DENVER, Colo. — official release — NHRA photo — After the kind of slump V Gaines has been in lately on the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series circuit, heading home might be the best solution.
That is what Gaines, a prominent businessman in the Denver area, is banking on as the Pro Stock standout starts the three-week NHRA Western Swing with the 35th annual Mopar Mile-High NHRA Nationals at Bandimere Speedway, July 18-20. He has finished as the runner-up the past two years at his home track, losing both times to Allen Johnson.
But that kind of success would serve as a major boost for Gaines and his Kendall Oil Dodge Avenger after a particularly rough five-race stretch. Gaines lost four straight first-round matchups and then didn’t qualify for the most recent race in Norwalk, adding even more salt to the wound. Some important testing at his home track and some valuable down time to find the solution has Gaines confident those problems are behind him.
“We’ve known for the past month what the problem is but we’ve just been unable to find the right solution,” Gaines said. “We’ve been kind of chasing it until we were able to round up the right parts. We’ve been doing quite a bit of testing and I think we’ve got it working. So after testing we know it works up here in Denver. The question is if it will work the next week in Sonoma.”
Spencer Massey (Top Fuel), Cruz Pedregon (Funny Car), Allen Johnson (Pro Stock) and Shawn Gann (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were winners of the 2013 event. The race will once again be televised on ESPN2. It is the 14th of 24 races during the 2014 season and Gaines says a swift turnaround is needed if he wants to stay in the top 10 and qualify for the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship.
Falling out of the top 10 didn’t even seem to be a consideration for Gaines, who is currently ninth in points, after a strong start to his 2014 season. He went to back-to-back finals at the first two races of the season, briefly taking the points lead, and was in second after a semifinal finish in Gainesville.
But things quickly spiraled out of control on the recent stretch that featured seven races in eight weeks. Gaines won just one round in that span as the busy race schedule left him and his team unable to find the solution to his Avenger’s sudden woes.
“You need to test and you need parts,” Gaines said. “We make all the parts ourselves, so it’s tough if you get behind the eight-ball during that kind of stretch. We were trying to band-aid and mask the problems, and we were unable to get something effective. Now hopefully we can emerge again.”
Racing at an elevation of more than 5,800 feet at Bandimere Speedway is always a challenge, but Gaines has seen plenty of positive results from his latest round of testing. A four-time winner in Pro Stock, Gaines has also been impressed with the enthusiasm and work ethic his team has continued to show during this particularly rough stretch.
“Doing what we do, it’s always exciting to get out there,” Gaines said. “Our team is so involved with this that we’re eternally optimistic. We can run well, we have some of the best parts in the class and we make some of the best horsepower in the class. Now we just have to get the car sorted out.”
Gaines is confident that has happened, but he still has to deal with a talented Pro Stock field that starts with Johnson, at least when it comes to Bandimere Speedway. The Tennessee driver has five career victories in Denver and has been especially dominant in recent seasons, while other threats include reigning series champion Jeg Coughlin, points leader Erica Enders-Stevens, who has four wins this season and is after her first win in Denver, Vincent Nobile, Greg Anderson, Jason Line, Dave Connolly, Shane Gray and Chris McGaha.
Still, Gaines is ready to get back to his early-season form when he was a threat to win any race, and he has high expectations next week in Denver.
“By all means I think we can be in the top three or four in qualifying,” Gaines said. “We have a great car and I know we’ll be competitive. Right now we have our problem corralled and we’ll really be ready to hone in on it. We want to do well and we know we have to get our vehicle back on track. We want to win and be competitive. That’s the end goal for us.”