Sweep away dreams? Not so fast. Sweeping the Western Swing is harder than you think
Seven NHRA Camping World Series pros and one more from the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series ranks completed the elusive sweep of the three events held in Denver, Sonoma and Seattle on back-to-back weekends that are a tradition on the NHRA tour since 1989 The feat features a high degree of difficulty, with one event taking place at high altitudes in the Rocky Mountains and the other two in coastal climates. It requires versatility as well as three runs of error-free runs.
The difficulty of mastering the combination at the Mile-High City cannot be emphasized enough. At this weekend’s Dodge Power Brokers NHRA Mile-High National Championships, nitro teams will pull out racks of rods and pistons that have been shelved since the last time they visited Bandimere Speedway, get their fans spinning flat out and will use wing angles that compensate for the air glide ratio. They go to great lengths with the engine combination to trick the clutch into thinking it’s at sea level in order to operate as such.
In Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle, which don’t have power adders such as superchargers, the engines are meant to lose power in atmospheric conditions, so teams dial in as much as they can in the drivetrain with a shorter drivetrain and rear gears and setups they don’t use on any other track.
More than a decade has passed since a Pro rider last swept all three Western Swing races. No professional pilot has swept the Western Swing more than once. This happened five times in Top Fuel by five different drivers and only once in Funny Car and Pro Stock. (Pro Stock Motorcycle was never contested at the Seattle event.) Consider how dominant Bob Glidden, Warren Johnson, Erica Enders and Greg Anderson were during some of their championship seasons, and it’s a wonder the sweep Anderson’s 2004 was the only time he never made it to the factory hot rod category – same with John Force in Funny Car.
What follows is a look at the elusive club of pilots who have swept the Western Swing.
Joe Amato (1991, Top Fuel)
Top Fuel’s first five-time world champion has always brought something special to Denver, whether Tim Richards sets it like he did in his 1991 Western Swing sweep or Jimmy Prock did it years later. later when Amato set a record of 4.58 in 1999 that was never broken in the quarter-mile era. Amato faced great challenges in 1991 from former Funny Car champions Kenny Bernstein and Don “the Snake” Prudhomme and leading the table at Western Swing helped him increase his lead enough to keep them at bay during of his second of three consecutive titles.
John Force (1994, funny car)
After its most dominant season until its 1996 World campaign, Force donned a Chevy Lumina body on its Austin Coil-tuned hot rod. In the first two Western Swing events, John Force qualified #1 and defeated the late Chuck Etchells in the final round. The Sonoma final was particularly thrilling with Etchells edging out Force, 5.12 to 5.14, but Force took a victory by 0.001 seconds. Etchells ended Force’s No. 1 qualifying streak in Seattle but couldn’t go the distance on Sunday. Force met another of its biggest antagonists in the finale, Al Hofmann, and won the race to make it three in a row.
Dan Fletcher (1994, Super Stock; 2013 Super Stock/Stock)
Fletcher is the only Lucas Oil driver to sweep the Western Swing and the only driver to do it twice, period. He did it in Super Stock in 1994 and in Super Stock and Stock in 2013 winning Denver in Stock, Sonoma in Super Stock and doubling in both categories in Seattle (pictured). Victory in 1994 was a life-changing feat: the coup achieved after winning all three events allowed Fletcher to quit his job at Xerox and become a touring racer.
Cory McClenathan (1997, Top Fuel)
McClenathan may not have won a season title, but he had one of the most dominant calendar years in the race since winning in Denver in 1997 and 1998 with 11 wins during that span. The McDonald’s team led by Mike Green and owned by Joe Gibbs lit the fuse in Denver’s 1997 win that kicked off four straight wins. The rally wasn’t enough to topple points leader Gary Scelzi, but they fought it out. McClenathan’s team included future tuners such as Mike Neff, Brian Husen, Dickie Venables and Joe Barlam.
Larry Dixon (2003, Top Fuel)
In his first of two consecutive championship seasons and at the height of the “Beer Wars”, Dick LaHaie settled Dixon in Don Prudhomme’s Miller Lite sponsored dragster to win all three Western Swing events. Dixon ran the board in the first two events in Denver and Seattle also qualifying at No. 1 and setting low and top speed. Doug Kalitta took that away from Dixon in qualifying at the Sonoma event, but Dixon won the race beating local favorite David Baca in the final.
Greg Anderson (2004, Pro Stock)
If you think KB Racing is dominant this season, Anderson’s performance was downright smothering its competitors in 2004. Anderson won 15 events, three of which happened during the Western Swing. One factor that has kept Pro Stock riders from accomplishing the feat for years is Allen Johnson’s performance at the Denver races. Johnson came close to succeeding in 2011 with wins in Denver and Sonoma, but his streak ended in Seattle.
Tony Schumacher (2008, Top Fuel)
Like Greg Anderson in 2004, “the Sarge” won every race in sight in 2008, so why not all three Western Swing events too? In the final season of his storied run with crew chief Alan Johnson, Schumacher’s win in Denver kicked off the longest winning streak in Top Fuel history. He won seven straight events and 31 consecutive rounds before finally being beaten by JR Todd in the final round of the Dallas event.
Antron Brown (2009, Top Fuel)
The last time a Mello Yello rider swept the Western Swing was during season one where crew chiefs Brian Corradi and Mark Oswald performed the tuning duties on the Matco Tools dragster. The team was put together by Mike Ashley in the offseason before being taken over by Don Schumacher Racing at the end of the year, and they went wild with six wins. Brown held the broomstick by completing the sweep in Sonoma.