Mopar Racers in the Staging Lanes at the ‘Big Go’ and Driving for Coveted NHRA U.S. Nationals Title

Mopar Racers in the Staging Lanes at the ‘Big Go’ and Driving for Coveted NHRA U.S. Nationals Title

· Mopar racers revved up for this weekend’s 61st annual National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) U.S. Nationals at Lucas Oil Raceway near Indianapolis
· Mopar HEMI® Challenge marks its 15th anniversary at the NHRA U.S. Nationals with qualifying and eliminations on September 3-4
· Mopar to host Sportsman Racers Appreciation event with special guests and giveaways on Sept. 3 from 7- 9 p.m. at Lucas Oil Raceway
· Mopar “Top Eliminator” to be selected among the top Mopar performance rides racing down the quarter-mile track in the Sportsman category
· Don Schumacher Racing quartet of 2015 Dodge Charger R/T Funny Cars will try to break into the winner’s circle at U.S. Nationals for the first time since 2001
· Top-three spots in standings held by DSR 2015 Mopar Dodge Charger R/T Funny Cars with one regular season event left before the NHRA ‘Countdown to the Championship’ begins
· 20-year Pro Stock veteran Allen Johnson chasing a coveted first national title at the “Big Go” aboard the Magneti Marelli Offered by Mopar Dodge Dart
· Johnson will have a teammate this weekend with addition of young talent and last year’s U.S. National’s Pro Stock stand-out Aaron Stanfield in a Dodge Dart

Indianapolis, Indiana (September 3, 2015) – Anticipation is rising for Mopar fans and racers alike as they get ready for the oldest and most prestigious of National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) Mello Yello Drag Racing series events, the 61st annual U.S. Nationals, contested yearly on Labor Day weekend at Lucas Oil Raceway near Indianapolis, Indiana. It is also the final regular season contest prior to the six-event NHRA “Countdown to the Championship” playoff series.

Before the Mopar contingent of Pro Stock and Funny Car entries take to the track for five qualifying sessions starting Friday evening and extending through Sunday, leading into eliminations on Monday, the racing spotlight will be on the largest gathering of Sportsman racers of the season.

Among them, and in keeping with the historic nature of the U.S. Nationals, will be a fleet of vintage 1968 HEMI-powered Dodge Darts and Plymouth Barracudas competing on the quarter-mile dragstrip in the ever-popular annual Mopar HEMI® Challenge. For a 15th consecutive season, Mopar will underscore its commitment to Sportsman racing competition within the NHRA with the presentation of the classic muscle car heads-up shootout scheduled to take place September 3-4 and provide a $15,000 award, a unique HEMI Challenge trophy, and a custom Mopar HEMI Challenge jacket to the winner. Cash prizes will also be awarded to the top-16 qualified cars that advance to the elimination rounds.

Once again, Mopar will host a Sportsman Racers Sportsman Racers Appreciation event for HEMI-powered participants on Thursday, Sept. 3 from 7-9 p.m. at Lucas Oil Raceway. On display will be the new supercharged Mopar Dodge Challenger Drag Pak with Mopar engineers on hand to answer questions. Additional special guests will include Hellcat engineer Jim Wilder and shock specialist Mike Alex. In addition to food and beverages, attendees will be treated to a drawing for giveaways every 15 minutes, including a grand prize offering of a Mopar Gen II 426 HEMI engine block.

Among the sportsman racers competing this weekend at U.S. Nationals, a “Top Eliminator” winner will be selected among the top Mopar performance rides racing down the quarter-mile track. This is the ninth year that FCA US LLC’s service, parts and customer-care brand, has held the challenge to spotlight passionate and dedicated muscle car enthusiasts who exemplify unmatched skills in modifying or preserving a classic or modern-day Mopar vehicle, as well as their restyled, accessorized and performance-enhanced ride.

As the very first NHRA national event, the U.S. Nationals has been contested yearly since 1955 and is nicknamed the “Big-Go”. This year’s edition is being touted as the “Bigger Go” because of a special world championship points system that is in effect with drivers in each category earning points based on a point-and-a-half system. There will be 150 points awarded for a win rather than the usual 100, round wins will be worth 30 points instead of 20, and the possibility of a total of 208 points up for grabs. Teams also will get 15 points rather than the ten typically awarded for making a qualifying attempt. Qualifying bonus points, however, remain the same with three (3) points for the quickest, two (2) points for second and one (1) point for third spot among the top-3 passes in each of five qualifying sessions for the U.S. Nationals with the regular 1-8 points awarded for qualifying positions. The standard 20 points will go to a driver who sets a national elapsed time record.

The Mopar contingent of Don Schumacher Racing Funny Car drivers, Matt Hagan, Jack Beckman, Ron Capps, and Tommy Johnson Jr., has just one thing on their mind going into this weekend; earning a coveted first victory at the world’s most prestigious drag race.

Defending NHRA world champion, Hagan has earned No. 1 qualifier honors three times (2010, 2013, and 2014) at Indy, but has never made it to the final elimination round. He’s hoping to change that aboard the new Mopar Express Lane / Rocky Boots Dodge Charger R/T this year.

“Everyone wants to win the U.S. Nationals,” said Hagan who set the track record at Indy last year with a 3.998-second run in the final qualifying session. It was also the very first 3-second run for a Funny Car at the famed event.

“We want to win it for Mopar,” added Hagan who is currently second in the standings with four wins. “Everybody that was out testing at Indy (last week) was running so strong and you can see the numbers were dipping into the low 3s. We have to learn how to do that on a hot race track. We just have to keep working hard, keep our heads down, and stay humble. Dickie Venables is doing a great job and my Mopar Express Lane / Rocky Boots guys are doing everything right and we’re right back where we need to be.”

