NHRA Pre-Race Report – Mopar Express Lane NHRA Nationals Presented By Pennzoil:

Mopar Mega Block Party Today At FirstEnergy Stadium...

The Countdown to the Championship for the 2019 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing season has begun. The points have been reset for the top-10 positions and give those teams all a chance to battle it out for the championship over the next five events. All of the Don Schumacher Racing (DSR) Mopar teams have all qualified for the countdown and not only does this weekend’s event kick-off the countdown but is a huge event for the Mopar brand with the Mopar Express Lane NHRA Nationals presented by Pennzoil.

Funny Car driver Jack Beckman takes part in the home run derby held during the 3rd annual Mopar Mega Block Party. (Mopar).

The race weekend starts today at FirstEnergy Stadium in Reading, Pennslyvania with the Mopar Mega Block Party. The event kicks off at 4:00 pm and runs till 10:00 pm ET and will offer a ton of activities for fans that includes a home run derby and autography session with their favorite Mopar drivers. The event continues into its fourth consecutive year and still offers free-admission to Mopar and Dodge//SRT enthusiasts.

So let’s take a look at the DSR teams as they head into Reading with a fresh outlook at the championship points race…

LEAH PRITCHETT – Driver of the MOPAR Dodge Top Fuel Dragster

Leah Pritchett piloting her Mopar Top Fuel Dragster. (Mopar).

Leah Pritchett looks to change her season around going into the countdown. Two weeks ago, the team struggled at the U.S. Nationals with an exit in the first round after losing to Shawn Reed. Pritchett and her Mopar team were able to go to the quarterfinals at last year’s Mopar Express Lane NHRA Nationals presented by Pennzoil in Reading. Pritchett secured her first Top Fuel No. 1 qualifier at the 2016 event. Currently sitting in seventh in the point standings, Pritchett is only 70 points behind the points leader Steve Torrance with the points being reset.

“Excited for another Mopar-sponsored race, especially with what looks like great conditions in Reading. We have a great amount of performance momentum behind this team, and there is no better time than now for us to apply power and consistency. We have all worked hard to solidify a spot in the Countdown and there is no room for error in our hunt for the championship.
“I believe that it is no accident that the winners of Reading have been that year’s champion. It shows that coming in hot out of the gate is pivotal for the championship momentum. We intend to execute precision performance strategy every step of the way. Excellence starts at the shop, and this team has worked diligently to dissolve any mishaps that may trip up our performance, from the simplest of procedures to new technology.” – Leah Pritchett

JACK BECKMAN – Driver of the Infinite Hero Foundation Dodge Charger SRT HELLCAT

“Fast Jack” Beckman piloting his Infinite Hero Foundation Dodge Charger SRT HELLCAT Funny Car. (Mopar).

“Fast Jack” Beckman goes into this weekend’s race after finishing as the runner-up at the NHRA U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis. Beckman was the favorite going into that race as the No. 1 qualifier and looking for his first win of the season, ended up losing against John Force. With the reset points going into the countdown, the Infinite Hero Foundation team is sitting in the fourth position in the points and is still focused on the overall picture of winning the championship despite a winless season, thus far.

 “Maple Grove has bounced around quite a bit on the schedule over the last dozen years but one thing has remained – it’s always ultra-exciting and it tends to be a pivotal race. When I won the championship in 2012, I wouldn’t have won it if we hadn’t set the national record at Maple Grove. In 2015, winning Reading put us right back in the championship hunt, and winning there in 2008 was one of the highlights of my career. I beat Frank Hawley in the final, who was my boss at the drag racing school. They’ve moved the event earlier in the schedule, making it the first race in the Countdown which kind of puts some extra emphasis on it. We haven’t won yet this season, but we’ve come very close multiple times. This Infinite Hero team would like nothing more than to start the Countdown off on the right note and with a win.” – Jack Beckman

RON CAPPS – Driver of the NAPA Filters Dodge Charger SRT HELLCAT

Ron Capps piloting his NAPA Adaptive One Brakes Dodge Charger SRT HELLCAT Funny Car. (Mopar).

This weekend’s Mopar Express Lane NHRA Nationals presented by Pennzoil marks the 550 professional event that Ron Capps has entered in his 25th season in a nitro machine. Wearing a new NAPA Filters paint scheme this weekend, and celebrating a special promotion that the auto parts supplier is doing this month on its oil, air, and cabin air filters. Capps is looking for his 65th career win this weekend and looking at moving up the ladder in the points race where he currently sits fifth.

