Don Schumacher Racing’s (DSR) Leah Pruett powered her 2021 Dodge Challenger Mopar® Drag Pak to her second consecutive runner-up finish in Constant Aviation Factory Stock Showdown (FSS) competition this weekend at the 32nd annual Menards National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) Nationals Presented by PetArmor in Topeka, Kansas.
Following up her FSS runner-up performance at the Dodge//SRT® Mile-High Nationals in Denver last month, Pruett began her charge from the tenth place on the eliminations ladder at Heartland Motorsports Park against No. 7 seed Doug Hamp, immediately moving on to the quarterfinals due to her opponent’s red-light start. Her Mopar Drag Pak then turned on the win lights against No. 15 seed Daniel Condon with a 7.987-second run at 174.35 mph to beat his 7.993 sec./172.85 mph pass to advance to the semifinals.
Once again, Pruett was ready to challenge for a round win and hit the throttle with a 0.011-second reaction time, clocking a 7.929 sec./174.77 mph run to earn a solid holeshot victory over No. 3 seed David Barton’s 0.069-second start and 7.883 sec./175.66 mph pass to move on to her second final round battle of the year.
The final showdown pitted her against No. 1 qualifier John Cerbone but this time, even after posting another quick reaction time, an immediate loss of traction derailed the run and gave her opponent the lead and eventual win. Despite the loss, Pruett’s runner-up finish moved her up in the FSS championship battle into third place with three events remaining.
Also in FSS action, Pruett’s FSS teammate Mark Pawuk qualified 13th aboard his 2015 Empaco Equipment Dodge Challenger Mopar Drag to pair him with the points leader, defending FSS champion and No. 4 qualifier Aaron Stanfield for his opening round match-up. Wheeling his Mopar Drag Pak to its best run of the weekend with an 8.020-second pass wasn’t quite enough to catch Stanfield, who posted a 7.974 elapsed time run to move on.
Pruett and Pawuk were joined this weekend by a third DSR-prepared FSS entry with the addition of David Davies and his 2021 Dodge Challenger Mopar Drag Pak. Davies, whose company Constant Aviation signed on to sponsor the FSS series in May, made his NHRA debut with the new generation Mopar Drag Pak at the Norwalk national event in June before joining the DSR roster. While Davies did not qualify for this weekend’s elimination rounds, he will return with the DSR team at the next FSS event next month at the Dodge//SRT U.S. Nationals.
In Funny Car action, hard work by the Cruz Pedregon Racing team throughout the weekend at Heartland Motorsports Park gave driver Cruz Pedregon the opportunity to go rounds on Sunday aboard his Snap-on Tools Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat. They overcame the challenge presented by a top-end incident in the second qualifying session when lane mate Tim Wilkerson’s race car crossed the center line and collided with Pedregon’s before both hit the wall. While both drivers emerged unhurt, both teams took out their back up vehicles for the balance of the weekend.
Despite the setback, Pedregon, a four-time winner at the Kansas event, was able to qualify seventh and was once again paired with No. 13 qualifier Wilkerson for the opening round. Pedregon earned the first round win by posting a 4.014-second run at 316.01 mph to beat his opponent’s 4.044 sec./286.68 mph pass and advance to a quarterfinal battle against No. 2 qualifier Alexis DeJoria. Pedregon’s HEMI®-powered machine sped to a holeshot win thanks to his 0.091-second reaction time and an identical 4.006-second run to beat DeJoria’s 0.111-second start and send him into the next round to face No. 6 seed John Force. The semifinal battle was close and hard fought with Pedregon’s Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat clocking another solid 4.063 sec./303.91 mph run in a losing effort to Force’s 4.005/321.35 winning pass. With the result, Pedregon moves up a spot into eighth place in the Funny Car championship standings.
Coming into Topeka as the Funny Car points leader, Ron Capps was looking to continue his season-long string of qualifying his DSR Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat in the top-five and perhaps extend his No. 1 qualifier streak to three, while making every effort to once again advance to the semifinals or beyond like he had at four previous events. While things didn’t go quite as planned in qualifying with a seventh place seeding, Capps advanced to the quarterfinals with his best pass of the weekend, a 3.955-second run and round win over Chad Green. The DSR veteran driver lined up against J.R. Todd, against whom he laid down another respectable 3.994-second lap. Unfortunately, Todd’s quicker start gave him the edge at the stripe despite running a slower 3.996-second lap to take the holeshot win and bring an end to Capps’ run through the eliminations. However, with the result, Capps becomes the first Funny Car driver to clinch a berth into the 2021 “Countdown to the Championship” playoffs and he heads to the next event second in points.
Defending Funny Car champ Matt Hagan qualified fourth and got right down to business in the opening round by taking his DSR Performance Parts Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat for a quickest elapsed time lap of the day at 3.920 seconds at 323.89 mph and turn the win lights on against No. 13 seed Jack Wyatt.
Hagan, who won this event in 2016, had a more eventful run in the quarterfinals against fifth seed Blake Alexander. Hagan was once again quickest on the start but both drivers had to pedal their way out of trouble en route to the finish line. Hagan hung on to cross the stripe with a 4.193-second lap but it wasn’t quite enough to catch Alexander’s 4.126-second run. While it brought his day to a premature end, Hagan remains in the top-five, tied for fifth (with Robert Hight) in the points standings with two events left before the points reset for the playoffs.
Top Fuel pilot Leah Pruett brought her DSR Cookie and Candy Pop Mopar Dodge//SRT dragster into Topeka riding the momentum of two consecutive final round appearances in California. Her runner-up finish at Sonoma and the Wally Trophy in Pomona also moved her up from an eighth place position in the championship standings to the fourth spot behind points leader Steve Torrance.
In Top Fuel action on Sunday, Pruett found herself matched up with No. 4 qualifier Torrence for the opening round of eliminations after qualifying 11th with a 3.897 sec./314.31 mph run set on a hot track on Saturday, after not getting in a good lap on a cooler track in the prior evening’s session. Pruett’s HEMI-powered dragster made the first move and posted a 3.776-second elapsed time run at 319.75 mph in a good, close race that saw Torrence edge her at the line with a 3.736 sec./325.61 mph pass. While that brought a quick end to her day and any opportunity to pack a few more points, Pruett remains fourth in the Top Fuel standings Mopar and Dodge supported entries will be back on track next weekend in Brainerd, Minnesota, for the Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals at Brainerd International Raceway, the 12th of 20 NHRA national events this season.