Pre-Race Report: NHRA E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Nationals (Indy #1):

Drag Racing Returns After Four-Month Hiatus...

After a four-month hiatus due to the COVID-19 (or Coronavirus) pandemic, NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing is back this weekend and Mopar’s factory-backed Don Schumacher Racing (DSR) team is looking on picking up right where they left off. DSR closed out the NHRA Arizona Nationals back in February, with 347 wins under the organization’s belt. DSR is looking forward to becoming one of the first organizations in the motorsports industry to reach the ‘350 wins’ milestone.

With his win at the NHRA Arizona Nationals, Funny Car driver Tommy Johnson Jr. enters the race weekend as the most recent winner in the Funny Car class and currently sits second in the points standings. Funny Car point leader Jack Beckman won the 2019 season-closer, the 2020 season-opener, and raced to a runner-up finish in Phoenix. Beckman is seeking his fourth consecutive final round appearance, and third in 2020.

Leah Pruett inside her Mopar Dodge//SRT Top Fuel Dragster. (Mopar).

Top Fuel veteran and fan-favorite Cory McClenathan returns under the Mopar banner, as he will be driving one of Leah Pruett’s backup cars for this weekend’s E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Nationals and the Lucas Oil NHRA Summernationals (which is being held at Indy as well, next week).

After having earned the Funny Car pole at the first two races in 2020, Matt Hagan is seeking his third consecutive No. 1 qualifier at Indy. Although, Beckman secured the Funny Car No. 1 qualifier and a runner-up finish during the 2019 NHRA U.S. Nationals at Indy. The weekend looks good for DSR, as rivals John Force Racing will be sitting out for the first Indy event it allows an even better chance to get closer to the 350 milestone mark.

Since October 2019, a DSR-powered Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat Funny Car has finished in the winner’s circle at the past five consecutive events.

Let’s take an in-depth look at the drivers and their teams, as the NHRA schedule continues…

CORY MCCLENATHAN – Driver of the Nordic Boats/Revchem Composites Top Fuel Dragster:

NHRA Top Fuel Veteran Cory McClenathan. (DSR).

McClenathan had raced with DSR until he retired in 2010. He currently has 34 victories under his belt and ranks 9th on the NHRA’s all-time Top Fuel wins list. If Cory can win this weekend, he will tie Top Fuel and Mopar legend Don Garlits’ 35 NHRA wins. McClenathan will only race the two July Indianapolis events to embark on a two-race ‘comeback tour’.

“I’m so excited to back with DSR and be reunited with a lot of the guys that I worked with in the past. This Nordic Boats/Revchem Composites dragster looks fantastic, the paint job is just unbelievable. Mopar, NAPA, Pennzoil, they’re all on there, they all look great. The crew guys have worked really hard to get the car ready, and everyone in the front office staff at DSR has made sure every little detail is taken care of. Huge thank you to my partners and the staff at DSR. This couldn’t have happened without all of their support, and I can’t wait to see everyone this weekend.”  – Cory McClenathan

LEAH PRUETT – Driver of the Mopar Dodge Top Fuel Dragster:

Leah Pruett inside her Mopar Dodge//SRT Top Fuel Dragster. (Mopar).

Pruett returns to the 2020 season, currently sitting third in the Top Fuel points with three round wins. Back in February at the NHRA Arizona Nationals, she qualified third and went to the second round where she was defeated by Billy Torrence. She is looking to add some big points this weekend at Indy.

“I feel like we’ve all been living the real-life motorsports version of double-dutch, waiting for the right time and circumstances, and it’s finally our turn to return. Excited would normally be the term used for the feeling I get when race week nears, but I honestly feel the more precise description is ‘ready.’  We already had a strong performing race car when the hiatus began, and this Mopar crew has taken this time to ensure that performance stays maximized. I’ve properly filled my time with various athletic activities, and attending/watching other racing, but have confirmed that nothing comes close to the sensory-impact of nitro racing. Composure within competition has been a focus of mine during this time, and there is nothing more in this world that I am looking forward to more than strapping back into our Mopar Top Fueler and chasing that Wally.” – Leah Pruett

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

“Fast Jack” Beckman wins the 60th NHRA Winternationals. (Mopar).

With one event win and seven round wins, Beckman is ranked first in the Funny Car standings going into this weekend’s event. “Fast Jack” is no stranger to speed at Indy, as he won the event back in 2015, has been a two-time No. 1 qualifier (2015, 2019), and a three-time runner up (2008, 2013, 2019).

“Everybody is talking about getting back to business as usual, and in racing, we’re going to be getting back to business, but there’s nothing usual about it. This is completely unprecedented. We’re going to lose Friday qualifying at every race from here on out, and that could drastically change your approach as a crew chief and as a driver just in qualifying. And then none of us have been in a race car for probably the longest period in our drag racing careers, so we’re going to get to make shakedown runs the day before a race weekend. I don’t think that’s been allowed for nearly 50 years in drag racing. So, the scenario is what it is, and we’re all going to do our best to make things get back to whatever ‘normal’ is as quick as possible, but I’ve got to tell you, I’ve had driving withdrawals and now I feel like it’s so sudden. After waiting for so many months, I’m looking at the calendar and it’s like when you’re a kid getting ready to go back to school. I just can’t wait to get my bag packed and get on that airplane.” – Jack Beckman

RON CAPPS – Driver of the NAPA AUTO PARTS Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat:

Ron Capps gets the Wally at the 2019 NHRA Lucas Oil Nationals. (Mopar).

