Tommy Johnson Jr. ended his 35-year quest for a victory in Denver, driving his Mopar-powered Make-A-Wish Dodge Charger SRT HELLCAT Funny Car to the win at the Dodge Mile-High NHRA Nationals Presented by Pennzoil on July 21, 2019, at Bandimere Speedway in Morrison, Colorado.
Johnson’s win on Sunday, his 19th career NHRA victory and second of 2019, was also the sixth triumph by a Dodge Charger SRT HELLCAT pilot in 2019, and fifth in the last eight events for a Mopar-powered competitor. It’s also the second consecutive win by a Dodge driver at the brand’s headline event, following Leah Pritchett’s 2018 Top Fuel win.
The run to victory in the event sponsored by Dodge and presented by Pennzoil, both partners of Johnson’s car owner Don Schumacher Racing (DSR), came in his 51st career final. His first final appearance came at Bandimere back in 1984, when at age 15 he raced to a runner-up finish while competing in Super Gas. Two years ago, Johnson lost in the Funny Car final, but Sunday he was not going to be denied.
Johnson, cheered on by event Honorary Starter and four-year-old Wish Kid Porter Johnson (no relation) from the local chapter of the Make-A-Wish Foundation, started Sunday by driving his Charger SRT HELLCAT Funny Car to an opening-round win over Jeff Diehl to set up a quarterfinal matchup with fellow DSR and Dodge Charger SRT HELLCAT Funny Car driver Jack Beckman. A starting-line advantage was the difference in pushing Johnson past Beckman into his seventh semifinal of the season. Next in his way was Cruz Pedregon, another Dodge Charger SRT HELLCAT foe, and Johnson raced to another consistent lap in the John Collins’-tuned HELLCAT to advance to his third final of 2019.
Johnson was undefeated in seven previous meetings with Bob Tasca III and made it eight straight, and first in a final, by storming down the track with a final round pass of 4.102 seconds at 308.50 to capture his first Bandimere triumph.
Leah Pritchett returned to Thunder Mountain on a mission to become the fifth driver in Top Fuel to score back-to-back wins over the course of the 31-year title rights sponsorship by FCA US at Bandimere Speedway, and the first since Joe Amato accomplished it in 1999 and 2000.
After dominating last year’s Dodge Mile-High NHRA Nationals by qualifying No. 1 and powering to a Sunday triumph, Pritchett looked to make it two straight triumphs in the DSR “Angry Bee” Mopar Dodge 1320 Top Fuel dragster after qualifying second in the field. She opened her defense with a solid opening-round victory with her lap of 3.877 seconds at 310.98 mph to eliminate Terry Totten and advanced to the second round facing Clay Millican for the 18th time in her career. Millican got the jump at the starting line and Pritchett struggled to overtake him after losing a cylinder early in her run, ending her day prematurely.
Cruz Pedregon admitted Friday after leading the Funny Car field in qualifying after two sessions that Bandimere Speedway has always been good to the driver of the Snap-On Dodge Charger SRT HELLCAT. The two-time NHRA Funny Car world champion and two-time Denver winner chased his first triumph of 2019 from the third position on the ladder. He defeated Terry Haddock in the opening round and followed that by eliminating John Force in the quarterfinal to reach his first semifinal of 2019. Pedregon grabbed the starting-line advantage, but lost traction early in the run and could not recover in time to track down Johnson.
Three-time Dodge Mile-High NHRA Nationals Funny Car champion Jack Beckman had this weekend’s event circled on his calendar for quite some time. His DSR Infinite Hero Foundation Dodge Charger SRT HELLCAT has been one of the fastest cars in the competitive NHRA Funny Car class over the course of the last eight events, and the 2012 world champion has been itching to score his first Wally of 2019.
Beckman began Sunday with an all-DSR/all-Charger SRT HELLCAT Funny Car matchup with the series’ most recent winner, Matt Hagan. Despite trailing Hagan off the starting line, Beckman raced his way around him to meet Johnson in the second round. The two met most recently in the semifinals at Norwalk, with Beckman prevailing, but on Sunday in Denver, it was Johnson that turned on the win light on the strength of his starting line advantage. Beckman continues to hold the fifth position in the championship standings.
Two-time Funny Car world champion Hagan was looking to carry the new 2020 Dodge Charger SRT HELLCAT Widebody graphics package with a flared-out feel on the DSR machine to his first career triumph at the Thunder Mountain venue on Sunday.
Hagan was quickest off the starting line in his fifth first-round matchup versus a DSR teammate in 2019, but his machine began to slow three-quarters of the way through the race and came up short of advancing with his run of 4.177 seconds at 239.27 mph. The two-time 2019 Funny Car winner ranks eighth in the championship standings with four races remaining before points are reset for the “Countdown to the Championship.”
Capps, the 2009 Denver Funny Car champion, was looking for another productive Sunday in Denver and began his race day with a first-round matchup versus Todd Simpson. The two-time 2019 winner powered the NAPA Dodge Charger SRT HELLCAT down the track in 4.078 seconds at 309.91-mph to dispatch Simpson and advance to round two. Against Bob Tasca III in the quarterfinals, Capps controlled the lead early, but a mechanical malfunction caused his machine to slow, enabling Tasca to drive around for the win to halt Capps’ run for a second consecutive run to the finals at Bandimere.
Cattleman’s Cut Dodge driver Jim Campbell had his sponsor’s spokesperson and event Grand Marshal, Carmen Electra, on hand to lend support, but was dealt a first-round loss by Tasca.
The Western Swing continues next week with the 32nd NHRA Sonoma Nationals, scheduled for July 26-28 at Sonoma Raceway in Sonoma, California, Capps leads the Dodge//SRT Mopar contingent back into action looking for his fifth career triumph at the track.
2019 NHRA Mello Yellow Drag Racing Championship After Round 14 of 24:
(Season Wins in Parentheses)
NHRA Funny Car Points Standings:
1. Robert Hight (4) – 1159
2. Tommy Johnson, Jr., Dodge Charger SRT HELLCAT (2) –1010
3. John Force – 958
4. Ron Capps, Dodge Charger SRT HELLCAT (2) – 927
5. Jack Beckman, Dodge Charger SRT HELLCAT– 904
6. Bob Tasca III (1) – 865
7. J.R. Todd (1) – 857
8. Matt Hagan, Dodge Charger SRT HELLCAT (2) – 794
9. Tim Wilkerson – 724
10. Shawn Langdon (1) – 727
NHRA Top Fuel Point Standings:
1. Steve Torrence (8) – 1407
2. Brittany Force (1) – 852
3. Antron Brown – 839
4. Doug Kalitta (1) – 831
5. Clay Millican – 813
6. Mike Salinas (2) – 763
7. Leah Pritchett, Dodge 1320 – 714
8. Richie Crampton (1) – 666
9. Scott Palmer – 613
10. Terry McMillen – 607