Leah Pritchett led the Dodge//SRT Mopar contingent of drivers in the eighth annual AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals, powering the Don Schumacher Racing (DSR) Okuma Dodge Top Fuel Dragster to the semifinals at World Wide Technology Raceway near St. Louis. By doing so, Pritchett jumped up three positions in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Countdown to the Championship standings.
Two-time Funny Car world champion Matt Hagan led five other drivers of Dodge Charger SRT HELLCAT Funny Cars into Sunday’s action by qualifying No. 2, with Ron Capps advancing the deepest of the six by racing into the quarterfinals.
Pritchett qualified the DSR Okuma Dodge Top Fuel Dragster sixth and found herself opposite three-time world champion and DSR teammate Antron Brown to open eliminations Sunday. Brown left first but was immediately in tire smoke while Pritchett made a clean run of 3.764 seconds, advancing to the second round for a matchup with Top Fuel rookie Austin Prock. Pritchett was looking to avenge a quarterfinal loss to Prock two weeks ago in the Countdown opener in Reading, Pennsylvania. Pritchett was smooth and cruised to victory with her pass of 3.835 seconds to reach her second consecutive St. Louis semifinal. She was looking to reach her second final in four events and had the starting-line advantage on Billy Torrence before her machine overpowered the track and started losing cylinders, ultimately allowing Torrence to secure the win.
Capps, who earned his first NHRA Funny Car victory in St. Louis in 1997, qualified fifth and drew No. 12 qualifier Blake Alexander in round one. The two were side-by-side until just before the finish line when Capps pulled ahead to take the win with his 3.966-second pass versus Alexander’s 3.997-second effort. The victory marked Capps’ 30th round win of the season and set up a quarterfinal battle with fellow Countdown contender and former world champion Robert Hight. In the quarterfinals, the pair of veteran drivers were nearly even until just before half-track when Capps hazed the tires and Hight was able to drive away with the win.
After making three strong runs Friday and Saturday to earn the No. 2 qualifying position driving the DSM Precision Machining Dodge Charger SRT HELLCAT Widebody Funny Car, two-time world champion Funny Car driver Matt Hagan was poised to make a deep run through eliminations Sunday. First up was a run versus Jim Campbell and his Dodge Charger SRT HELLCAT Funny Car. Campbell grabbed an early starting-line advantage but Hagan powered by and was looking good until his machine lost traction near the 330-foot mark. Hagan pedaled it and was able to regain traction but Campbell drove around Hagan and held him off with a run of 4.197 seconds at 249.39 mph to top Hagan’s pass of 4.204 seconds at 265.06 mph. The first-round defeat drops Hagan from sixth to ninth in the championship standings heading to Charlotte in two weeks.
“Fast Jack” Beckman opened the Countdown two weeks ago with a thrilling triumph in the Mopar Express Lane NHRA Nationals and he was looking to maintain his position on top of the standings after this weekend in St. Louis. The 2012 Funny Car champion was only able to make two cleans runs in qualifying, which resulted in the two-time St. Louis winner landing the Infinite Hero Foundation Dodge Charger SRT HELLCAT Funny Car in the ninth position. Beckman faced reigning Funny Car champion J.R. Todd in the first round, where he was looking to extend his streak to five straight wins in the opening round of eliminations over Todd. Todd left the starting line first but Beckman drove around him. Todd pulled back even at the 660-foot mark before edging Beckman by 0.0024 seconds (about 14 inches). Beckman now ranks third in the championship standings with four races remaining in the Countdown.
Tommy Johnson Jr. has been solid through the 2019 campaign powering the Make-A-Wish Foundation Dodge Charger SRT HELLCAT Funny Car to a pair of wins and two runner-up finishes. He qualified seventh and paired up against Shawn Langdon in the first round. Johnson made an impressive run of 3.898 seconds, the quickest elapsed time of the session, but Langdon’s quicker reaction time resulted in a holeshot loss for Johnson and his third straight first-round exit.
Pritchett was pulling double duty as the defending winner of this event in Factory Stock Showdown. She qualified the DSR Mopar Dodge Challenger Drag Pak to the seventh position in the 16-car field. Pritchett defeated Ryan Priddy in round one to advance to the quarterfinals where she lost on a holeshot to Arthur Kohn.
Also in Factory Stock Showdown, Mark Pawuk qualified the DSR Empaco Equipment Mopar Dodge Challenger Drag Pak second, beat Scott Libersher in the first round before losing traction in his race with Jesse Alexandra.
The action continues in two weeks with the 12th annual NHRA Carolina Nationals at zMAX Dragway in Concord, North Carolina. Capps is the defending event winner while Hagan and Beckman have also scored their previous Countdown wins in Charlotte. Johnson will look to join them in race three of the six-race NHRA Countdown for the Championship scheduled for October 11th through the 13th.
2019 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Championship: Through 20 of 24 Rounds:
(Season Wins in Parentheses)
NHRA Funny Car Point Standings:
1. Robert Hight (5) – 2,235
2. John Force (2) – 2,222
3. Jack Beckman, Dodge Charger SRT HELLCAT (1) – 2,211
4. Ron Capps, Dodge Charger SRT HELLCAT (3) – 2,191
5. J.R. Todd (1) – 2,182
6. Bob Tasca III (2) – 2,156
7. Shawn Langdon (2) – 2,155
8. Tommy Johnson, Jr. Dodge Charger SRT HELLCAT (2) – 2,138
9. Matt Hagan, Dodge Charger SRT HELLCAT Widebody (2) – 2,132
10. Tim Wilkerson – 2,109
NHRA Top Fuel Point Standings:
1. Doug Kalitta (2) – 2,232
2. Steve Torrence (8) – 2,230
3. Mike Salinas (2) – 2,191
4. Brittany Force (1) – 2,184
5. Leah Pritchett, Okuma Mopar (1) – 2,170
6t. Antron Brown – 2,159
6t. Richie Crampton (2) – 2,159
8. Austin Prock (1) – 2,153
9. Billy Torrence (1) – 2,152
10. Clay Millican – 2,125