NHRA Dodge Nationals Pre-Race Report:

Capps Looks To Make It Back-To-Back Wins At Maple Grove Raceway...

Maple Grove Raceway has a long history of record performances, including the first side-by-side quarter-mile four-second and 300-mph Top Fuel passes, and the cool climates continue to offer more of the same.

Maple Grove Raceway is home to this weekend’s NHRA Dodge Nationals. This race kicks off the Countdown to the Championship.

Ron Capps returns to Maple Grove Raceway as last year’s race winner. The driver of the NAPA Auto Parts Dodge Charger R/T currently sits 4th in the points standings, only 40 points behind Courtney Force. Capps has been to the final round at Maple Grove the past two years, winning in 2017 and finishing as the runner-up in 2016.

“We won the Maple Grove race last year. We had such a great season, eight wins and all of those final rounds, and almost winning the championship. To go back to Maple Grove as the first race of the Countdown is something new for all of these teams in the NHRA. It’s going to be a different approach; the weather will be different. It’s one of the greatest race tracks we go to on the circuit. It’s run by a great group of people, and with Bill Bader on-board with the track now is fantastic; we’ve seen what he does with Norwalk.

“With Dodge as a major sponsor and all of the fun stuff we do with the Mopar Block Party on Thursday night, that adds to it. I’ve driven a Dodge longer than anybody out here and it’s a feather in my cap to know that I represent Dodge and HEMI, so I’m excited about everything going on at Maple Grove. But, it’s going to go by fast. These six races for a championship happen so fast, that’s why I’m so happy to have (crew chief) Rahn Tobler and the NAPA AutoCare team with me as we approach the Countdown.” – Ron Capps

Matt Hagan raced the Mopar Express Lane Dodge Charger SRT HELLCAT Funny Car body to its first ever final-round appearance in Indy. (Mopar).

Matt Hagan, driver of the Mopar Express Lane Dodge Charger SRT HELLCAT Funny Car was the 2014 event winner at Maple Grove Raceway. He was defeated last year by teammate Ron Capps in the third round of eliminations. Hagan, is fresh off a runner-up finish at the U.S. Nationals two weekends ago.

“Reading is a huge race. I’m going in early to do a school visit. I’ll get to talk to some folks about Mopar, staying in school and committing to graduate, which is pretty cool. It’s always great to see young faces; people that are driven, want to learn and are eager to work out in our industry. After that, I’ll have the pleasure of having dinner with John Fox of Mopar. Then, Thursday we kick things off with the Mopar Block Party. It’s such a big thing, they’ll have simulators, a midway, bands, homerun derby, just cool activations all the way around. Hopefully the weather holds out, but that’s Maple Grove, it’s typically rainy, cloudy, but it’s always fast. I’ve won the Grove before and want to win the Grove again.

“Heading into the Countdown, we have six races to win the championship. Coming off of a runner-up finish at Indy and we’re second in points, so it’s almost like a clean slate to get this thing rolling. Very eager, very hungry, very driven to win my third championship. We have a team that can do it. We’ve been consistent all year long. We just want to be positive and have fun in this Countdown. For me, it’s all about making sure my team is upbeat; surrounded by positive vibes. We’re working hard everyday to make sure we accomplish our goals.” – Matt Hagan

Tommy Johnson Jr. piloting his Make-A-Wish Dodge Charger R/T Funny Car. (Mopar).

Tommy Johnson Jr. is a two-time winner of the event (1999 and 2016) at Maple Grove Raceway. Johnson, currently sits 70 points behind the leader in the points, or seventh overall in points. His Make-A-Wish Dodge Charger R/T team, is looking at putting him back into the winner circle. Johnson has had 22 round wins this season, thus far.

“Excited to get to Reading and start the Countdown. It’s a track where I’ve done well these past few years, not so much last year, but I won it the year before and was runner-up in 2014. So, I’m looking forward to getting back there. To have Dodge sponsor the race, and the Mopar Block Party beforehand, it’s turned into one of the premiere events. Looking to start the Countdown off on the right foot and hopefully we can continue the momentum we’ve had lately and move ourselves up quickly in the points and be a real contender for the championship.” – Tommy Johnson, Jr.

