Mopar® Dodge Challenger Drag Pak driver Leah Pritchett continued to own the Factory Stock Showdown class, celebrating her second consecutive event win one day after becoming first in the class to run in the seven-second range during the AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals at Gateway Motorsports Park near St. Louis. It was the fourth straight Showdown win for Dodge.
The Don Schumacher Racing (DSR) driver made history during Factory Stock Showdown qualifying on Saturday at St. Louis, shrugging off a recent decision by the NHRA to effectively slap a 50-lb. weight handicap on all Mopar Dodge Challenger Drag Pak vehicles to post a 7.936-second elapsed time (ET) and become the first NHRA driver in the class to make a hit in the seven-second range.
“We carried that momentum from the U.S. Nationals really without a hiccup,” said Pritchett. “We put it to it every single round and that’s extremely impressive and a testament to the durability of the racecars, the powerplant and the people that Schumacher has put in place to run this program.”
Despite owning a new entry in the NHRA record books, Pritchett would wrap up qualifying No. 2 after her DSR teammate Mark Pawuk ran even lower with a 7.929 ET to earn the pole. It marked the third consecutive event at which the Mopar brand’s modern-day package car – the supercharged, 354-cubic-inch HEMI®-engine-powered Mopar Dodge Challenger Drag Pak – earned the top two spots on the qualifying charts.
Pritchett, winner and No. 1 qualifier at the most recent NHRA Factory Stock Showdown event at the NHRA U.S. Nationals earlier this month, kept the seven-second train rolling with a 7.948 pass at 172.70 mph to defeat fellow Mopar Dodge Drag Pak driver and former NHRA Pro Stock racer Allen Johnson in the opening round. She used an 8.031/172.12 to send home Pete Gasko Jr. in the quarterfinals and then knocked out Arthur Kohn in the semifinals with an 8.011/171.88 run.
In the final, Pritchett nudged up near the seven-second range in an easy defeat of Stephen Bell, who knocked out her teammate Pawuk in round two, unleashing her Kevin Helms-tuned Drag Pak with a blistering 8.001/172.36 to claim victory after Bell experienced problems early. The win was the fourth consecutive in Factory Stock Showdown by a Mopar Dodge Challenger Drag Pak driver, dating back to the NHRA Bristol event in June.
Pritchett also led the way for Mopar and Dodge//SRT® drivers in the NHRA Nitro classes, pulling double duty and advancing to the semifinals in her Mopar Dodge Top Fuel dragster. She was on a solo run in round one when a broken throttle cable on her opponent Scott Palmer’s machine ended his day before the run. Blake Alexander was the seven-time Top Fuel winner’s next opponent. Pritchett had the starting line advantage and never trailed with her run of 3.802 seconds at 322.73 mph. In the semifinals, Pritchett gave it her best effort to take down the points leader, Steve Torrence. She had a slight advantage at the start, but Torrence powered around her and took the win with his pass of 3.772 seconds compared to Pritchett’s 3.809 E.T.
Make-A-Wish Foundation Dodge Charger R/T NHRA Funny Car driver Tommy Johnson, Jr. came to Gateway Motorsports Park seeking his first victory at the track where his father earned his only national event win. The fan-favorite qualified No. 4 and started eliminations against No. 13 Del Worsham with a perfect run straight down the groove for the win. Johnson came up against Bob Tasca III in the quarterfinals and recorded a textbook 3.950 run, quickest of the round, for the win. Johnson would come up short in the semifinals against No. 1 qualifier Robert Hight, his solid 4.008/320.13 pass not enough to beat Hight’s 3.945/323.04 effort to the stripe. Johnson is sixth in the Countdown standings.
Tony Schumacher entered his 500th event with his sights set on advancing from second to the No. 1 spot in the Top Fuel points ranking. Schumacher qualified his Mopar-powered U.S. Army dragster sixth for race No. 2 of the Countdown to the Championship and drew non-Countdown contender Richie Crampton in round one. “The Sarge”’s 11,000-horsepower machine lost traction near halftrack before giving way to an engine explosion, but Schumacher was able to hang on for the win against Crampton’s tire-smoking attempt. In round two, Schumacher had the starting line advantage but early tire smoke allowed his opponent Pat Dakin to claim the upset win. Schumacher leaves St. Louis ranked third in the Top Fuel standings
Mopar Express Lane Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat Funny Car driver and No. 11 qualifier Matt Hagan faced No. 6 Tim Wilkerson in first-round eliminations at Gateway Motorsports Park. Hagan, a three-time runner-up at St. Louis, jumped to a small starting line advantage with a .070 reaction time to Wilkerson’s slower .075, but was unable to hold the lead. Both drivers hazed the tires around the 300 ft. mark, but Hagan had to work overtime to keep his car away from first the wall and then the centerline, while Wilkerson was able to recover and collect the round win. Hagan, a two-time NHRA Funny Car world champion, exits St. Louis seventh in the Countdown quest.
Defending event champion Ron Capps returned to Gateway Motorsports Park in suburban St. Louis looking to add to his category-best four NHRA Midwest Nationals Funny Car titles. The Mopar-powered NAPA Dodge Charger R/T driver was nearly flawless in qualifying, making the second quickest run of each round, earning bonus points during all four sessions and claiming the second starting position on Sunday. Capps matched up in round one against “Countdown spoiler” Cruz Pedregon and clicked off a solid 3.978 ET, but his opponent’s starting line advantage was enough to put Pedregon over the top for the holeshot win. Capps is fifth in the Countdown rankings.
Two-time St. Louis winner (2012, 2016) Jack Beckman, driver of the Infinite Hero Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat Funny Car, qualified in the top half of the field in the eighth position, drawing John Force in the opening round. “Fast” Jack trailed off the start but quickly put his Hellcat’s nose out front and began to add to his lead before his momentum abruptly came to a halt around the 600-foot mark due to a broken blower drive shaft, allowing Force to drive around for the win. Beckman is now ninth in the standings.