Concrete Challenge for Mopar Teams at Renovated Track at Arizona Nationals
Mopar teams and drivers ready to roll on new concrete surface at renovated Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park for the Arizona Nationals
Capps is defending title winner after an all-Mopar final against teammate Matt Hagan at this event last season
Beckman paces the Funny Car entries with a provisional fourth place in Friday qualifying
Johnson is quickest Mopar with sixth place spot in Pro Stock qualifying
Chandler, Ariz. (Friday, Feb. 21) – Mopar teams and drivers had their first qualifying runs Friday afternoon at the newly renovated Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park for the Arizona Nationals, the second event on the 2014 National Hot Rod Association Mello Yello Drag Racing series schedule, and the changes to the track presented a new challenge for all competitors.
“They’ve made quite a bit of improvements,” said defending NHRA Pro Stock world champion Jeg Coughlin Jr. who drove to the winner’s circle twice at the Arizona Nationals in 2009 and 2011. “The track is under new management this year, which we’re excited about. They’ve made a lot of improvements to the grounds, not just to the racetrack.”
Formerly known as Firebird International Raceway, the facility made plenty of upgrades including a new concrete track surface and launch pad, timing system, public-address systems, and new scoreboards. Both Coughlin and 2012 NHRA Champ Allen Johnson were among the first to test out the refurbished track last month but more work was done to prepare and improve the surface for this weekend’s racing.
“They’ve done a great job to get the track ready and it’s very good and consistent but we just have to adapt to it a bit better,” said Johnson who earned a title in Phoenix in 2005. “We were a bit too conservative on our first run and aggressive on our second.”
Johnson paced the Mopar entries with the third quickest elapsed time (6.553 Seconds)and set the top speed with 211.83 mph in Friday’s second qualifying session but sits sixth overall. V. Gaines, who drove his Mopar to a runner-up finisher at the 2014 season opening event in Pomona was ninth (6.579 sec / 210.21 mph) while Coughlin (6.598 / 211.43) rounded out the top-10. Also joining the Mopar contingent at this event with HEMI-powered Dodge entries are Phoenix native Matt Hartford (13th) and Deric Kramer (18th). The provisional pole position currently is being held by competitor Chris McGaha with a 6.530 sec/ 210.60 mph pass.
Don Schumacher Racing’s Ron Capps is the defending Funny Car race winner after an all-Mopar final last year against teammate and No.2 qualifier, Matt Hagan. In Friday qualifying, Capps ended up eighth on the timesheets and saw the elapsed time record he had set four years ago fall to John Force who ran 3.990 second / 317.79 mph to earn the provisional pole position.
Hagan, for his part, looked like he picked up right where he had left off from the previous event at the Winternationals where he finished runner-up, by topping the first qualifying session in his Mopar Express Lane Dodge Charger R/T. He’s hoping to earn his first title of the season and his first at Phoenix on the new track surface.
“Anytime a facility sinks money back into a track it makes the racers happy,” Hagan said. “We go to a lot of great tracks, but it is great when the owners of the facility put money back into the track to make it better. I’m looking for good things here; I’ve never won there, and I would like to put a win on the board there.”
However, at the end of the day it was teammate Jack Beckman, winner of three titles at this national event, who paced the DSR entries with a second-session effort of 4.055 seconds (314.09 mph) to earn the provisional fourth qualifying spot. Hagan ended up tenth and teammate Tommy Johnson Jr. was 11th. Jeff Arend (13th), Paul Lee (14th) and Gary Densham round out the HEMI-powered Dodge entries competing this weekend.