Matt Hagan raced the new Mopar Express Lane Dodge Charger SRT HELLCAT NHRA Funny Car to its first ever final-round appearance at the 64th annual NHRA U.S. Nationals, while Leah Pritchett claimed her first Factory Stock Showdown victory and the third consecutive win for a Mopar Dodge Challenger Drag Pak driver in the class.
Hagan led the way for the Don Schumacher Racing (DSR) four-team Funny Car squad in the new Dodge Charger SRT HELLCAT Funny Car body, which he recently debuted in late July at the Dodge Mile-High NHRA Nationals. Hagan earned the No. 3 starting spot and the 2016 event winner at Indy began race day by defeating Jonnie Lindberg in a challenging run that saw Hagan deftly manage traction and engine issues to lock down the round win. Matched up against points leader Courtney Force in the quarterfinals, both drivers hazed the tires near halftrack with Hagan once again using his driving skills to pedal his car to the finish line for his 330th round win.
In the semifinals, three-time 2018 race winner Hagan recorded his best run of the day, a 4.129-second elapsed time at 298.60 mph, to knock off Shawn Langdon and advance to his sixth final round of the year and 53rd of his career. Lacking lane choice in the final against J.R. Todd, Hagan was first off the starting line but Todd soon pulled ahead, and Hagan’s solid 4.141/300.60 run wasn’t enough to close the gap. Hagan will start second when the six-race NHRA Countdown to the Championship playoffs begin at the next race, the Dodge NHRA Nationals in Pennsylvania.
Complete domination best describes the performance by Pritchett and her fellow Mopar Dodge Challenger Drag Pak drivers in the NHRA Factory Stock Showdown class, with Pritchett going wire-to-wire and notching the quickest pass in every single round for the entire weekend, from qualifying through to the final. Pritchett, once again pulling double duty in Top Fuel and Factory Stock Showdown, set records for elapsed time and speed with an 8.002/172.56 run to claim her second career pole in the class.
After sweeping the top four spots in qualifying at the Factory Stock Showdown event in Norwalk, Ohio, in late June, Mopar Dodge Challenger Drag Pak drivers took three of the top four spots at Indy. In addition to Pritchett, her DSR teammate Mark Pawuk qualified No. 2 for the second straight event, and 2012 Pro Stock champion Allen Johnson captured the No. 4 starting position.
Pritchett kept the hammer down in eliminations, posting the quickest passes of all competitors in each of the first three rounds — an opening 8.111/170.04 to defeat Aaron Stanfield, a run of 8.077/170.73 to take out Kevin Skinner and an 8.119/169.74 mark in the semifinals to chase down Stephen Bell. In the all-Mopar Dodge Challenger Drag Pak final, Pritchett powered past Pawuk on an 8.108/170.26 pass to claim her first Factory Stock win in her first final-round appearance in the class. The all-DSR final also came as the DSR organization celebrated its milestone 20th anniversary at the 2018 Indianapolis event.
Pawuk believed his chance at a U.S. Nationals win was over after apparently losing to Joe Welch in the opening round, but his opponent was later disqualified by the NHRA, moving Pawuk on to round two. The driver nicknamed “The Cowboy” got by Leonard Libersher and then trailered Arthur Kohn in the semifinals with an 8.235/167.28 run to set up his final-round battle with Pritchett and his second straight runner-up finish.
Armed with the confidence boost of a runner-up finish at the most recent event and an impressive performance throughout all three days of qualifying, Tommy Johnson Jr. looked primed to go rounds in his Riley Dodge Charger R/T. Johnson faced teammate Ron Capps in the opening round, moved first and led the entirety of the 1,000-foot stretch, despite dropping cylinders down track. Johnson prevailed in the quarterfinals over Tim Wilkerson, earning another round win in the Riley car, a once-a-year tribute to the local children’s hospital at DSR’s hometown event. Against Todd, Johnson held on to the initial lead until just before halftrack when Todd pulled ahead and took the win, ending Johnson’s day at the semis. The veteran will head into the playoffs in seventh.
Infinite Hero Foundation driver Jack Beckman, winner at the recent NHRA Brainerd race, qualified No. 11 in his switch to the new Mopar Dodge Charger SRT HELLCAT Funny Car body, which his DSR teammate Hagan first debuted back in July. The 2012 NHRA Funny Car champion and 2015 U.S. Nationals event winner drew Courtney Force in round one. Beckman was quicker off the line with a .062 reaction time to his opponent’s.077 mark and had his HELLCAT ahead early in the run, but his hopes would go up in tire smoke as Force sped away to claim the round win. “Fast” Jack will begin the Countdown playoffs from the sixth position.
Mopar Dodge Top Fuel driver and Avon, Indiana, resident Pritchett was able to get one of the two wins she was dreaming of at her home track. Pritchett posted her Top Fuel dragster No. 6 in qualifying and in the top half of the field. The two-time Top Fuel event winner this year was matched up against Doug Kalitta in the opening round, but Pritchett’s dragster smoked the tires at about the 330-ft. mark on the track and dashed any hopes to double up at Indy. She’ll seek her first Top Fuel championship starting from the fourth spot in the playoffs.
There are only two tracks on the current 24-race NHRA tour where Mopar-powered DSR Dodge Charger Funny Car driver Capps has yet to claim victory – the recently reinstated Virginia Motorsports Park and Lucas Oil Raceway in Indianapolis. Runner-up at the 2017 U.S. Nationals, Capps qualified No. 13 in the bottom half of the field and faced DSR teammate Johnson in the opening round. Capps lost traction early in the run and fell to his stablemate, keeping a win at Indy as one of the few items left on his racing bucket list. The 2016 Funny Car champ will begin his 2018 Funny Car title campaign from the No. 4 spot.
U.S. Army Top Fuel driver Tony Schumacher — owner of an amazing 83.3 percent win average at the U.S. Nationals — began his bid to add to his record 10 wins at Indy from the No. 7 spot. Schumacher’ s Mopar-powered dragster was in the hunt until he experienced tire smoke, allowing opponent Billy Torrence to claim the win. Schumacher will enter the six-race playoff for the 2018 Top Fuel title seeded third.