Johnson Drives Make-A-Wish Mopar Dodge Charger R/T Funny Car to Victory in Las Vegas, Loge Wins Super Stock in Barracuda

  • Mopar-powered driver Tommy Johnson Jr. wins 14th career Funny Car event in Make-A-Wish Dodge Charger R/T
  • Tony Schumacher puts Mopar-fueled U.S. Army Top Fuel Dragster in final round, two Mopar Top Fuel dragsters advance to semis
  • Mopar and Dodge hold top two spots in both Funny Car and Top Fuel points
  • Six Dodge Charger R/T Funny Cars compete in 16-car field
  • Mike Loge wins all-Mopar Super Stock final; three Mopar vehicles advance to class semifinals
  • Bob Elliott claims Dodge Top Finisher in Stock Eliminator, Loge wins award in Super Stock

April 2, 2017 , Las Vegas – The NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series made its first of two 2017 trips to The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway this weekend, and the event ended the same way the season’s first three races have: with a Mopar HEMI®-powered Nitro machine in the winner’s circle.

Tommy Johnson Jr. drove his Make-A-Wish Dodge Charger R/T from the No. 6 qualifying position to victory in the 18th annual NHRA Nationals, defeating Swedish driver Jonnie Lindberg from the right lane on a pass of 3.933 seconds at 323.66 mph with a .059-second reaction time. Lindberg turned in lap of 4.016 at 302.14 with a .071. The victory is the 14th Funny Car win for Johnson (who has also has two Top Fuel victories) and the third for the Mopar Funny Cars from the Don Schumacher Racing (DSR) stable this season. Johnson, a native of Ottumwa, Iowa, previously won in Las Vegas in 2001.

Not only did Mopar take home the Funny Car victory this weekend, Dodge and Plymouth vehicles also made headlines in the Sportsman classes, with Mike Loge collecting the Super Stock event win in his SS/LA ’72 Plymouth Barracuda.

Funny Car driver Johnson was not qualified after Friday’s first two sessions, but after Saturday found himself in the sixth spot. He began his Sunday march to the class win by beating Dodge driver Jim Campbell in the first round before besting Robert Hight in the second after a Hight red light. Johnson next knocked out 16-time Funny Car champion John Force to reach the final against Lindberg.

Johnson’s teammate and current Funny Car points leader, Matt Hagan, drove his Mopar Express Lane Dodge Charger R/T to the second round of competition in Las Vegas. He knocked out Del Worsham in the first round, then found himself matched up against another champion in the form of John Force in round two. Hagan’s car dropped a cylinder, allowing Force to claim the round win.

Jack Beckman also took his Infinite Hero Dodge Charger R/T Funny Car to the second round after Cruz Pedregon redlighted in the first. Beckman then dropped a cylinder to be bested by upstart Lindberg in round two.

2016 Funny Car champion Ron Capps made an unusual first-round exit when he was defeated by Jonnie Lindberg after Capps’ NAPA Dodge Charger R/T also had cylinder issues.

In Top Fuel, Mopar fell short of victory for the first time this season, but Tony Schumacher took his Mopar-powered, U.S. Army-backed machine to the final round for the second consecutive event after winning the Gatornationals at Gainesville Raceway two weeks ago. In Las Vegas, Schumacher fell to Antron Brown in a rematch of the Gatornationals finale.

Schumacher made a solo pass in the first round after scheduled competitor Terry Haddock had mechanical issues and was unable to make the starting line, then took down Terry McMillen in round two with both cars having cylinders out. He defeated the stout Doug Kalitta in the semis before lining up against Brown in the final.

Papa John’s Pizza/Mopar Pennzoil Top Fuel Dragster driver Leah Pritchett defeated Troy Buff in the opening round, then took on Brittany Force in a rematch of the NHRA Arizona Nationals final just over a month ago. Like she did in Phoenix, Pritchett defeated Force and found herself matched up against 2016 Top Fuel champion Brown, where her day came to an end in the semifinals.

