The 36th annual Mopar® Express Lane Nationals Presented by Pennzoil are set for this weekend at Maple Grove Raceway near Reading, Pennsylvania, with Mopar and Dodge//SRT®-supported racers staged and ready to begin their drive for National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) world championship titles in the first of seven “Countdown to the Championship” playoff series national events.
This weekend’s competition marks the fourth of five national events supported by Mopar and Dodge//SRT title sponsorship during the NHRA’s 70th anniversary season and the first of two playoff contests, which include the penultimate event at the Dodge//SRT NHRA Nationals Presented by Pennzoil in Las Vegas Oct. 29-Nov. 1.
“We’re pleased to be back at Maple Grove Raceway with our Pennzoil partners for the Mopar Express Lane NHRA Nationals to kick off the NHRA’s ‘Countdown to the Championship’ playoff series,” said Mark Bosanac, North America Vice President, Mopar Service, Parts & Customer Care. “We look forward to watching our HEMI®-powered racers compete while showcasing the Mopar brand to ultra-passionate drag racing enthusiasts.”
Mopar Express Lane provides quick in-and-out, high-quality, factory-backed service by certified technicians at more than 1,000 locations across the nation. Racers and fans will see the familiar blue, white and yellow Mopar Express Lane signage at Maple Grove Raceway as NHRA returns to one of the fastest tracks on the circuit Sept. 12-14. After a year hiatus from both the venue and the playoff format, record runs and high-horsepower performances facilitated by cooler fall weather conditions are anticipated.
Fans are invited to visit the Mopar exhibit at the track’s Manufacturers Midway to peruse a selection of the brand’s quality performance part offerings and experience what it feels like on track aboard an actual Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat Redeye Funny Car simulator.
Leah Pruett’s HEMI-powered Don Schumacher Racing (DSR) Mopar Dodge//SRT dragster will be dressed for success in the familiar Mopar blue and white primary paint scheme as she works to take home her first Wally trophy from Reading. She takes to the track as the No. 4 seed in the Top Fuel ranks after a quarterfinal appearance at last weekend’s Dodge//SRT U.S. Nationals.
“Leaving there fourth in points, heading into Reading for the Mopar Express Lane Nationals and starting the Countdown from there, we feel good about that,” said Pruett, who scored a win and a runner-up finish in the second half of the regular season. “Right now we have the most capable and consistent car that we’ve had all year long and that is responding to what we want it to do. That’s exactly where we want to be going into the countdown.”
Reigning Funny Car World Champ Matt Hagan will remain sidelined for this weekend’s event as he recovers from COVID-19. Tommy Johnson Jr. will slip into the driver’s seat of the Mopar Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat Funny Car in Hagan’s place as he did at the Dodge//SRT U.S. Nationals when the entry did not qualify due to a mechanical issue on Friday and rain on Saturday. Johnson was the clear choice after finishing runner-up to Hagan in the 2020 NHRA Funny Car World Championship with DSR, powering to three wins and three No. 1 qualifier positions last season. The points Johnson accumulates during this race weekend will be awarded to Hagan, who starts the Countdown ranked fifth.
DSR driver Ron Capps arrives at Maple Grove Raceway in his HEMI-powered Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat fresh off a runner-up finish at the Dodge//SRT U.S. Nationals and as the top seed for the Funny Car world championship after points were reset for the playoff battle, giving him a 20-point lead. Capps earned the No. 1 qualifier position and set Maple Grove’s current elapsed time and speed records in 2019 with a 3.837-second pass at 339.28 mph. He also took home a Wally from the venue in 2018.
“Going to Maple Grove to start the Countdown and having a race car as good as our’s is right now with consistency and performance is exciting,” said Capps. “I’m really pumped to get to Maple Grove to start the playoffs. We won the championship in 2016 without winning a race in the Countdown but we were, by far, the most consistent car. We put the pressure on people and that’s what you have to do. We have a great team with John Medlen and Guido (Dean Antonelli), they’re firing on all cylinders and it’s really great to drive this Hellcat Funny Car.”
Meanwhile, fellow Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat driver Cruz Pedregon has two wins at Reading (1992, 2010) and is working to build on his semifinal performance last weekend at the Dodge//SRT U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis to work his way up from an eighth place position in the championship battle.
“We’re really optimistic about going into the Mopar Express Lane Nationals at Maple Grove Raceway, which is a fast race track. I looked at the weather and it’s expected to be in the 70s (degrees Fahrenheit) so it’s just going to be a ‘just hammer down’ kind of event. The fall temperatures are going to cool down but the action is going to heat up. One thing we did prove at Brainerd two races ago is that we can hammer out the fast times and run in the high 3.80s (elapsed time passes). That’s probably what it’s going to take to win down the stretch here. We’re just going to take one race at a time and keep this momentum going that we’ve enjoyed. I’ve talked to (crew chiefs) JC (John Collins) and Rip (Reynolds) and everybody’s excited and just looking forward to it.” On-track action at the Mopar Express Lane SpringNationals Presented by Pennzoil begins with one qualifying session in the late afternoon on Friday and two sessions on Saturday to determine the lineup for Sunday’s final eliminations rounds. Coverage of the event will be available via online streaming at NHRA.TV, while television coverage will be broadcast on FS1 on Sunday, Sept. 14, with qualifying highlights 12-2 p.m. ET and race coverage 2-5 p.m. ET.