Mixed Results for Mopar in Qualifying for NHRA Southern Nationals
· Hagan leads the DSR Mopars with fourth place spot in Funny Car qualifying for the NHRA Southern Nationals
· Beckman has a dramatic and explosive final qualifying lap to put him tenth on the Funny Car eliminations ladder
· Mopar teammates Johnson and Coughlin will face-off in the first round of Pro Stock eliminations after qualifying in the middle of the pack
Commerce, Georgia (Saturday, May 17) – The elimination ladders are set for the 34th annual Summit Racing Equipment National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) Southern Nationals near Atlanta, Georgia, and for nearly every Mopar entry, qualifying presented a bigger challenge than expected and produced either a somewhat positive or rather unusual result. Intermittent rain delays on both qualifying days pushed the sessions later into the evening than normal and into cooler and slightly better racing conditions under the lights at Atlanta Dragway.
The second day of qualifying started off on a positive note for the Don Schumacher Racing (DSR) Mopars with Tommy Johnson Jr. (4.051 seconds), Matt Hagan (4.103 seconds) and Jack Beckman (4.168 seconds) posting the top three quickest times in the first Funny Car session of the day.
Hagan went on to lead the charge for the DSR team and got a much needed confidence boost with two solid runs, bonus points and a fourth place spot on the eliminations ladder for his efforts. The driver of the Mopar Express Lane Dodge Charger R/T used his final run to post his best pass of the weekend with an elapsed time of 4.049 seconds (318 mph).
I couldn’t be more proud of these guys,” said Hagan of his crew who helped him collect four bonus points for posting the second quickest run in both Saturday sessions. “It was a good day for our team. There’s no way around it that we’ve been struggling all year long so putting two good runs together was a huge confidence booster for our guys and for Dickie (Venables) and for me.”
Hagan, who finished runner-up in the 2013 NHRA Championship, has encountered some difficultly making it out of the first round of eliminations in four of six events after initially starting the season with a final round appearance.
“We’re still trying to stay humble because we’re not out of the woods yet and there’s a lot of racing ahead of us and a lot of runs to make,” added Hagan, who will face Jeff Arend as his first round opponent. “I think the biggest thing that we can do is grow from this and just keep on the right track. It was a huge day for us and we’d like to turn it into four win lights tomorrow.”
Johnson Jr.’s top elapsed time run in the third session put him directly behind Hagan on the elimination ladder in fifth spot and up against Bob Tasca in the first round.
Fellow DSR Teammate Ron Capps saw his best qualifying effort of 4.095 seconds (309.20 mph) put him seventh overall to set up an all-Mopar first round match-up with Beckman, who found himself seeded 10th after an explosive last lap.
Beckman saw his final session come to an unexpected halt while posting his best elapsed time pass (4.150 sec. / 215.77 mph) of the weekend. An apparent mechanical failure left him with an open air view of his surroundings at the end of his run, and provided the uncharacteristic use of just one word to describe his experience.
“Scary,” said Beckman who emerged uninjured and retained his sense of humor by bowing to the crowd for his performance. “The fire in your face is something that you would have to be there to understand. It starts getting warm quick and you’re thinking ‘I hope this goes out early and I hope I’m still heading straight down my lane’. You go swimming with sharks and bad things can happen once in a while and the Great White just bit us.”
In Pro Stock qualifying, the Mopars of Allen Johnson and Jeg Coughlin Jr. had much less dramatic runs. In fact, lackluster would be a better word to describe them according to both drivers.
“Everything’s here, it’s in one piece, and we’ve got something to work with for tomorrow but it’s been a bizarre four runs for both of us, “ said defending NHRA Pro Stock champion, Jeg Coughlin, who usually prefers to focus on the positives as they prepare for race day.
However, after what can be categorized as a difficult weekend thus far for both Dodge Dart entries, Coughlin acknowledges that qualifying eighth with a 6.537 second (211.79 mph) and seeing Johnson ninth 6.540 seconds (211.26 mph) to face off in the first round is not what either was expecting from their weekend at the Southern Nationals.
“We’ve got cars that are typically in the top-five anywhere we go, but boy we tripped over our own laces several times this weekend. It’s just been odd. We’ll go into game day guns blazing and there’s no question that I have all faith in the world that our teams will get our cars running the way they should. It’s unfortunate that we have to square-off against one another but if you look at the positive side of that, one of us is going to move on to the next round and hopefully we’ll have it figured out and not look back.”
His teammate, Johnson, found it a little more difficult to hide his frustration with the result of his qualifying runs in the “Magneti Marelli Offered by Mopar” Dodge Dart.
“We are five-hundredths of a second off the fastest car here when at the last event in Houston we were the fastest or right with the fastest car,” said Johnson. “We haven’t changed anything drastic and here we are in the middle of the pack and we’re not exactly sure why. We’ve got a bug that we can’t get rid of and it’s affecting both cars. We’re a bit lost right now but we have a veteran crew that working hard at it and will put their heads together to get our Dodge Dart cars working like we know they should. .”
The third Dodge Dart qualified for elimination rounds is that of V. Gaines who sits 12th with an e.t of 6.547 sec. (212.56 mph) and will face Rodger Brogden as his first opponent on Sunday.
Pole positions in each category were awarded to Pro Stock driver Erica Enders-Stevens who qualified with a track record 6.493 second e.t at 212.69 mph, and Funny Car competitor Alexis DeJoria who also set a track record low e.t. of 4.012-seconds (313.95 mph).