’s V. Gaines July 21 in the Bandimere finals for the second straight season, capturing his fourth Mile High Nationals championship in the past five years, and the fifth of his career at the drag racing facility. He has been in eight Mile High finals, including seven in a row.
The Greeneville, Tenn., native eliminated Mike Edwards, the last Pro Stock driver to win at Bandimere other than Johnson in the past five seasons, in the second round, and his 6.989-second run at 196.87 miles per hour downed Gaines’ 7.015 at 196.67-mph effort in an all-Mopar Super Stock finals.
“The Mopar Express Lane Dodge Avenger crew is the reason for all the success for the last seven years here,” said Johnson, who clinched a spot in the Countdown to the Championship. “They’re determined to win every year. We’re really thrilled to come out here with a win for Mopar on their 25th anniversary of this race. For them and the Bandimere family, having that marriage for 25 years, we really wanted to win it for that marriage. We pulled it off and we’re very happy.”
Pedregon knocked off Bob Tasca III to capture the Funny Car championship. It was his second win at Bandimere, coming 20 years after he was victorious in 1993.
“I can remember winning in 1993 and winning this race means the same to win,” said Pedregon, who drove his 8,000-horsepower Toyota Camry to a 4.233 elapsed time at 295.46 mph in the final run.
Spencer Massey beat Bob Vandergriff in the Top Fuel finals with an ET of 3.974 and 309.27 mph. He lost in the Mile High semifinals last year but won in 2011 at Bandimere.
“We used all the data from last year and the year before,” said Massey. “I love it up here and the key to winning was to tune smart and drive smart.”
Shawn Gann captured to Pro Stock Motorcycle title with a final-round triumph over Hector Arana Jr. for his first win in nine years.
“It was a long drought, but if you give up the fight, you’re never going to get out of that drought,” said Gann.
Four Funny Car drivers actually lowered the track record July 19, but Pedregon, a two-time world champion, broke his own Bandimere standard during the second qualifying session with a 4.073 ET and a speed of 307.37 mph. Cruz had set the previous track mark July 19, 2011, with a run of 4.095. The NHRA national Funny Car ET record of 3.986 was established last year by Jack Beckman at Mohnton, Pa.
“I consider it an honor to come back here and break that track record from two years ago,” said Pedregon. “ It was still daylight when we raced. The track was awesome. I was waiting for it to cool off a bit but conditions were great. I knew someone was going to run quicker than my 4.09 and I’m just glad it was us that did it.”
Torrence, with Pueblo native Lee Beard serving as his new crew chief, earned the No. 1 Top Fuel qualifying spot with a record run in the fourth session July 20. He had a top speed of 319.60 mph, which broke Antron Brown’s Thunder Mountain record of 318.39 set in 2009.
“It’s pretty cool to have your name on the top of the list at Bandimere,” said Torrence. “This is an awesome track.”
During the sportsman Super Gas eliminations July 19, Bill Dennis of Roswell, N.M., hit the wall in his 1957 Corvette and flipped his car. He was released from the hospital later in the evening.