Sportsman Spotlight: Sportsman Racers Tackle the Challenge of the NHRA’s Grueling “Western Swing”

The summer months heat up for NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series competitors, particularly during the strenuous stretch known as the Western Swing. Many Lucas Oil Series Sportsman racers are eager to rise to the challenge, and they will do whatever it takes to make the call for those three consecutive events. Battling the heat of summer and the varying characteristics of each racing surface is just the beginning of the challenge; drivers entered in all three events must contend with atmospheric conditions that vary drastically.

The Swing begins in the mile-high thin air of Denver, CO, at Bandimere Speedway, where naturally aspirated race engines are starved for oxygen and one-off tune-ups are required across all categories. Next on the tour is a return to sea level at the scenic – yet often quite arid – Sonoma Raceway. The stretch concludes with a trip north to Seattle for the Northwest Nationals at a racetrack rich in oxygen and nestled amongst a forest of trees.

Take a look behind the scenes at a few of the drivers who committed to making an appearance on NHRA’s famed Western Swing.  

Savvy fans may recognize the green, black and white American Ethanol uniform. At the Mopar Mile-High Nationals in Denver, Pro Stock driver Deric Kramer wasn’t the only member of his family to race for the trophy. The Sterling, Colo., resident’s dad, Dave Kramer, competed in Comp Eliminator at the event driving his A/DA dragster.


John Bianco, of Golden, Colo., drove his tricked out ’55 Chevy to the final round of Super Street in Denver.
Bianco came up just short of defending the event title he won there last season.


Two Super Comp dragsters make their way down ‘staging lane hill’ on the way to the starting line.
There were 55 Super Comp drivers on the entry list for the Mile-High Nationals.


Scott Cowles made his way to Denver from Fremont, Neb., and took his ’78 Chevy truck all the way to the semifinals. There, he put together a cool .009 package, but it wasn’t quite enough. Eventual event winner Troy Grant won their match by just .004-second.


Stock Eliminator was packed to the gills with heavy-hitters at the Sonoma Nationals, and drivers patiently awaited their chance at glory. At Sonoma Raceway, the Sportsman staging lanes are directly in front of the grandstands, creating something of a show-and-shine for spectators.


Pro Stock driver Drew Skillman got back to his roots in Sonoma and settled in behind the wheel of his family’s Ray Skillman Auto F/SA Ford Mustang Cobra Jet. Skillman bowed out in the third round in Stock Eliminator at Sonoma Raceway, but he was No. 1 qualifier in
Pro Stock there and set low elapsed time of the meet with a 6.538-second pass.


Among the veterans racing at Sonoma was longtime Mopar campaigner Joe Faherty, who once held the
SS/A record in NHRA quarter-mile competition with his bright ’68 Barracuda.


Like fellow Sportsman standout-turned-Pro Stock powerhouse Drew Skillman, Pro Stock points leader Bo Butner did double-duty in Sonoma. He drove a second Ford Mustang for the Skillman family and put the ’10 FSS/C Cobra Jet on the pole with a massive 8.647-second pass on the 9.65 index.


Super Stock world champion Jimmy DeFrank took time off from his position as C.O.O. of California Car Cover to race his fast Chevrolet Cobalt at one of his favorite events, the NHRA Sonoma Nationals. The California native has won Sonoma three times, but another title was not to be in 2017.


Vice President of K&N Engineering Steve Williams is deeply involved with the products he works with, and he gets his experience first-hand behind the wheel as a multi-class drag racing competitor. Williams was charging for the trophy in Super Gas and Super Comp in both Sonoma and Seattle.


Randy Pressel, of Estacada, OR, was in the first pair out for Top Dragster eliminations at the Northwest Nationals in Seattle. Pressel just barely broke out of his 6.82 dial with a 6.818-second pass to John Richardson’s 6.056 on a 6.05.


With Super Comp in the waterbox, Joe Sorenson was better at both ends of the racetrack and took out
Sportsman ace Dan Fletcher in round three of Stock Eliminator competition in Seattle.


Top Fuel Harley rider Mike Beland and his crew member stand at the ready before a qualifying pass in Seattle.


Beland had a brief conversation with Pro Stock champion and 97-time NHRA event winner Warren Johnson in the staging lanes.

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