While weather delays put a damper on much of the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) Camping World Drag Racing Series weekend at Houston Raceway Park, a runner-up finish by Don Schumacher Racing (DSR) Funny Car pilot Ron Capps provided a little ray of sunshine as the top finishing Mopar Dodge//SRT entry at the Mopar Express Lane SpringNationals Presented by Pennzoil.
A rain-shortened qualifying and then the postponement of Sunday’s elimination rounds to Monday didn’t deter Capps from getting the most out of his HEMI®-powered Hellcat throughout the weekend; He was one of the few competitors to get in two qualifying passes on Saturday to put his Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat No. 3 on the eliminations ladder and then advanced through eliminations to his 127th career final round appearance.
The four-time winner (2006, 2007, 2015, and 2017) and two-time runner-up (2012, 2020) at Houston launched his day with a stout 3.894-second pass against Paul Lee before turning win-lights on against DSR teammate Matt Hagan. After defeating Tim Wilkerson, Capps advanced to face Robert Hight in his first final round of the season. Capps came out strong on the start, but with just a bit too much power for the track, hopes for his first win of the year went up in tire smoke, and could only watch as Hight continued down the track for the win. The runner-up result moves Capps up one spot into a shared fourth place standing with Hight in the Funny Car points tally after five races this season thus far.
Defending Funny Car world champion, Matt Hagan started the weekend off by taking his DSR Pennzoil Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat to the third quickest run of the first qualifying session. Unfortunately, the Mopar driver didn’t get a second shot at it after rain disrupted the second qualifying session and he had to settle for a No. 6 spot on the eliminations ladder. With an opening-round win over Chad Green, Hagan advanced to the quarterfinals to face his stablemate, Capps, in a good drag race that saw him post a respectable 3.964-second effort against Capps’s 3.929-second winning pass.
No. 4 qualifier Cruz Pedregon also took his Snap-On Tools Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat to the quarterfinals, following a win over No. 13 seed Terry Haddock, to face the eventual event winner Hight. While Pedregon would have liked to fight for a fourth Wally trophy at the event where he had also scored his first career win in 1992, he and his crew were pleased with their progression through the first five races of the season and the 3.991-second run they posted next to Hight’s 3.913-second run.
Prior to Sunday’s rain delay, No. 2 qualifier Leah Pruett and her DSR Pennzoil dragster did take to the track for the opening round of Top Fuel competition and rocketed off the start with an impressive 0.020-second reaction time against No. 13 seed Justin Ashley. Unfortunately, a mechanical glitch early in the run hampered her forward motion and despite efforts to peddle her way down the track, Pruett was unable to advance.
Pruett did get to race on Monday, only this time it was in Factory Stock Showdown (FSS) aboard her 2021 Mopar Dodge Challenger Drag Pak where she posted another impressive 0.029-second reaction time against Arthur Kohn to power her way to a 7.893-second pass at 174.96 mph and win in the opening round. In the quarterfinals against David Janac, Pruett’s Mopar Drag Pak had a good starting line advantage, but partway through the run Pruett felt a change in the car’s mechanics and opted to coast to the finish in order to regroup and come back stronger for the next FSS outing at Norwalk in June.
Teammate Mark Pawuk, who had just one qualifying attempt on Saturday that put the Empaco Equipment Mopar Drag Pak 13th on the timing sheets, was hoping for a stronger outing in his opening round against David Barton. While he had a good launch on the start, Pawuk also felt his racecar battling with gremlins, opting to take his foot off the power and let his opponent take the win so as to reset his focus on the next opportunity to make gains in FSS competition.
The NHRA’s 70th anniversary season continues with the next event, the TascaParts.com NHRA New England Nationals, set to take place June 11th through the 13th at the New England Dragway near Epping, New Hampshire.