Mopar-powered Dodge Charger SRT HELLCAT Funny Car driver Matt Hagan was shooting for the perfect outcome during this weekend’s 32nd Annual Mopar Express Lane NHRA SpringNationals Presented by Pennzoil. The two-time Funny Car world champion raced his Pennzoil/Mopar Dodge Charger SRT HELLCAT into Sunday’s final at Houston Raceway Park Powered by Pennzoil but came up just short of scoring the victory.
Hagan was the highest finisher among six Mopar-powered Dodge Charger SRT HELLCAT Funny Cars in Sunday’s field. Ron Capps reached the semifinal while Jack Beckman, Tommy Johnson, Jr., Cruz Pedregon, and Jim Campbell were unable to advance past round one. Leah Pritchett drove the HEMI-powered Pennzoil/Mopar Dodge Top Fuel dragster into the second round.
Hagan and his Pennzoil team, led by crew chief Dickie Venables, had a solid beginning to the weekend with four consistent qualifying runs Friday and Saturday, earning the No. 6 spot in Sunday’s elimination ladder.
Up first on Sunday was a matchup with fellow Dodge Charger SRT HELLCAT driver Tommy Johnson, Jr. Hagan’s lap of 3.946 seconds knocked out Johnson and advanced the 2010 SpringNationals winner into the second round. Hagan dismissed Blake Alexander with another consistent run of 3.948 to set up a semifinal showdown with another DSR teammate, Ron Capps. Hagan legged his way to a victory over Capps after losing traction near half-track, ultimately crossing the finish line with a run of 4.613 to reach his 56th career final and first in Houston since 2010, when he won his first career Funny Car, Wally.
In the final, Hagan lost the starting line advantage to Robert Hight, a .076 reaction time to a .056, and was never able to catch up. His run of 3.966 trailed Hight’s winning pass of 3.941. The run to the final moved Hagan from fifth to second in the championship standings through five of 24 events.
Capps, a four-time Houston winner, qualified second and defeated a tire-smoking Jeff Diehl in the first round with a pass of 3.950 seconds and then navigated his way into his first semifinal of the season by defeating Shawn Langdon with a 3.939-second lap. His quest for a fifth Houston triumph ended when his machine gave way to tire smoke at the hit of the throttle and he was unable to catch Hagan. Capps leaves Houston tied for seventh in the Funny Car rankings.
Despite Sunday’s first-round loss to Bob Tasca III, the weekend was a huge success for Beckman thanks to Doug Chandler, husband of the late Terry Chandler, who elected to banner MD Anderson Cancer Center on the side of Beckman’s HELLCAT in honor of his wife. Before Sunday’s elimination rounds got underway, Beckman joined Chandler family representative Judy Pittman on-stage during NHRA’s pre-race ceremony where the duo presented a $100,000 donation check to Bobby Dean, Executive Director of Philanthropic Resources for MD Anderson, on behalf of Doug Chandler and his TLC Foundation.
Following a runner-up finish in Las Vegas last Sunday, Tommy Johnson, Jr. felt like his Make-A-Wish Dodge Charger SRT HELLCAT Funny Car was on the verge of breaking through this weekend in Houston. After qualifying 11th, he faced his DSR teammate Hagan in the round one. Johnson had a slight starting line advantage, but he lost traction shortly thereafter, allowing Hagan to drive away for the victory. Johnson’s run of 4.807 seconds at 166.87 resulted in his first opening-round loss of 2019. Johnson leaves Houston sixth in the point standings.
In other first-round action with Dodge Charger SRT HELLCAT Funny Cars competing, Cruz Pedregon lost to Shawn Langdon and Jim Campbell wasn’t able to make a clean run versus J.R. Todd.
In Top Fuel, Pritchett returned to Houston eyeing a second triumph in the last three years. She positioned herself for a big day by qualifying the DSR Pennzoil/Mopar Dodge Top Fuel dragster third in the field. She was machine-like in her victory over Shawn Reed to open eliminations with a run of 3.736 seconds at 322.73 mph to extend her all-time record versus Reed to 6-0. The win advanced her to a matchup with three-time Top Fuel world champion Antron Brown. Unfortunately, an early throttle stomp by Pritchett activated the red light and earned her DSR teammate the automatic round win.
2019 NHRA Championship — Point Standings After Round 5 of 24
(Season Wins in Parentheses)
NHRA Funny Car
1. Robert Hight (3) – 476
2. Matt Hagan, Dodge Charger SRT HELLCAT (1) – 366
3. J.R. Todd (1) –341
4. John Force – 339
5. Jack Beckman, Dodge Charger SRT HELLCAT– 332
6. Tommy Johnson, Jr., Dodge Charger SRT HELLCAT –315
7t. Ron Capps, Dodge Charger SRT HELLCAT – 286
7t. Tim Wilkerson – 286
9. Bob Tasca III – 250
10. Shawn Langdon – 223
NHRA Top Fuel
1. Doug Kalitta (1) – 367
2. Brittany Force (1) –349
3. Steve Torrence – 343
4. Mike Salinas (1) – 320
5. Leah Pritchett, Mopar HEMI – 303
6. Clay Millican – 302
7. Antron Brown – 278
8. Billy Torrence (1) – 265
9. Richie Crampton (1) – 264
10. Terry McMillen – 231