“Fast Jack” Beckman struggled at the U.S. Nationals two weeks ago, when he made his debut with his 2019 Dodge Charger SRT HELLCAT Funny Car body before getting eliminated in the first round. The Infinite Hero Foundation team currently sits sixth in the Funny Car standings. Beckman has been a two-time event champion (2008, 2015) at Maple Grove.

“It’s hard to believe we’ve completed 18 races and have now moved into the Countdown. Maple Grove is one of those tracks where you never know what you’re going to get, weather-wise. It could be cool and provide record-style runs, or it could be hot and muggy. Either way, the plan is to finish the weekend with our Infinite Hero Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat parked in the winner’s circle. That’s the goal every weekend, but particularly so at Dodge’s own race. Before we even get to racing, we’ll begin our weekend with the Mopar Block Party on Thursday evening, and I encourage everybody in the area to come out. It’s free, and Mopar does such a great job with the event every year.

“As we have now moved into the Countdown, we’re coming off of a race at Indianapolis where we stumbled and actually dropped two positions in the standings, however the silver lining for the Infinite Hero team is that we moved closer to first place with the points reset. Now it’s going to be about optimizing every single run. It’s not just about winning the race, it’s about winning rounds and it’s about gathering up as many of those qualifying bonus points as possible. It’s not something that’s out of our reach, it’s not something we don’t try and do every single race, but it’s going to be mandatory if you want to have that big ‘No. 1’ on the side of your car at the end of the year.” – Jack Beckman

Tony Schumacher Piloting His U.S. Army Top Dragster. (Mopar).

Tony Schumacher, driver of the U.S. Army Top Fuel Dragster starts the Countdown to the Championship, third in the Top Fuel point standings. Schumacher is a five-time event champion (2003 – 2005, 2008, 2014), two-time runner-up (1999, 2015) and a seven-time No. 1 qualifier (2000, 2002, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2008, 2014). Last year, Schumacher went to the quarterfinals before getting eliminated.

“This is the 12th season of the Countdown and as much as things have changed since 2007, the bottom line is you still have to be at your best during these six races if you want to win the championship. Someone is going to get hot and put up some wins and a lot of times that’s been the difference. We have the capability to be that team this year. I talk about it all the time when I’m out speaking to kids. You know when the test is coming. Your teacher gives you the questions and the answers can be found in the book you have. So over prepare and go with the flow. The U.S. Army team, led by Mike Neff and Phil Shuler, has spent the entire season building the book. We know the test is now and we will show up in Reading prepared to take the test. It’s that simple. Show up ready to be A+ students this weekend and give ourselves a great start in the Countdown.

“I think there are just some tracks where we’ve experienced a great deal of success and there are a lot of factors involved. Reading is one of those historic tracks and such a unique facility. Old school. Throwback to the early days of drag racing. The fans pack that place and you can certainly feel the energy.  Most of the time we are racing there when it really matters – in the Fall where we have to win to keep our championship aspirations in line. Maybe one of the last three or four races of the year. This year, we are starting the Countdown at Maple Grove so the stakes are just as high. We’ve proven over the years that this U.S. Army team performs at its best when the stakes are the highest. It might be the first Countdown race, but we’re approaching it like it’s the bottom of the ninth and the winning run is on second base. We want to be the first winner and set the tone for the rest of the Countdown. Maple Grove is the perfect place for us to do that.” – Tony Schumacher

Leah Pritchett’s “Angry Bee” 1320 Top Fuel Dragster. (Mopar).

Leah Pritchett is looking to continue her streak of success she had in Denver, as she is running the same scheme that she ran in Denver (the “Angry Bee”) when she won the Mopar Mile-High Nationals. Pritchett, sits fourth in the Top Fuel point standings going into the first countdown race. Her Mopar/Dodge Angry Bee 1320 Top Fuel Dragster team are looking to copy their weekend in Denver, with a No. 1 qualifer and a win.

“Never a dull moment or a slow roll for this team, that’s for sure. All we can work towards is a Denver 2.0. Those are lofty goals, but that is what it’s going to take to excel in this Countdown. Picking up qualifying points, and more than just round wins, we need race wins to advance. Some call it pressure to win at a sponsor’s race; we call it euphoric opportunity. There is no extra pressure, because we honestly can’t do or try any better than we already would, especially as a Countdown-opening race.

