A fast start to the 2020 National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) Mello Yello Series season was exactly what “Fast Jack” Beckman was looking for as he drove his Infinite Hero Foundation Dodge Charger SRT® Hellcat to a national event win at the 60th annual NHRA Winternationals to kick off the year on the heels of his runner-up finish in the 2019 Funny Car Championship.
From his No.2 qualifying position, the Don Schumacher Racing (DSR) driver knew the stage was set for him to have a strong eliminations performance at the historic Auto Club Raceway in Pomona, Calif., and commence his drive for the 2020 Funny Car Championship immediately.
Beckman drove past Alexis DeJoria, DSR teammate Ron Capps, and Steve Densham to earn a berth in the final round versus John Force.
Force had a slight starting line advantage, but Beckman quickly powered his Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat to an exciting side-by-side battle before steadily making gains and taking the lead in the final stretch.
Beckman garnered his 31st career Funny Car national title, his second at Pomona after his first came in the 2019 season finale.
“It was just the perfect storm,” said Beckman. “I had never won a Nitro title here at Pomona until November of last year and now I’ve got two in a row. It’s beyond magical. I’ve said it before; you don’t know if your last win is your last win. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that this ain’t our last win. The Infinite Hero team is just on it. Our car has been amazing.”
DSR teammate and No.1 qualifier Matt Hagan knew he had a strong car and that the improvements made to the Mopar® Dodge//SRT Charger Hellcat Funny Car throughout the off-season and qualifying put him in a position to repeat winning performances he had at the Winternationals in 2015, 2017 and 2018.
Hagan worked his way through eliminations to a semifinal match-up against John Force to whom he ceded lane choice. The left lane was unkind to the DSR driver and tire shake ended his hopes to advance further, but didn’t dampen his enthusiasm about starting off the 2020 NHRA season on a good note.
This weekend’s efforts put him top-three in the Funny Car Championship points to kick start what will surely be a very competitive season.
Seeded fourth, the MD Anderson Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat Funny Car of Tommy Johnson Jr. started the day off with his best run of the weekend to put Cruz Pedregon behind him and move on to the next round to face John Force. After a strong showing all weekend long, a dropped cylinder right off the startline in the quarterfinals to put the brakes on his efforts.
After qualifying seventh for eliminations, Ron Capps, a three-time winner at the Winternationals (1998, 2009 and 2016), and his DSR crew earned the “NHRA Never Rest” award for the coming back from the adversity of a trailer fire that claimed a car, equipment, and a chance to test prior to this first national event of the year. After clawing their way through qualifying, Ron Capps and his HEMI®-powered Charger SRT Hellcat Funny Car still had a tough road through the ladder.
The first round win light came on after leaning on the throttle a few times and a little sideways driving, but things didn’t get any easier as Capps faced teammate Beckman in the second round. Flames once again ruined the day for the Capps after losing a cylinder early on and then an explosion at the 300-foot mark ended his run for a final round appearance.
In Top Fuel action, Leah Pruett drove her DSR Mopar Dodge//SRT Dragster from a third seed placement on the eliminations ladder to post her quickest pass of the weekend for a first round win with a 0.084 second reaction time and elapsed time run of 3.659 seconds, the best of race day, at 328.14 mph.
Pruett then earned a quarterfinal win over Shawn Reed to send her to the semifinals against Austin Prock. While they both left the line with identical 0.062-second reaction times, Pruett’s HEMI®-powered Mopar lost traction early to give Prock the edge and the round win. Mopar Dodge//SRT teams and drivers now have two weeks to prepare for the second of 24 events on the 2020 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series schedule, the NHRA Arizona Nationals at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park near Phoenix, scheduled for February 21-23.