It was a Hell(cat) of a ride for Don Schumacher Racing (DSR) driver Ron Capps on his drive to the winner’s circle at the 51st annual Amalie Motor Oil National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) Gatornationals at historic Gainesville Raceway.
Capps’ fourth career Gatornationals event victory extended DSR’s Funny Car consecutive win streak to ten national events since October 2019.
From his No. 4 position on the eliminations ladder, Capps sped past competitors Jim Campbell and Alexis DeJoria and into a hotly contested semifinal match against No. 1 qualifier and DSR teammate Matt Hagan; quite literally as Capps’ Dodge Charger SRT® Hellcat Funny Car crossed the finish line in flames while still posting the lowest elapsed time run and top speed of the weekend.
“We blew up right when I stepped off the gas in the semifinals,” said Capps who emerged unscathed after turning on the win light and employing a “hockey stop” maneuver to slow his car after a 3.898-second pass at 329.99 mph to defeat Hagan’s 4.016/312.64. “It exploded down there but thanks to the changes made by the Don Schumacher Racing fab (fabrication) shop, this body stayed on, rather than launch up in the air. I felt very safe after it blew up and everything stayed together on the car.”
With limited time to return to the staging lanes, Capps’s Crew Chief Rahn Tobler opted to unload a back-up Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat for the final round showdown against No. 2 qualifier Tim Wilkerson. Capps powered to a 3.937 sec./323.12-mph lap to defeat his opponents 3.945/325.92 and bring home his second Wally trophy of the season and 66th of his career.
“We all knew it was (Crew Chief Rahn) Tobler’s birthday and we all secretly wanted to win on his birthday, but to bring out a car that we had as a backup, that’s never made it to the finish line and it goes 3.93 in the final round of the Gatornationals is crazy,” said Capps. “He’s had that car up in the trailer since last year when we ran it at ‘Night Under Fire’ at Norwalk (Ohio) and made a check-out run with it and he put it away for these occasions. With live TV pushing us, we had every team member of Don Schumacher Racing over here working on the car. It was unbelievable. Team members you’re battling against in the championship are over here helping our guys and it was cool.”
Those efforts resulted in moving Capps up one position into fourth place in the Funny Car championship standings and into a four-way fight amongst the DSR teammates atop the leaderboard with just four national events left on the 2020 calendar.
Leading the charge towards the Funny Car championship with 569 points is Jack Beckman and his Infinite Hero Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat based on two wins and two runner-up finishes, and who, despite a quarterfinal loss to top qualifier Hagan, remains four markers ahead of him.
For his part, Hagan drove the Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat Redeye out of the gates for the opening round bye-run just as the “demon-possessed” namesake implies, posting a 3.915-second run at 327.90 mph to immediate set the low elapsed-time (e.t.) and top speed standard to beat. With the win over Beckman and the loss to Capps, Hagan remains firmly in second place.
Sitting third in the points coming into the weekend, Tommy Johnson Jr. took his MD Anderson Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat for a drive to a first round win against J.R. Todd which was followed by a quarterfinal loss to Wilkerson. He does maintain his position in the standings with 512 points ahead of Capps who rounds out the top-four with 486 points.
While DSR Top Fuel driver Leah Pruett wasn’t able to score her first Gatornats win, she did drive her red, black and chrome Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat Redeye dragster to her fourth straight semifinal appearance.
Pruett pedaled her way to an opening round victory against Joe Morrison to face No. 1 qualifier Clay Millican against whom she earned an exciting holeshot win as they ran identical elapsed time passes of 3.788 seconds. That set up a semifinal battle with Steve Torrence whom she had a slight second-place lead over in the Top Fuel championship standings coming into race day. Pruett drove her Mopar® dragster to a solid 3.812-second pass, but saw her day cut short by Torrence’s 3.772 effort. Torrence went on to win the Wally and move into the points lead ahead of Doug Kalitta with Pruett still in the hunt sitting in third place in the Top Fuel standings just 33 points behind the leader.
In NHRA Factory Stock Showdown (FSS) qualifying, the Mopar Drag Pak duo of Mark Pawuk and Leah Pruett drove into eliminations seeded tenth and 12th respectively. Coming into Gainesville second in points behind Aaron Stanfield, Pawuk followed up his U.S. Nationals runner-up performance with a solid 8.091 at 169.83-mph run in his Empaco Equipment Mopar Drag Pak to defeat David Kramer’s 8.192 in the opening round. While Pawuk had a lightning quick start with a 0.002-second reaction time against the No. 2 qualifier, Stephen Bell, he wasn’t able to hold him off and fell short with a respectable 8.065/170.58 pass to the winner’s 7.987/171.18 run.
From her 12th position on the eliminations ladder, Pruett and her Mopar Dodge Challenger Drag Pak lined up next to no. 5 qualifier Arthur Kohn. Despite her best efforts, Kohn took the early lead and ended Pruett’s day prematurely.
The DSR Mopar Dodge//SRT teams and drivers will have a short time to get ready for next weekend’s Mopar Express Lane NHRA Midwest Nationals at World Wide Technology Motorsports Park near St. Louis, Missouri. Two NHRA nitro qualifying sessions are scheduled for Saturday, Oct. 3, at 1:30 and 5:00 p.m. ET, with highlights to be aired on FS1 later that night from 10-11 p.m. ET and also on Sunday, Oct. 4, from 1:30-2:30 p.m. ET. Elimination rounds at the Mopar Express Lane Midwest Nationals Presented by Pennzoil are scheduled to begin at 11 a.m. ET on Sunday, Oct. 4, with the television broadcast on FS1 beginning at 2:30 p.m. ET featuring LIVE coverage of the final round.