Story By: NHRA – DENVER, CO – The journey wasn’t always easy for Matt Hagan at Bandimere Speedway, but the three-time Funny Car world champion broke through for his long-awaited first win at the legendary facility in 2021.
It was a memorable moment for Hagan and he’s looking for another at this weekend’s 43rd annual Dodge Power Brokers NHRA Mile-High Nationals. The track is celebrating its 65th anniversary in 2023, which puts a huge spotlight on the weekend.
That spotlight gets bigger for Hagan, the current Funny Car points leader, with Dodge’s longtime association with the facility. But he welcomes the moment in his 11,000-horsepower Dodge Direct Connection Charger SRT Hellcat as the NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series opens its famed three-race Western Swing.
“It was tough to win that first Mile-High Nationals ‘Wally’ trophy. But I love the scenery and the atmosphere at that track with the fans,” Hagan said. “Everybody enjoys themselves at the event and the stands are packed. When I do a burnout, I can see the people so deep along the fences and they’re excited. It’s such a cool event with the Dodge and Mopar involvement. I love meeting the fans there. We’ll be set to run strong I can tell you that much. It’s a blast. We have to thank the Bandimere family for giving us one of the most outstanding drag racing facilities in the world.”
Leah Pruett (Top Fuel), Robert Hight (Funny Car), Matt Hartford (Pro Stock) and Matt Smith (Pro Stock Motorcycle) won the 2022 event, and this year’s race be broadcast on both the FOX broadcast network and Fox Sports 1 (FS1), including eliminations coverage starting at 4 p.m. ET on Sunday, July 16 on FOX. It is the 10th of 21 races during the 2023 season and Hagan is in a good place approaching the second half of the year.
He’s won three races this season and went to the final round at the most recent event in Norwalk, giving the team plenty of momentum heading into Thunder Mountain. Of course, racing in Denver presents unique challenges not seen anywhere else on the NHRA tour, but Hagan likes his team’s chances, even going against the likes of Hight, John Force, Cruz Pedregon, Tim Wilkerson and Alexis DeJoria.
Hagan will also take part in the Mission #2Fast2Tasty NHRA Challenge on Saturday, facing off against J.R. Todd. The other matchup is Bob Tasca III and Ron Capps, as the new bonus race offers points and a bonus purse on Saturday. It’s another exciting element for the weekend, but Hagan knows he must be focused during what can be a rigorous event.
“Denver is its own special place, so the momentum we had coming out of Norwalk in the (final round) is big,” Hagan said. “We always take a different combination to Denver that we’ve done well with. It’s given us one win and three number one qualifiers. Denver is its own animal. The mountain is incredible to conquer, but it’s tough to do. The momentum of the guys working together and being in sync is huge. We do have a lot of momentum with the rounds we were able to go in Norwalk. We’re always learning, so you carry that into every race.”
Hagan’s Top Fuel teammate, Pruett, will look for back-to-back Denver wins and her second straight win in 2023 against standouts like points leader Justin Ashley, defending world champ Brittany Force, Antron Brown and Austin Prock.
Hartford enjoyed his first Pro Stock win at Bandimere Speedway last season and enters as the most recent event winner. Others to watch include points leader Dallas Glenn, defending world champ Erica Enders, Aaron Stanfield and Denver native Deric Kramer.
Smith won in Denver for the second straight year a season ago, spurring his run to a sixth world title. The standout is looking for his first win of the season taking on the likes of points leader Gaige Herrera, Angie Smith, Steve Johnson and Hector Arana Jr.
The event also will feature thrilling competition in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series, as well as the Dodge Charger/Challenger Shootout, which features an eight-car field. The fan-favorite Mountain Motor Pro Stock category will also race in Denver. After nitro qualifying on Friday and Saturday, fans can enjoy a jet car racing exhibition featuring the Team “Muy Caliente” Jet Cars followed by a special fireworks display.
The race also features the NHRA Summit Racing Jr. Drag Racing League Shootout, as well as autograph sessions at the Dodge and Mission Foods Midway Displays, along with performances from the Mountain Vista High School marching band and “The Skyline Drumline.”
Race fans at Bandimere Speedway can enjoy the special pre-race ceremonies that introduce and celebrate each of the drivers racing for the prestigious Wally on Sunday and includes the fan favorite SealMaster Track Walk. The final can’t-miss experience of any NHRA event is the winner’s circle celebration on Sunday after racing concludes, where fans are invited to congratulate the final Dodge Power Brokers NHRA Mile-High Nationals event winners.
Fans are invited to the Nitro Alley Stage, which will help create a festive atmosphere leading into Nitro Alley. The Nitro Alley Stage will be the main entertainment hub in the pits when the Camping World Drag Racing Series competitors are not on the track, hosting Nitro School, meet and greets and much more. As always, fans get a pit pass to the most powerful and sensory-filled motorsports attraction on the planet. Fans can see their favorite teams in action and servicing their hot rods between rounds, get autographs from their favorite NHRA drivers, and more. They can also visit NHRA’s Manufacturers Midway, where sponsors and race vendors create an exciting atmosphere that includes interactive displays, merchandise, food, and fun.
NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series qualifying will feature two rounds at 3:30 and 7:00 p.m. MT on Friday, July 14 and the final two rounds of qualifying on Saturday, July 15 at 2:30 and 6 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. MT on Sunday, July 16. Television coverage includes qualifying action on FS1 at 7 p.m. ET on Friday, 10:30 a.m. on Sunday, and then eliminations on FOX at 4 p.m. ET on Sunday.