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JCM Racing Post-Race Recap: Denver

NHRA Mile-High Nationals

Event 10 of 21

Bandimere Speedway

Morrison, Colo.

July 14-16, 2023

Top Fuel:

Justin Ashley Shifts Focus from Denver to Seattle

MORRISON, Colo. (July 16, 2023) – The Western Swing is underway and Justin Ashley and the Phillips Connect Toyota Top Fuel team had a bittersweet start to the grueling three-race in three weeks schedule. Ashley picked up his fifth win in the Mission #2Fast2Tasty Challenge on Saturday at Bandimere Speedway, but was eliminated in the first round of the Mile-High Nationals in a tough race against four-time world champion Steve Torrence. After two days of qualifying, Ashley went into race day as the No. 11 qualifier with a weekend-best run of 3.883 seconds at 313.95 MPH.

The 2022 NHRA Rookie of the Year, four-time Top Fuel national event winner in 2023 and current point leader was on a strong win streak against Torrence, collecting win lights the previous nine times the two championship contenders squared off. In the opening stanza of the final Mile-High Nationals, Ashley gave Torrence a run for his money but he came up just short at the finish line. His reaction time advantage of .057 to .071 was not enough to pick up the win light and he had to pedal his 11,000-horsepower race car when it briefly and uncharacteristically overpowered the track.

“There are no excuses. First and foremost, when you come up here and race on the mountain, it's far different than anywhere else,” said Ashley. “It takes a large adjustment. It's the same circumstance for everyone. We've been doing really good and running really well and winning a lot of races but the fields are so tough. We kind of fell behind the eight ball in qualifying so we had a tough first round matchup with Steve. He's been running really good all weekend so it's one of those deals that you kind of just put behind you and move on to Seattle.”

This has been another breakout season for the second generation driver who raced to the semifinals at the 2022 NHRA Mile High Nationals. This year with the continued support of not just Phillips Connect but KATO Fastening Systems, with Chip Lofton, Lucas Oil, Mac Tools and Toyota, Ashley has made huge strides. Earlier this season he announced the formation of Maynard Ashley Racing to continue to take his world-class operation to the next level on and off the track. The competition level has also continued to step every race.

“We knew there was going to be no layups even going back to 2022 and with how good the field was it's almost hard to fathom the fact that it'd be better in 2023,” said Ashley, who has nine Top Fuel national event wins. “You have round-one match ups that are like final rounds. No matter where you look, no matter where you qualify there are upsets left and right and there's really no escaping, so that's what makes it good for the teams; everyone makes each other better. It's good for the fans so we know that we expect to do better and accomplish more than we did today, but we also know that this is part of part of it when you're racing such a good field.”

This weekend had Ashley and the Phillips Connect Toyota Top Fuel team racing in front of three days of sold-out grandstands at Bandimere Speedway. After 65 years of racing on the mountain side, the family sold the property and has already shifted their focus to a new location for a possible state-of-the-art facility. The memories that Ashley and the thousands of fans in attendance will not fade away any time soon.

“It's so much fun. It's amazing,” said Ashley. “The facility itself is stunning. When you combine that with the fans that come here, it's packed, and it's been packed all weekend. They are so engaged and excited about the racing and what the Bandimeres have done. It's really a good culture inside this whole facility.”

The team will leave Denver with the points lead which sits at three rounds over Torrence in second place. They will be back on track in less than a week at the NHRA Northwest Nationals at Pacific Raceway, July 21-23.

Qualified: No. 11 (3.883 E.T. at 313.95 MPH)

Elimination Round Results:

E1: 4.431 E.T. at 244.34 MPH defeated by Steve Torrence 3.817 E.T. at 325.69 MPH

Tony Schumacher Makes Progress at Final NHRA Mile-High Nationals

Despite making steady progress all weekend, Tony Schumacher’s race day at the final NHRA Mile-High Nationals at Bandimere Speedway ended early in the opening round of eliminations. Schumacher’s SCAG Power Equipment Top Fuel dragster made its best run of the event, but it wasn’t quick enough to get the first-round win.

Racing at the first of three events on the Western Swing, Schumacher was one of several drivers that struggled to get down the track in Friday’s first qualifying session. Crew chief Mike Neff and the SCAG team improved in each session after that, stepping up from a 3.966-second pass in the second session to a 3.897 E.T. in the final session on Saturday.

With a sold-out crowd on hand for the third consecutive day, eliminations kicked off Sunday morning. After qualifying No. 12, Schumacher lined up against Clay Millican for a battle between two of the most experienced drivers in the class. Schumacher laid down his best performance of the weekend, a 3.889 E.T. at 309.13 MPH, but Millican was quicker with a winning 3.840 E.T.

