Mopar Campaigners Hagan, Pritchett No. 1 in Qualifying at NHRA Dodge Nationals

Mopar Campaigners Hagan, Pritchett No. 1 in Qualifying at NHRA Dodge Nationals

· Mopar Express Lane Dodge Charger R/T Funny Car driver Matt Hagan No. 1 at Dodge NHRA Nationals
· Don Schumacher Racing (DSR) driver Hagan resets both ends of Maple Grove Raceway track record
· DSR nitro pilot Leah Pritchett takes Mopar Top Fuel dragster to a career-best 3.705-second pass to claim first career No. 1
· Qualifying abbreviated to just one session due to weather at NHRA Dodge Nationals
· DSR Mopar Dodge Funny Car driver Tommy Johnson Jr. No. 2 in qualifying on heels of back-to-back final rounds
· Mopar scores 13th Funny Car No. 1 of season with Dodge NHRA Nationals pole

Reading, Pennsylvania (October 1, 2016) – Wet weather completely erased the first day of qualifying for the Dodge NHRA Nationals at Maple Grove Raceway, but the second day brought dryer conditions for the first session paired with cool weather that translated to quick passes down the drag strip for Team Mopar while others struggled. Don Schumacher Racing (DSR) pilot Matt Hagan, in the Mopar Express Lane Dodge Charger R/T Funny Car, came out on top for the 26th time in his career, and DSR’s Mopar Top Fuel dragster driver Leah Pritchett earned her first No. 1 qualifier award as a professional nitro competitor.

A single qualifying session was all that Mother Nature would allow to set the field for the third race of six in NHRA’s 2016 Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Countdown to the Championship. Pritchett and Hagan were not alone in their powerful strides; most of the DSR Mopar-branded Funny Cars came through to put a strong time on the board. Tommy Johnson Jr. in the Make-A-Wish Dodge Charger R/T will start from the No. 2 position and race Cruz Pedregon, No. 4 seed Ron Capps will take his Dodge Charger to the starting line for a meeting with Alexis DeJoria, and Jack Beckman, starting ninth in the Infinite Hero Dodge, will come up against Chad Head. Pritchett’s DSR Mopar-powered Top Fuel teammate, Tony Schumacher and the HEMI®-fueled U.S. Army rail, made a solid pass to start from the No. 9 position. He will begin his battle for the event title with a head-to-head match with Steve Torrence.

Pritchett picked up three bonus qualifying points for the best run of the round of the opening round on Saturday, racing to a career-best 3.705-second pass at 327.35 mph. When the second and final session was canceled before it could be completed, her position was solidified. Pritchett’s No. 1 is her first behind the wheel of a nitro-fueled Top Fuel dragster in 67 Mello Yello Drag Racing Series events that she has contested. Her previous best qualifying position this year was No. 4, at the NHRA Gatornationals in Gainesville. Last season, Southern California-born Pritchett just missed the Maple Grove Raceway pole and was No. 2.

“This is pretty phenomenal,” said Pritchett, who will race Shawn Reed in the first round of eliminations on Sunday. “It’s right there behind winning a race, of course. This is do or die time. This is the time of digging deep for the Countdown, and to be No. 1 at one of the fastest race tracks and in these race conditions says a lot about my team. They know what they’re doing, and I have a lot of confidence in that racecar. From a strategy standpoint, this is really big.

“My first instinct on that run, when I hit the throttle, I thought great. We had a good 60-foot time, and I got to about 250 feet down the track and I thought, oh there it is, that’s a shake that’s going to go up into smoke. It washed out a little bit – and I’ve never had a dragster where I’m full throttle hitting 292 mph at half-track with my steering wheel at a 9 o’clock – but we were on a good run and I was sticking to it. It put a hole out, and I’m like, but we’re almost there. The finish line never felt farther away. We always say a run is from A to B, but this one was really from A to F because there were so many things happening. But that makes this first No. 1 qualifying experience really special to me. Everyone did their job, and I did my job on that track. That’s what it took to get this done.

“To be No. 1 in the Mopar Top Fuel Dragster is pretty awesome, but we came here to win the race. We’re starting this off with our very best foot forward at the Dodge NHRA Nationals. It couldn’t get any better than this today.”

The Funny Cars were met with challenge in their lone round of qualifying, and until Matt Hagan and the Mopar Express Lane Dodge Charger R/T came to the starting line, not one of the nitro beasts had made it down the track on a smooth pass. Hagan put the field in its place, though, with a super smooth 3.873-second pass at 333.99 mph that broke both ends of the track record and allowed the Christiansburg, Va., resident to claim his fifth pole of the season. Hagan will race Jim Campbell in round one, a driver he most recently raced – and beat – in the first round at Englishtown’s NHRA Summernationals.

With the track-record shattering pass, Mopar-fueled Hagan now has possession of eight track records at NHRA national event facilities across the United States. The monster run marked Hagan’s seventh track record set in 2016 in his rocket-like Dodge Charger, and the two-time Funny Car world champion is also the current national record holder for both elapsed time and speed with a cool 3.822-second pass at Brainerd’s NHRA Nationals and a fast 335.57 mph run recorded earlier this season at Topeka’s NHRA Kansas Nationals.

“If we could control the weather, it would probably be scary,” said Hagan, who won the event at Maple Grove Raceway in 2014 ahead of notching his second Funny Car world title. “But I hated it for our fans that didn’t get to see more than one qualifying round. I was sitting in the car ready to get rolling with it, but it is what it is. We have to get ready for tomorrow. That first session, I almost messed it up. I went out there, and you’re watching everybody run. They’re shaking, blowing the tires off. Dickie [Venables, crew chief] looks in there, and he’s like, ‘I don’t know what it’s going to do. It’s crazy, no one is doing anything out there.’ All in all, I got a little lucky today, but we’ll take it. It’s cool to be able to hang onto a car out here that’s fast – we just have to push a little harder on Sunday. I know we can do it; it’s just a matter of getting a good racetrack underneath us tomorrow, making some runs and having some fun.

“This race has been very kind to me. I’ve been able to win this race, set some world records here. It’s a cool event and it’s always fast. You get here, and you have to be in that mindset that you pull your belts down tight because it’s going to be a ride out there. The weather is always conducive for those conditions to be just right to run really fast. I’ve run here before when you can see your breath as you’re putting down your visor, and you’re thinking I hope I don’t fog it up. There is a lot of stuff running through your mind other than ‘leave on time, keep it in the groove and turn the win light on.’ It’s tricky sometimes, but that’s what makes you a good racer. You have to adapt to it. I’m very blessed to have a good crew chief and all those guys wrenching on the car and putting a great hot rod underneath me. I just try not to mess it up.”

In Pro Stock, Mopar-powered Allen Johnson wheeled his Dodge Dart to the No. 7 position on a 6.597/210.64 and will race Alan Prusiensky in round one at the Dodge NHRA Nationals. Mopar Performance Dodge Dart driver Erica Enders raced to a best time of 6.643/208.65 and will start ninth. She will race Bo Butner in the first round. Elite Motorsports teammate Jeg Coughlin Jr. and his Magneti Marelli Offered by Mopar Dart are in the No. 14 spot and ready for a first-round meeting with Greg Anderson.