The National Hot Rod Association’s (NHRA) cornerstone event and world’s biggest drag-racing competition, held each year at Lucas Oil Raceway in Indianapolis and affectionately referred to as the “Big Go,” owes much of its prestige and earned renown to its history and reputation for offering up memorable racing, cutthroat competition, formidable challenges, and drama; the 67th annual Dodge//SRT U.S. Nationals did not disappoint.
Don Schumacher Racing Funny Car driver Ron Capps powered his Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat from the No. 6 qualifier position to a trio of 3.9-second passes to defeat Justin Schriefer, Robert Hight, and Alexis DeJoria and advanced to only his second final elimination round appearance at the fabled event for the opportunity to vie for the elusive Dodge//SRT U.S. Nationals Wally trophy he has chased for 27 years.
The final set up a duel between Capps and fellow Funny Car veteran Tim Wilkerson in which the DSR HEMI®-powered machine made the first move on its way to laying down another solid sub-four second pass. His opponent, however, was able to match the effort and pull ahead for the win.
While Capps’ runner-up finish at the “Big Go” wasn’t the ending he had hoped for, as a consolation prize the result propelled him from a fifth-place position in the Funny Car points standings at the beginning weekend, to close out the NHRA’s regular season in the top spot. The top ten qualifiers for the upcoming seven-event playoff series now see their points reset, and as the No. 1 seed, Capps is rewarded with a 20-point lead to begin the “Countdown to the Championship” at next weekend’s Mopar Express Lane Nationals Presented by Pennzoil at Maple Grove Raceway.
Another positive performance by the Cruz Pedregon Racing team began with the Snap-on Tools Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat qualifying fourth on the strength of the sole qualifying run of the weekend after two Saturday sessions were rained out. Cruz Pedregon, a three-time winner at Indy, drove straight down the lane with a pair of 3.92-second runs to dispatch Terry Haddock and J.R. Todd and then advanced to his third consecutive semifinal showdown to face-off against the eventual event winner, Wilkerson.
The third Dodge and Mopar brand-supported Funny Car of Matt Hagan was sidelined for this weekend’s competition. After the defending NHRA world champion driver withdrew from the competition after testing positive for COVID-19 and driving duties were entrusted to Tommy Johnson Jr., efforts to qualify the Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat Redeye entry were thwarted by a mechanical issue and rain, resulting in a DNS (Did Not Start). As a result, no points were awarded and Hagan slipped from leading the category to starting the playoffs from sixth place in the Funny Car championship standings.
In Top Fuel competition, last year’s runner-up finisher Leah Pruett was looking to take her Dodge//SRT Redeye dragster for another run for the prestigious Indy title. From the fifth spot on the eliminations ladder, she began her drive with an opening-round win over No. 13 seed Joe Morrison.
In the quarterfinals, Pruett knew she was up against tricky track conditions in the right lane and made sure she gave herself every advantage. She launched with a near-perfect reaction time, clocking a 0.002-second light, but the track showed no mercy and slowed Pruett’s progress, enabling rival Josh Hart to catch and pass her to score the win. With the result, Pruett clinched the No. 4 spot to start her fourth “Countdown to the Championship” playoff run.
While her participation in Top Fuel was done for the day, Pruett still had another chance to take home a Wally trophy, this time in the Sportsman category. A competitive field of 23 entries hit the staging lanes for the Constant Aviation Factory Stock Showdown (FSS) eliminations at the “Big Go” and among them, as the top HEMI®-powered entry, was Pruett who qualified her 2021 Dodge Challenger Mopar Drag Pak in the No. 12 spot on the basis of her single Friday evening pass at 7.965 seconds @ 166.70 mph after rain washed out any chance of getting in another run on Saturday. Despite the lack of track time, Pruett went into the opening round with the confidence of having earned two runner-up finishes at the last two events at Denver and Topeka.
Her first pairing was with DSR stablemate and No. 13 qualifier David Davies who was making his U.S. Nationals debut aboard his 2021 D H Davies Racing Mopar Drag Pak. Pruett took the early lead with a quick 0.060-second reaction time to her teammate’s 0.095 and turned on the win lights with a 7.953-second pass @ 176.93 mph to edge Davies’ equally solid 7.959 sec. @ 175.89 mph effort.
That set up a second-round battle for Pruett against No. 1 qualifier Joseph Welsh, who had had the advantage of registering a second qualifying run to earn the top seeding before rain ended everyone else’s opportunity to fine-tune their car. While Pruett powered her Mopar Drag Pak to another solid and consistent 7.958 sec. @ 176.07 mph run, her opponent took advantage of a quicker start and a 7.831 @ 177.65 pass to end her hopes of advancing any further.
The third DSR FSS driver Mark Pawuk debuted his brand-new 2021 Empaco Equipment Dodge Challenger Mopar Drag Pak by recording a blistering career-best 177.32 mph run in the opening round of eliminations with a quick 7.973-second pass. Unfortunately, Pawuk’s performance was overshadowed by that of No. 3 seed and eventual event title winner Jesse Alexander, whose 0.025-second reaction time paired with a 7.924 sec. @ 170.36 mph pass ended his day.
The NHRA’s “Countdown to the Championship” seven-event playoff series begins with next weekend’s Mopar Express Lane Nationals Presented by Pennzoil at Maple Grove Raceway near Reading, Pennsylvania from September 12th to the 14th.
NHRA Championship Points Standings:
Following the Dodge//SRT NHRA U.S. Nationals at Lucas Oil Raceway in Indianapolis
FUNNY CAR (season wins in parentheses)
1. Ron Capps (Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat) – 981 (1)
2. John Force – 938 (3)
3. Bob Tasca III – 937 (2)
4. J.R. Todd – 931 (1)
5. Robert Hight – 867 (2)
6. Matt Hagan (Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat) – 865 (2)
7. Alexis DeJoria – 835
8. Cruz Pedregon (Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat) – 825 (1)
9. Tim Wilkerson– 801 (1)
10. Blake Alexander– 519
TOP FUEL (season wins in parentheses)
1. Steve Torrance – 1389 (8)
2. Brittany Force – 978 (1)
3. Antron Brown – 839 (1)
4. Leah Pruett (Mopar Dodge//SRT) – 712 (1)
5. Shawn Langdon – 668
6. Mike Salinas – 646
7. Justin Ashley – 627
8. Billy Torrence – 621 (1)
9. Clay Millican – 594
10. Doug Kalitta – 588
FACTORY STOCK SHOWDOWN
1. Aaron Stanfield –533
2. David Barton –396
3. Jesse Alexandra –372
4. John Cerbone – 342
5. Leah Pruett (Drag Pak)– 332
6. David Janac – 314
7. Stephen Bell – 307
8. Dan Condon – 235
9. Arthur Kohn – 231
10. Doug Hamp – 230