“This race, this time of the year is something we’ve worked for the whole season. We’re kicking off the six-race Countdown to the Championship playoffs at one of the most amazing race tracks we still go to – Maple Grove Raceway in the rolling hills of Pennsylvania. We’re pretty lucky to travel the country and visit some pretty amazing places, but this track is in one of those areas where you try and come in early and take in the sights and sounds surrounding this race. We’ll go to a Baltimore Orioles game on Wednesday night and then we’re heading to Manhattan on Thursday to visit our friends at the Howard Stern Wrap Up show. From there, we’re headed straight to Reading for the MoparMega Block Party; food, drinks, autographs with all the Dodge drivers, our race cars will be on display. And then Friday officially kicks off our campaign for the 2019 NHRA Mello Yello Funny Car world championship, so, I’m excited and I can’t wait to get there and hopefully finish the weekend in the winner’s circle.” – Ron Capps

MATT HAGAN – Driver of the MOPAR Dodge Charger SRT HELLCAT Widebody

Matt Hagan piloting his Mopar Dodge Charger SRT HELLCAT Widebody Funny Car. (Mopar).

Currently sixth in the points, Matt Hagan comes into Reading having a lot of success in the past. The 2014 event champion and 2010 runner-up, has had two No. 1 qualifiers in 2010 and 2016 at Maple Grove Raceway. Hagan ran to a semifinals finish, losing to event winner John Force. But there is no doubt there is a lot of enthusiasm in the Mopar team camp, looking to capitalize on the countdown points reset.

“Every one of these Countdown races is so important. I feel like you have to win two or three of them to really have a shot at winning the championship. It’s just a matter of who’s going to get hot at the right time. In the last six events, we’ve won a race, been runner-up and been to four semifinals, so it’s clear our Mopar Dodge Charger HELLCAT Widebody is running great. The confidence is there, our car is there, and I think we’re peaking at the right time. I can’t wait to turn on some win lights this weekend. I’ve done well at Reading in the past, I’ve even won it on fire which made it onto ESPN’s SportsCenter. I’ll try and stay off of SportsCenter this weekend, but hopefully, still, get the win for Mopar.”  – Matt Hagan

TOMMY JOHNSON JR. – Driver of the Make-A-Wish Foundation Dodge Charger SRT HELLCAT

Tommy Johnson Jr. piloting his Make-A-Wish Dodge Charger SRT HELLCAT Funny Car. (Mopar).

Sitting only 30 points behind the leader Robert Hight, Tommy Johnson Jr. is looking to give the John Force Racing stable a run for their money going into Reading. Currently sitting in third in the points, Johnson has shown a strong performance throughout most of the season and might just have the best chance out of all the DSR teams. Johnson has had a lot of success at Maple Grove Raceway in the past, being a two-time winner, one-time runner-up, and a having a No. 1 qualifier under his belt there.

“Reading is one of my favorite races, and it always has been. It’s a neat area and the fanbase is really strong. I won my first Funny Car race there back in 1999 and I was able to do it again a few years ago here at DSR. Reading is the start of the Countdown and it’s super important to get off to a good start. The points are reset and we’re close to the top so it’s a must to come out of there with a good performance. We’ve done pretty well there the past few years, got a runner-up in 2014 and won it in 2016 so it’s just a great event for everyone.

“We’re coming off of a rough Indy; things didn’t go our way, but that doesn’t waiver our confidence any. We have a good team and a good car, and we’re looking forward to starting the Countdown, and would love nothing more than to win it for Mopar and Pennzoil at their event. Before the racing even gets underway, I’ve got my sights set on winning the home run derby at the Mopar Mega Block Party, and hopefully make it two wins and sweep the weekend.” – Tommy Johnson, Jr.

2019 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Championship – After 18 of 24 Rounds:
(Season Wins in Parentheses)

NHRA Funny Car Points Standings:
1.Robert Hight (5) – 2100
2. John Force (2) – 2080
3. Tommy Johnson, Jr. Dodge Charger SRT HELLCAT (2) – 2070
4. Jack Beckman, Dodge Charger SRT HELLCAT – 2060
5. Ron Capps, Dodge Charger SRT HELLCAT (3) – 2050
6. Matt Hagan, Dodge Charger SRT HELLCAT Widebody (2) – 2040
7. 6. Bob Tasca III (2) – 2030
8. J.R. Todd (1) -2020
9. Shawn Langdon (1) – 2010
10. Tim Wilkerson – 2000

NHRA Top Fuel Point Standings:
1. Steve Torrence (8) – 2100
2. Doug Kalitta (2) – 2080
3. Antron Brown – 2070
4. Brittany Force (1) – 2060
5. Mike Salinas (2) – 2050
6. Clay Millican – 2040
7. Leah Pritchett, Mopar HEMI (1)  – 2030
8. Austin Prock (1) – 2020
9. Richie Crampton (1) – 2010
10. Billy Torrence (1) – 2000

Tommy Johnson Jr. and Ron Capps racing their Dodge Charger Funny Cars. (Mopar).

Mopar Express Lane NHRA Nationals presented by Pennzoil TV Schedule:

FRIDAY NITRO LIVE Friday, September 13 6:30pm – 8:30pm ET FS1
SATURDAY NITRO LIVE Saturday, September 14 9:00pm – 10:00pm ET FS2
SATURDAY NITRO LIVE Saturday, September 14 Midnight – 1:00am ET FS1
FINALS Sunday, September 15 2:00pm – 5:00pm ET FS1
NHRA IN 30 Thursday, September 19 9:30pm – 10:00pm ET FS2

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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