Dominates Brainerd with National E.T. Record and Event Win
August 20, 2017, Brainerd, Minn. – Mopar®-powered Leah Pritchett dominated the Top Fuel category in the 36th annual NHRA Nationals at Brainerd International Raceway, starting with a national elapsed-time record during qualifying on Friday evening and ending with a spot in the winner’s circle Sunday afternoon.
“Don Schumacher has given me the best team, in my opinion, and we keep continuing to prove that,” Pritchett proclaimed. “I say we have the best team because we have the best hot rod. To go multiple times backing up our national record, doing incredible things in Denver (with a No. 1 and final round), being No. 1 (six times this year), it’s absolutely amazing.”
Pritchett’s victory in her Papa John’s Pizza/Mopar Pennzoil dragster from Don Schumacher Racing (DSR) was her fourth of the season. It was also the fifth win for Mopar HEMI® power in the Top Fuel ranks in 2017, as well as the 17th victory overall for Mopar-backed Nitro vehicles from DSR on the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series this year.
Pritchett’s DSR teammate, Tommy Johnson Jr., appeared in his fourth Funny Car final round in the last five events, but again finished just short of collecting his second win of the season in the Make-A-Wish Dodge Charger R/T.
Eric Bell also won his first-ever national event Wally in the Sportsman ranks, taking the Super Stock win for Mopar at Brainerd in his GT/EA 1968 Plymouth Barracuda.
In Top Fuel, Pritchett defeated Antron Brown in the final round, making a lap of 3.682 seconds at 328.06 mph in the left lane to better Brown’s time of 4.001 at 246.35. Pritchett got off the starting line with a .064-second reaction time compared to Brown’s .040.
Pritchett’s stellar weekend began with her setting a national elapsed-time record with a pass of 3.640 seconds at 330.63 mph in qualifying on Friday evening, which ultimately put her No. 1 on Sunday’s elimination ladder. She drove past Rob Passey in round one, and then took down Scott Palmer in the second round on another clean pass. The semis saw Pritchett battle a strong Clay Millican, but Millican lost cylinders as Pritchett again turned in a textbook pass, allowing her to reach the final round for the sixth time this season.
The win was the fifth of her career.
Pritchett’s Mopar Top Fuel teammate, eight-time champion Tony Schumacher, started his day matched up with Troy Coughlin Jr. for the second consecutive event. Schumacher took his 800th career round win on a clean pass in a brand-new U.S. Army car from DSR when Coughlin smoked his tires at the hit of the throttle. Schumacher then fell to the surging Millican in round two.
In Funny Car, Tommy Johnson Jr. and the Make-A-Wish Dodge Charger R/T team from DSR once again carried the banner for Mopar as they have throughout the second half of the summer.
Johnson began his day by besting Jonnie Lindberg on a clean pass when Lindberg smoked his tires, setting up a showdown between Johnson and Courtney Force in round two. Johnson turned on the win light again with a solid lap as Force’s engine shut off shortly after leaving the starting line. Johnson then beat Robert Hight in a wild semifinal race to reach the final round. Hight thought Johnson had turned on the red light and had trouble getting off the starting line, while Johnson lost traction and tried to keep the car off the wall as he pedaled and fishtailed down track to turn on the win light. He ultimately fell to Alexis DeJoria in the final round.
It was Johnson’s fifth final-round appearance of the season, which has produced one victory.
Two of Johnson’s Mopar-powered DSR Funny Car teammates, Jack Beckman and Ron Capps, advanced to the second round at Brainerd.
Beckman struggled off the line in round one in his Infinite Hero Dodge Charger R/T, but opponent Brian Stewart went red, giving Beckman a lucky break to advance to round two. His day was then ended by John Force, however, as Beckman struck the tires and was forced to pedal as Force got away.
Ron Capps drove his Dodge Charger R/T past J.R. Todd on a clean, side-by-side run in round one, but was then bested by Hight.
Matt Hagan was the only Mopar-powered Funny Car driver from DSR to not advance to at least the second round. The Mopar Pennzoil Dodge Charger R/T team had a rare mechanical issue in the form of a malfunctioning electrical cutoff switch as Hagan was backing up to the starting line after his burnout. As a result, the first-round win went to Cruz Pedregon.
The 36th annual NHRA Nationals were contested under primarily favorable conditions in front of diehard fans at the notoriously fast track in Brainerd, Minnesota. The ideal weather led to several national records during Friday’s qualifying sessions and a number of very quick times throughout Sunday’s elimination rounds.