“That was heartbreaking,” said Schumacher. “We made a good run. We made it down the track, and in conditions like this, I was excited because it becomes exponentially more difficult up here on the mountain when it's hot out, making no power and it's slippery. I thought, ‘Man, I'm going to have a chance here,’ but Clay made a hell of a run and I knew he would. He's been running real strong right now, so congrats to him.”

The final Mile-High Nationals was a sentimental weekend for Schumacher, who made the first steps in his Top Fuel career at the historic Denver area facility in the mid-‘90s. He’s one of the winningest active drivers at Bandimere with three victories, including 2008 when he ‘swept the swing’ by winning all three races on the Western Swing.

“I really was hoping, being that I got to make my first hit in a Top Fuel car at this racetrack, that we'd go out and win this one,” Schumacher said. “But we are getting it together. We're working through the challenges. I have faith in my guys, and I look forward to getting to the next one.”

Schumacher and the SCAG Power Equipment Top Fuel team will have another shot at a Western Swing victory in just a few days when the NHRA Camping World Series rolls into the Seattle area for the NHRA Northwest Nationals, July 21-23, at Pacific Raceways, where Schumacher returns as the defending event champion.

Qualified: No. 12 (3.897 E.T. at 307.93 MPH)

Elimination Round Results:

E1: 3.889 E.T. at 309.13 MPH defeated by Clay Millican 3.840 E.T. at 322.65 MPH

Funny Car:

Tim Wilkerson Will Go Down in Bandimere History Books as Funny Car Speed Record Holder

Tim Wilkerson won the very first 1,000-foot Funny Car event contested at Bandimere Speedway in 2008. He entered this weekend’s 43rd and final running of the NHRA Mile-High Nationals with his sights set on bookending his Denver racing career with another Wally trophy from the picturesque facility, which sits a mile above sea level.

Aboard the SCAG Power Equipment/Levi, Ray & Shoup Ford Mustang, Wilkerson qualified his Maynard Wilkerson Racing entry eighth on the strength of his 4.004 Q2 pass from Friday night. Earlier that afternoon, Wilkerson recorded a 4.075 E.T. in the heat of the day during the weekend’s opening session to earn two bonus points for clocking the second-quickest run of the round. After two more hits on Saturday, the fields were set, and Wilkerson found himself squaring off against fellow top 10-ranked competitor J.R. Todd in round one of eliminations.

In front of a sold-out crowd for the third day in a row, Wilkerson lined up opposite Todd on Sunday morning, but a loss of traction early into the race enabled Todd to drive around ‘Wilk,’ ending his chances for a second Bandimere Speedway trophy.

“This is always a tricky place to race,” said Wilkerson of the challenging mile-high conditions. “We have been coming here for years, and it just never gets easier to race on the mountain. I’ve had a good car, and the guys are busting their butts to give us the best chance to win, and today we just didn’t have it dialed to win here. We were confident, and I was looking forward to getting back in the car after the red light in Norwalk, but that’s drag racing.

“I’m happy that I was able to host my good friend and long-time partner Dick Levi and the LRS folks this weekend,” added Wilkerson, referring to his 23-year partnership with Levi, Ray & Shoup. “They have been great to me, and I can’t say enough how much I appreciate them. We were also hosting hundreds of folks who work for SCAG dealers and I’m glad we were able to show them a good time this weekend. We see a lot of happy people coming out of that SCAG tent and these people have been awesome. Lots of them have never been to a race and are leaving as fans. It’s a perfect pairing with SCAG being able to show their people a great time and get some great people enjoying our sport. I’m looking forward to getting back to racing in a few short days in Seattle.”

While he didn’t close out his Bandimere career in the winner’s circle, Wilkerson will depart Denver with the consolation prize of knowing he’ll go down in history as the track’s Funny Car speed record holder, which he achieved when he recorded a 329.18 MPH pass during the 2022 event.

Up next on the NHRA tour is the second of three Western Swing stops in Kent, Wash. near Seattle where the SCAG/LRS team will attempt to win their fourth NHRA Northwest Nationals victory. Wilkerson will begin the weekend ranked seventh in the Camping World Series Funny Car standings.

Qualified: No. 8 (4.004 E.T. at 298.60 MPH)

Elimination Round Results:

E1: 4.462 E.T. at 206.01 MPH defeated by J.R. Todd 4.051 E.T. at 316.82 MPH


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