DENVER – Qualifying No. 1 at any race track is special, but doing it at Bandimere Speedway is extra special for Jack Beckman because the track is like a second home to the Funny Car driver.
Beckman sped to the provisional pole for the Mopar Mile High Nationals on Friday with a pass of 4.131 seconds at 304.05 mph, edging Robert Hight (4.135 at 304.53) and Ron Capps (4.137 at 301.54 mph).
"It's pretty cool because I love this place," Beckman said. "I came to my first Mile High Nationals when I was stationed here in the Air Force in 1984. The next three years I drove 500 miles one way to be here because it's such a phenomenal race. Then, when I started my pro career, I've had really good success here."
Beckman won in Denver in 2007 and was runner-up in 2008. Other competitors share his love of Bandimere, too, and Beckman likes to say everything about the track is phenomenal, "as long as you're not a crew chief."
Why? Because Bandimere is unlike any race track in America. For starters, the altitude plays tricks on the nitro engines, robbing them of horsepower and forcing changes to the tuneup.
"Nothing you do here translates to any other race track," Beckman said. "Our first big hope, all kidding aside, is that the car starts."
In the first qualifying session in 2011, Beckman's car didn't start, so he already had a leg up on that Friday when he made a solid pass in Q1.
"But the other thing that's completely unique about Bandimere is there's 200 feet of cooling coils under the race track," Beckman said. "Nowhere else are those used."
Beckman and his Valvoline NextGen Dodge team overcame all those obstacles to sit atop the Funny Car charts, with two more qualifying sessions slated for Saturday.
"When you get that piece of paper that says you were the best on that run, it's awesome to hear the excitement when they come over the radio in the shutdown area," Beckman said. "They work just as hard whether we smoke the tires or qualify No. 1. The give-back to the team guys is that number on the scoreboard."
Spencer Massey was able to give back to his team, too, as he parlayed a pass of 3.914 seconds at 309.49 mph in Q1 to the provisional pole. Then, as the temperatures cooled Bandimere, Massey waited for other drivers to go faster. None did.
"Extremely surprised that nobody ran quicker because the conditions were coming around and the track was a lot better than everybody thought," Massey said. "I'm surprised we didn't see an .87 or an .88, especially Antron (Brown) or Tony (Schumacher) or the Morgan Lucas car or Steve Torrence. I've just got to say hat's off to the Fram guys. They plugged in the tuneup from last year and lucked out the first round."
Massey's Don Schumacher Racing teammate, Brown, was second at 3.923 at 305.98 mph, with Doug Kalitta third at 3.925 at 307.44 mph.
Denver is an important race for Allen Johnson, despite living 1,400 miles away in Greeneville, Tenn. Why? Because Johnson drives a Dodge and is sponsored by Mopar, which also sponsors the race here. Johnson tests a lot at Bandimere, and the results show it: He's reached the final round here five years in a row, winning three times.
His pass of 6.962 seconds at 197.62 mph topped the Pro Stock class Friday.
"We're really happy," Johnson said. "Nothing would make me happier than to win that Wally on Sunday, No. 1 pole position – and hand all that to Mopar on their 75th anniversary. This is the sponsor's race, and we're always up here trying to do well. We actually left a little on the table tonight and didn't run as good as we should, but it was good enough for No. 1."
Mike Edwards (6.966 at 197.80 mph) was second, with another Dodge, of V Gaines (6.975 at 197.88 mph), was third.
Lucas Oil Buell rider Hector Arana Jr. broke out a new engine for Denver, an older model that he hasn't run since he first made a pass on a Pro Stock Motorcycle in January 2011 in a test session in Bradenton. Fla.
But all "The Replacement" did was match the track-record elapsed time of 7.238 seconds at 184.57 mph to claim the provisional No. 1.
"We haven't run that motor for a year," Arana Jr. said. "That motor was actually the first motor I ran ever on a Buell down a quarter-mile. We've got it back in the bike, and we're just having fun.
"It's a big confidence booster. I honestly didn't expect this motor to run as well as it did, being that we haven't touched it for that long. We've always just put it to the side. It's called "The Replacement," and it's doing its job."
His dad, Hector Arana Sr., was second at 7.243 at 183.62 mph, with Andrew Hines third at 7.290 at 182.70 mph.