Capps has been victorious at every track on the current NHRA tour with the exception of Indianapolis. He has been focused on that elusive first Lucas Oil Raceway triumph for some time. The NAPA Auto Parts team currently sits fourth in the points standings with three-round wins. Capps was the 2017 runner-up at this event.

“2020 has been full of surprises, to say the least. It’s going to be nice to get a little bit of normalcy back in our racing lives. Once NHRA announced that we had these two races in Indianapolis, it didn’t seem like it was going to get here fast enough, and now we’re finally here. The fact that we’re going to be on FOX network on Sunday is a great thing for motorsports fans.
“It’s going to be a treacherous, hot, humid weekend, which we know can be very difficult, especially with 11,000-horsepower nitro engines. I brag about the NAPA Know How with our team and we’ve shown that we can run in those conditions as good as anybody. This is going to test a lot of people. We’ll get a couple of shakedown runs on Friday, and then it’s just two rounds of qualifying on Saturday, so you’re not going to have a whole lot of data to go off of. That’s why the way that Rahn Tobler, and I, and our whole NAPA team work together is so important, and these conditions will test every bit of every crew member. I’m looking forward to the challenge. Can’t wait to get back into the NAPA car and step on the gas for the first time and just relive what made me fall in love with driving a nitro Funny Car. Hopefully, the NAPA team will be on FOX on Sunday afternoon standing with a Wally from Indianapolis.” – Ron Capps

MATT HAGAN – Driver of the Mopar Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat:

Matt Hagan wins the 2019 Dodge NHRA Nationals Presented by Pennzoil. (Mopar).

Even though he currently sits in fifth in the Funny Car standings, he was the No. 1 qualifier at the first two events of 2020. Hagan will be in his element this weekend, as he has success at Indy before and was the place he made his Funny Car debut back in 2008. Hagan was the 2016 event champion and the 2018 runner-up for this weekend’s event. He also is a five-time No. 1 qualifier (2010, 2013-2014, 2016-2017) for it as well.

“I’m really excited about getting back to racing in Indy. We’re such a fan-engaged sport –  we’re so used to being able to take pictures with the fans, fist bumps, all that, and it’ll be a different vibe. We did some virtual autograph sessions with Mopar during our downtime, and that was cool and I think our fans really enjoyed that. At the end of the day, we’re entertainers and we’re going to make sure we entertain our fans and make sure we give them a great show on the race track. I’m just excited to be able to be back and be able to rep our partners in Mopar, Pennzoil, and Sandvik on the track. Every weekend you’re so used to driving 330-mph. I never thought there was anything other than racing, but it’s been good being able to spend some time at home growing my businesses. I was able to get a really good handle on these companies I’m growing, and now I’m able to fully focus on racing again. We had a really great car when we left off. We were No. 1 qualifier at the first two events, and I’m excited to get back in my Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat. Bring it on, let’s go do this.” – Matt Hagan

TOMMY JOHNSON JR. – Driver of the MD Anderson Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat:

As a resident of nearby Avon, Indiana, Johnson considers Indianapolis to be a hometown event. He has had some success at the famed Indy strip, securing his first Top Fuel No. 1 qualifier at Indianapolis in 2000. He was the 2002 event runner-up and looks to continue his path to the top of the Funny Car points this weekend.

“I’m certainly excited about going back racing, but it’s been a long period of downtime, and there are some jitters that go along with that. Being out of the car for so long, it’s going to take a few runs to get back into the swing of it. We were doing so well and had some good momentum going before the break and you hope that continues. You park the car and don’t touch it for so long, and it’s been sitting there ready to go for a while. We had an opportunity to improve on it, we put on a new front half. We have a great team and a great car. It’ll take a little bit of getting used to those first days back, but that’s the same for everyone. It’s going to be great to get back to some sort of normalcy, even though there will be some restrictions. I’d love nothing more than to pull off a win at both of these Indy races and take the lead in the points.” – Tommy Johnson, Jr.

The TV Schedule for the E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Nationals Is As Follows:

SATURDAY QUALIFYING Saturday, July 11 4:30pm – 6:00pm FS1
SATURDAY QUALIFYING Saturday, July 11 8:00pm – 9:00pm FS1
FINALS Sunday, July 12 Noon – 2:30pm  FOX


NHRA Championship Points Standings (after two of 18 Nationals events):

FUNNY CAR (season wins in parentheses)
1. Jack Beckman (Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat) – 220 (1)
2. Tommy Johnson Jr. (Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat) – 175 (1)
3. John Force – 173
4. Ron Capps (Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat) – 128
5. Matt Hagan (Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat) – 124
6. Tim Wilkerson – 107
7. Robert Hight – 100
8. Alexis DeJoria – 99
9. Bob Tasca III – 87
10. Paul Lee – 65 and J.R. Todd – 65

TOP FUEL (season wins in parentheses)
1. Doug Kalitta – 212 (1)
2. Brittany Force – 153
3. Leah Pruett (Mopar Dodge//SRT) – 137
4. Austin Prock – 131
5. Steve Torrance – 121 (1)
6. Justin Ashley – 108
7. Antron Brown – 103
8. Shawn Langdon – 91
9. Clay Millican – 85
10. Shawn Reed – 82

Source: DSR

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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