Houser Wins Mopar HEMI Challenge in Sportsman;
Johnson Kicks off NHRA U.S. Nationals Qualifying in Top Spot
· Sportsman and pro class Mopar entries compete at prestigious 59th annual NHRA U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis this Labor Day weekend
· Rick Houser wins 13th edition of the Mopar HEMI® Challenge in Sportsman competition
· Allen Johnson takes provisional No.1 qualifier spot after first Pro Stock session
· Matt Hagan leads Mopar’s Funny Car contingency with a fifth place spot on the qualifying time sheets
Brownsburg, Ind. (Friday, August 30, 2013) – There was plenty of action on tap at the prestigious 59th annual NHRA U.S. Nationals on Friday at Lucas Oil Raceway near Indianapolis where Mopar fans saw Rick Houser earn his second career Mopar® HEMI® Challenge in Sportsman competition, while Allen Johnson drove his Mopar Express Lane Dodge Avenger straight to the top of the Pro Stock score sheets to earn the provisional No.1 qualifier position.
In Sportsman Mopar-powered SS/AH (Super Stock/A category-HEMI) class eliminations, Houser scored his second career victory in the Mopar HEMI Challenge, taking his 1968 Plymouth Barracuda to the event win over fellow Barracuda driver Stephen Hebert and bagging the $15,000 winner’s purse, as well as the iconic Mopar HEMI Challenge trophy and a custom Mopar winner’s jacket. Houser, the No. 2 qualifier, was first to the stripe with an 8.502/158.54 pass, besting No. 3 qualifier Hebert’s 8.682/154.56 run to nab his second Mopar HEMI Challenge Indy win, following his 2007 victory.
“It’s pretty satisfying, because we had a complete different program the last time we won,” said Houser, who knocked off Joe Teuton, Jim Pancake and defending (and five-time) Indy Mopar HEMI Challenge champ Charlie Westcott Jr. on his road to the final. “We had an automatic (car), and Joe Allread was our engine builder. We were close friends, and then Joe passed away. We had to go in a different direction, and that’s when we went with Westcott power and put a stick in the car. It took us a few years to get acclimated and get on top of the clutch, so from that standpoint it’s very satisfying. The win in 2007 was also very special, because it was with Joe. Each one has its own significance as a great achievement.”
Although Houser stopped No. 1 qualifier Westcott Jr.’s Mopar HEMI Challenge win streak, the triumph was also a victory of sorts for Westcott, who supplies the HEMI engines for Houser’s Mopar race car. “It shows that Charlie builds the same power for his customers that he builds for himself, and that if you know how to tune your car, he can be beat,” Houser said.
On the Mopar brand’s sponsorship of the 13th annual Mopar HEMI Challenge at Indy, which features 1968 HEMI Dodge Darts and Plymouth Barracudas from the SS/AH class in competition, Houser added, “I’m very appreciative. It makes us all feel really special. We’re treated like this is very meaningful, and it’s something that you’ll treasure all your life.”
Runner-up Hebert earned $1,500 with his second-place showing and gained valuable info from his final-round run. “We won just getting here, just getting in the final,” said Hebert, who defeated Joe Paillot, Dan Zrust and David Barton to set up a money-round match with Houser. “This is the first year my family was able to come out. The car ran good. We didn’t have the perfect setup for the motor, but now we have a lot of data to work with. The motor ran flawlessly, and when we get the car to work with the motor, we’ll be back in another final again one day soon.”
In Mello Yello Series competition, defending NHRA Pro Stock world champ Johnson posted an elapsed time run of 6.661 seconds (207.02 mph) to take the provisional No.1 qualifier position and three point bonus in the first of five sessions in anticipation of Monday’s elimination rounds. While Johnson was happy with his run, he is cautiously optimistic about his chances for a shot at this particular prestigious national title after never having made an appearance in the final round at Indianapolis.
“I’ve never really even been close to be honest and it’s on my bucket list,” Johnson said. “To win it would be right up there with [winning] the NHRA Championship, Gainsville and Pomona. It would probably mean even more to my dad than it would to me because he’s competed here as a Sportsman in the HEMI classes and Comp Eliminator. I don’t think he’s ever sealed the deal here either but he’s gotten real close. I think it would mean a lot more to me to do it with and for my dad just to see his enjoyment in it. That’s why a win here would mean so much.”
Competitors Shane Gray (6.665/207.78) and Mike Edwards (6.669/206.70), the current points leader, rounded out the top three spots, with Dodge driver V.Gaines (6.676/207.98) earning a fifth spot. HEMI-powered teammates Jeg Coughlin Jr. (6.698/206.45) and Vincent Nobile (6.688/206.07) made runs that put them seventh and ninth respectively. Also competing this weekend in Dodge Avengers and hoping to make the field are Mat Hartford (16th) and Chris McGaha (23rd).
In their first qualifying attempt at Indy, the Mopar HEMI-powered NHRA Funny Car contingent was led by current points leader and “Magneti Marelli Offered by Mopar” Dodge Charger R/T driver Matt Hagan, who took the provisional fifth spot with a 4.102 second run. Hagan’s fellow Don Schumacher Racing Dodge Charger R/T teammates also earned spots in the provisional top 12 after the conclusion of Friday qualifying, with Johnny Gray (4.122) seventh, Jack Beckman (4.145) tenth and Ron Capps ( 4.151) in 11th place. Dodge Charger R/T racers Paul Lee (14th), Blake Alexander (17th) and Jeff Arend (18th) will also be looking to improve their positions on Saturday.