Story By: SCOTT SMITH / NHRA – MORRISON, CO – After securing his first career NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Top Fuel win a month ago, Blake Alexander gets to enjoy another first at this weekend’s 39th annual Dodge Mile-High NHRA Nationals at Bandimere Speedway.
The event will mark the first time the young standout will race in Denver and Alexander is eager to continue his recent momentum.
Alexander’s first professional win came in Norwalk, a surreal moment for the driver who had made his first career final round appearance a month prior. But Alexander and his team have progressed at a rapid rate in part-time action in 2018, and the thrilling victory in his 10,000-horsepower Pronto Auto Service dragster has only motivated Alexander more for his first trip to Bandimere Speedway.
“This always looked like a marquee event on the tour,” said the 29-year-old Alexander. “It’s a tough race for a crew and crew chief, but it looks like one of the best events on the tour. There’s so much support there and the stands are always packed, so that speaks for itself. There will be some things I’ll have to learn on the fly, but that’s what you have to do. When you don’t run full-time, you don’t get a bunch of testing, so it’s up to you to do your job and make your adjustments so on Sunday morning you’re doing everything your crew chief wants you to do.”
Antron Brown (Top Fuel), Robert Hight (Funny Car), Drew Skillman (Pro Stock), and Eddie Krawiec (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were last year’s winners of the event that will be televised on FOX Sports 1 and FOX, including live final eliminations on FOX at 3 p.m. (ET) on Sunday, July 22. It is the 14th of 24 events in 2018 and starts the famed three-race Western Swing, presenting a major challenge right off the bat. Alexander will race at an altitude of more than 5.800 feet for the first time, but he heads into the race riding an impressive wave of momentum.
In just three races this season, Alexander has 10 round wins, including a runner-up in Atlanta. The team followed that up with the victory in Norwalk, taking out heavy hitters like Brown, Tony Schumacher and Leah Pritchett to become the 105th different winner in Top Fuel history. But Alexander, who made his class debut a year ago after a handful of years in Funny Car, has seen success working with an experienced group. Former driver Bob Vandergriff is the team owner, while Alexander has meshed well with a team led by successful crew chief Ron Douglas.
“Ron knows what he’s doing and Bob knows how to pick personnel,” Alexander said. “That combo allows us to perform like we’re a full-time team. We’ve hit the ground running and the standard has been set. The set-up they give me is flawless and it’s done with absolute precision. It allows me to focus on the tree, keeping the car in the groove and I don’t have to worry about other factors. The talented people around me is humbling and it’s really helped me rise to the occasion.”
But after getting his first career win, Alexander is anxious for more. A first-time trip to Denver will make it difficult, as will going against the likes of points leader Steve Torrence, who has five wins in 2018, defending champ Brittany Force, Doug Kalitta and Clay Millican, but Alexander knows he’s passionate about more success and he can see it in his team as well.
“We came close to winning and it left this hunger that’s hard to explain,” Alexander said. “You want to do anything it takes to get there and it’s so great to win, but it just makes you hungry to get after it again. It’s not going to be easy, but you know the reward is sweet if you can get it. We want to keep doing it. We’ve been chipping away at running well and making as few mistakes as we can.”
Reigning Funny Car world champ Hight will try to defend his Denver event win against the likes of points leader Courtney Force, Matt Hagan, who has back-to-back wins, and Ron Capps.
Skillman will try to become the ninth different winner in Pro Stock in 2018. Points leader Tanner Gray, Jeg Coughlin Jr. and world champ Bo Butner will be among the top challengers.
Eddie Krawiec won in Denver for the fourth time in 2017 and the reigning world champ is the current points leader over talents like Andrew Hines, Matt Smith and L.E. Tonglet.
The event also features thrilling competition in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series, showcasing the future stars of the sport. After Nitro qualifying, fans can watch the spectacular Majestic jet car from El Arabe Racing, the Lucas Oil Muy Caliente jet and the Lucas Oil Terminal Velocity jet. Jet cars are thrust driven propelled by jet engines with exciting pre-run flame shows.
Those in attendance will have the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to interact with a few of the most renowned names in drag racing during the NHRA Legends Tour. This will feature meet-and-greets, autograph sessions, and a variety of other activities. Legends scheduled to attend the Dodge Mile-High NHRA Nationals include Kenny Bernstein, Judy Lilley, John Bandimere Jr. and more.
For the 17th consecutive year, the Mopar Big Block Party Presented by Pennzoil, scheduled for Thursday, July 19, from 6 to 10 p.m. MT, will serve as the “official starter” of the Dodge Mile-High NHRA Nationals Powered by Mopar race weekend. The popular free-admission event, held on the streets of downtown Golden, Colorado, provides race fans the opportunity to meet their favorite Mopar Dodge Pennzoil NHRA drag racing stars in an hour-long autograph session. Attendees can experience virtual “rides” down the drag strip in Dodge Challenger SRT Demon race simulators and take virtual spins in simulators located in the Pennzoil display, hear live music from the Steve Thomas Band and visit a variety of food, drink and merchandise tents. For complete information on the Mopar Big Block Party Presented by Pennzoil, visit www.milehighblockparty.com.
As always, fans can interact with their favorite drivers as they’re granted an exclusive pit pass to the most powerful and sensory-filled motorsports attraction on the planet. This unique opportunity gives fans direct access to the teams, allowing them to see firsthand the highly-skilled mechanics service their hot rods between rounds, and get autographs from their favorite NHRA drivers.
Fans also will want to visit NHRA’s popular Nitro Alley and Manufacturers Midway, where sponsors and race vendors create a carnival atmosphere, with interactive displays, simulated competitions, merchandise, food and fun for the entire family.
Mello Yello Drag Racing Series qualifying will feature two rounds at 5:15 and 7:00 p.m. on Friday, July 20, and the final two rounds of qualifying on Saturday, July 21, at 5:15 and 7:30 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sunday, July 22.