Meanwhile, Beckman, who has five wins this year and is the points leader in the Funny Car category, has been on a tear aboard his Infinite Hero Dodge Charger R/T posting record runs in the 3-second range at the last few national events, as well as during testing at Lucas Oil Raceway last week.

“I have to tell everyone at Mopar ‘Thank you’,” said Beckman in reference to the introduction of the new Mopar body at the start of the season and which has since contributed to 13 wins to the DSR team’s tally. “When we first got the new 2015 Dodge Charger body, from a driver’s standpoint, we all loved it and we could see way better. From a crew chief stand point, it wasn’t yet a more effective package than our last one, which was still an excellent body, but as we put more laps on it, it now holds both ends of the national record, it hold the quickest and fastest runs of all time. I can’t say enough about what they have done for us to keep us competitive out here. I’m very happy with what we have been able to cross off our list in testing at Indy last week. Oh and by the way, we went 3.91 at 325 mph.”

Beckman has seen action in two final round elimination battles (2008 and 2013) at the U.S. Nationals and is hoping three times is the charm.

“I’ve won the Traxxas Shootout here twice. I’ve never won the race but had two final round appearances. Right now I want to say it’s just another race and you tell yourself that until you’re able to win it. I hope this year I’ll get to say that it is truly a special race. If you’re calculating the odds, you have to put the DSR cars 1-2-3 with what we’ve been doing lately and Capps is right there. All that said, there are no teams when you’re on the starting line and I want to put the Infinite hero one in the winner’s circle.”

Rounding out the Top-3 in points heading into this weekend’s competition, Johnson Jr. has been on the fast track, driving into Indy with three consecutive final rounds at the nationals in Sonoma, Seattle and Brainerd. Those results combined with an encouraging test at Lucas Oil last week, has the Mopar driver feeling very optimistic about his chances of seeing the winner’s circle.

“Our team really has been on a roll lately and with Indy being the biggest drag race of the year for all of our teams, you test and try to be as prepared as you can,” said Johnson Jr. who has a runner-up finish at the U.S. Nationals in (2002) and two pole positions (1999 and 2000). “It’s was a successful test. I’ve never tested and ran in the 3-second zone so I can’t say it hasn’t been successful.”

The four DSR Mopars are also looking to break a streak this weekend. The last DSR Funny Car to win the U.S. Nationals title was in 2001 with former driver Whit Bazemore and the only other DSR Funny Car driver to win the Indy title was team owner Don Schumacher in 1970.

“If you look at our season so far this year with the amount of races we’ve won and the dominance we’ve had in the Funny Car class you would sure hope that this year at Indy we can break the dry spell,” Johnson Jr. said. “I’ve never won Indy either so as much as a roll as our team has been on lately, I’d like to be the one to do it. As much as you try to tell yourself it’s just another race, it’s not. It’s Indy. It’s one that you want on your resume. It’s one that you want sitting on your mantle. It’s a must.”

Capps feels the same way.

“For me as a kid growing up reading my dad’s hot rod magazines and reading about the U.S. Nationals, it’s always been the pinnacle of our sport,” said Capps who is looking to make his first appearance in a final round at Indy. “It’s probably more important to me to win Indy than it is a NHRA World Championship. You could have the best running car by a tenth of a second ahead of everyone heading into Indy and that will mean nothing to the spirits of the U.S. Nationals. They will throw good conditions out for you on Friday and Saturday night qualifying which is great for the fans and great for the racers. It’s great to go out and run in the 3.90s and maybe even 3.80s, but come Monday race day morning, the spirits of the U.S. Nationals will throw hot temperatures and humidity at you. I haven’t won it yet but I know that with this particular race, you have to earn it.”

“We ran 3.96 in 2012 and that was a pretty amazing run at the time,” Capps recalled. “Now if you don’t run quicker than a 3.92 you might not have lane choice come Monday. The game just got upped a lot these last few races in Funny car. The competition is the best it’s ever been, times ten. It’s going to be fun to battle.”

On Sunday, all four DSR Funny Car will also compete in the Traxxas Nitro Shootout, a special bonus race that takes place during qualifying with a $100,000 prize for the victor.

20-year Pro Stock veteran and 2012 NHRA World Champion, Allen Johnson is also looking to add the coveted U.S. Nationals title to his list of accomplishments. After a difficult start to the season, Johnson and his Mopar team overcame the challenges and have been making consistent runs of late in the “Magneti Marelli Offered by Mopar” Dodge Dart, building on a win at Chicago’s Route 66 Nationals and a runner-up finish at Denver’s Mopar Mile-High Nationals in July. The team seems poised to end the regular season on a strong note and make a run for the Pro Stock championship.

“We tested this week in St. Louis and feel like we’re ready for the Big Go,” said Johnson who is looking to turn on four win lights on Monday. “The goal this week is to get the Magneti Marelli Mopar Dodge Dart in the winner’s circle and get a good start on the countdown. We’ll have some help with the addition of a teammate with Aaron Stanfield. We’ve worked well together and we’re looking forward to getting in some good runs this weekend.”

Aaron Stanfield, son of Greg Stanfield who joined Johnson & Johnson Racing in May, made his Pro Stock driving debut last year at Indianapolis, qualifying eighth and making it to the quarterfinals.

Fellow HEMI-powered Dodge Dart driver, V. Gaines, who finished runner-up at Indy in 2013, will be amongst the Mopars looking to find their way to the prestigious U.S. Nationals winner’s circle for the first time.