September 17, 2017, Concord, N.C. – They went to Carolina in body, spirit and even in their minds, but the strong start in the Countdown to the Championship did not materialize for Team Mopar® and Dodge. Three Mopar-powered teams from Don Schumacher Racing (DSR) opened the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series playoffs with second-round finishes in the 10th annual Carolina Nationals at zMAX Dragway near Charlotte.
Tommy Johnson Jr. and Ron Capps went to the second round in their Dodge Charger R/T Funny Cars from DSR, while Tony Schumacher turned a second-round performance in his Mopar-powered Top Fuel dragster from the DSR stable. It was the first time all year that at least one car featuring HEMI® power didn’t reach at least the semifinals of the Nitro categories, and just the third time that at least one Mopar Funny Car didn’t reach the final round.
Johnson began his day as the No. 3 qualifier and started Sunday eliminations by driving his Make-A-Wish Dodge Charger R/T past Dave Richards. Richards had a parachute fall out on the starting line, giving Johnson a solo. The Make-A-Wish team next took on eventual event winner Robert Hight, where Johnson lost traction halfway through his run as Hight drove away.
Capps opened the defense of his 2016 title by defeating Tim Wilkerson in round one, despite losing traction as Wilkerson hit the wall and had his time disallowed. Capps next faced J.R. Todd in a rematch of the final round from the U.S. Nationals two weeks ago in Indianapolis. Todd left the starting line first and defeated Capps on a holeshot.
The other two Mopar Funny Cars from DSR were bested in the first round. Matt Hagan’s Mopar/Freightliner Dodge Charger R/T fell to Hight as Hagan’s car lost cylinders down track. Jack Beckman also was defeated in round one at the hands of Dodge driver Jim Campbell. Campbell was late on the Christmas Tree but Beckman went for a wild ride in the Infinite Hero Dodge Charger R/T and nearly crossed the center line, forcing him to get off the gas.
In the Top Fuel category, Tony Schumacher and the U.S. Army team from DSR first took down Shawn Langdon to set up a showdown with No. 1 qualifier and ultimate event winner Doug Kalitta, where Schumacher was barely defeated at the finish line.
Meanwhile, Leah Pritchett’s Papa John’s Pizza/Mopar Pennzoil Top Fuel dragster – featuring special FireAde branding – suffered a first-round upset, falling to Australian Wayne Newby when Pritchett smoked the tires early and could never catch up. It was just the second round-one loss all season for Pritchett in her dragster from DSR.
The 10th annual NHRA Carolina Nationals took place on an extremely hot track throughout the weekend, creating difficult conditions for crews and drivers throughout all categories.