“I feel more prepared than ever before because of the performance diversity this race car and team have shown. What have I learned from the other two Countdowns? That you can age monthly daily if you let it. I’ve also learned that operating out of fear of losing something is not as advantageous as operating out of passion for what could be.” – Leah Pritchett

Top Fuel Current Point Standings:

01 Steve Torrence 2100 0 Capco Racing/Torrence Motorsports
02 Clay Millican 2080 -20 Parts Plus/ Great Clips/ UNOH dragster
03 Tony Schumacher 2070 -30 U.S. Army Dragster
04 Leah Pritchett 2060 -40 Papa John’s Dragster
05 Doug Kalitta 2050 -50 Mac Tools Dragster
06 Antron Brown 2040 -60 Matco Tools Dragster
07 Terry McMillen 2030 -70 Amalie Motor Oil Dragster
08 Brittany Force 2020 -80 Monster Energy Top Fuel Dragster
09 Mike Salinas 2010 -90 Scrappers Racing
10 Scott Palmer 2000 -100 CatSpot/Tommy Thompson Motorsports

Funny Car Current Point Standings:

01 Courtney Force 2100 0 Advance Auto Parts Chevy Camaro SS
02 Matt Hagan 2080 -20 Mopar Express Lane Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat
03 Robert Hight 2070 -30 Auto Club Chevy Camaro SS
04 Ron Capps 2060 -40 NAPA Auto Parts Dodge Charger R/T
05 J.R. Todd 2050 -50 DHL Toyota Camry
06 Jack Beckman 2040 -60 Infinite Hero Foundation Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat
07 Tommy Johnson Jr 2030 -70 Make-A-Wish Dodge Charger R/T
08 Shawn Langdon 2020 -80 Global Electronic Technology Toyota
09 John Force 2010 -90 PEAK Chevrolet Camaro SS
10 Tim Wilkerson 2000 -100 Levi, Ray & Shoup Ford Shelby Mustang

NHRA Dodge Nationals – TV Schedule:

FRIDAY NITRO LIVE Friday, September 14, 2018 7:00pm – 9:30pm ET FS1 ORIGINAL
FRIDAY NITRO LIVE Saturday, September 15, 2018 5:00am – 6:30am ET FS1 RE-AIR
SATURDAY NITRO LIVE Saturday, September 15, 2018 4:00pm – 6:30pm ET FS2 LIVE
SUNDAY LIVE Sunday, September 16, 2018 1:00pm – 2:00pm ET FS1 ORIGINAL
FINALS Sunday, September 16, 2018 7:30pm – 10:30pm ET FS1 ORIGINAL
FINALS Monday, September 17, 2018 2:30am – 5:30pm ET FS1 RE-AIR
FRIDAY NITRO LIVE Monday, September 17, 2018 8:00pm – 9:00pm ET FS2 RE-AIR
SUNDAY LIVE Monday, September 17, 2018 9:00pm – 10:00pm ET FS2 RE-AIR
FINALS Monday, September 17, 2018 10:00pm – 1:00am ET FS2 RE-AIR
FINALS Thursday, September 20, 2018 8:00pm – 11:00pm ET FS1 RE-AIR
FINALS Friday, September 21, 2018 12:30am – 3:30am ET FS2 RE-AIR
NHRA IN 30 Thursday, August 23, 2018 9:00pm – 9:30pm ET FS2 ORIGINAL
NHRA IN 30 Sunday, August 26, 2018 11:30am – Noon ET FS1 RE-AIR
NHRA IN 30 Thursday, August 30, 2018 8:30pm – 9:00pm ET FS2 RE-AIR

Sources: NHRA, DSR and Mopar

Robert S. Miller

Robert S. Miller is a diehard Mopar enthusiast who lives and breathes all that is Mopar. The Michigander is not only the Editor for MoparInsiders.com, 5thGenRams.com, and HDRams.com but an automotive photographer. He is an avid fan of offshore powerboat racing, which he travels the country to take part in.

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