The Las Vegas track is known to be one of the most difficult ones on the NHRA circuit for drivers and tuners alike due to the facility’s elevation and unique setting, forcing many to gamble on setups between each pass. This year a sandstorm on Thursday evening, rain on Friday, cool temperatures Friday evening, wind throughout the weekend and a hot track on Sunday wreaked havoc with teams, forcing many to make less-than-stellar passes and creating a number of upsets.

Mopar/Dodge Notes & Quotes

Pietro Gorlier, Head of Parts and Service (Mopar) FCA – Global
“This season just keeps getting better and better. A third Funny Car win this year is an incredible feat and we couldn’t be more proud of everyone involved with our motorsports program. All of us at Mopar congratulate Make-A-Wish Dodge Charger R/T driver Tommy Johnson Jr. on the win in the NHRA Nationals.”

Tommy Johnson Jr., Make-A-Wish Dodge Charger R/T Funny Car
(No. 6 Qualifier – 3.887 seconds at 328.46 mph)

Rd.1: (.080-second reaction time, 3.943 seconds at 320.97 mph) defeated No. 11 Jim Campbell (.159/4.714/181.218)
Rd. 2: (.015/4.068/268.71) defeated No. 14 Robert Hight ( no show – red light)
Semis: (.071/3.997/319.45) defeated No. 7 John Force (.071/4.128/282.13)
Final: (.059/3.933/323.66) defeated No. 13 Jonnie Lindberg (.071/4.016/302.14)

“(We) started off Friday with a very tricky racetrack and very few cars got down it. You kind of went into Saturday going, ‘boy I hope we can figure this thing out.’ The weather changed a little bit. We’re not used to running those conditions, but when the weather changed to a little warmer racetrack, with sun on it, it kind of came to everybody and we just made the appropriate changes like we normally would to the car and went right down the racetrack. Today was a pretty trying day, too, because it was pretty hot. It’s probably the hottest track we’ve seen yet this season and we’re at a little bit of altitude so it changes the tune-up and it kind of changes the clutch curve. The guys really have to work at it and they did a great job. When we came out first round and were low E.T. by three-hundredths I thought, ‘oh it’s going to be a good day.’

“I saw (crew chief) John (Collins) dive into the box for all the adjustments (before the final round) for the clutch and the timers for ignition and he was confident about it. It’s kind of neat to have chemistry with your crew chief and I can tell by the look on his face and the way he carries himself if he’s confident or if he’s scratching his head a little bit. When I saw him shut the lid on the box, I went, ‘oh yeah, we’re going to be good.’”

Matt Hagan, Mopar Express Lane Dodge Charger R/T Funny Car
(No. 2 Qualifier – 3.868 seconds at 330.62 mph)

Rd. 1: (.082-second reaction time, 3.970 seconds at 328.54 mph), defeated No. 15 Del Worsham (.125/6.251/118.97)
Rd. 2: (.075/4.043/318.24) lost to No. 7 John Force (.049/3.987/321.81)

“I’ve been to the finals before (three times) but still can’t get to the winner’s circle. The track is tricky and because of the altitude here there isn’t as much air as (crew chief) Dickie (Venables) likes to make the power we’re used to. Las Vegas has never shown me much love, but we leave with the points lead and points always matter.

“It is what it is. We’ll move forward to Houston and try to win our third trophy this year for Mopar, Dodge, Pennzoil and Sandvik Coromant.”

Leah Pritchett, Papa John’s Pizza/Mopar Pennzoil Top Fuel Dragster  
(No. 5 Qualifier – 3.778 seconds at 324.98 mph)

Rd. 1: (.112-second reaction time, 3.756 seconds at 328.30 mph) defeated No. 12 Troy Buff (.087/5.415/128.19)
Rd. 2: (.056/3.770/328.06) defeated No. 4 Brittany Force (.078/4.872/153.39)
Semis: (.064/3.919/311.20) lost to No. 8 Antron Brown (.050/3.797/320.89)

“I’d say the most gratifying win of the weekend came in the second round against Brittany (Force), because when we match up against each other we both, not just us as drivers, our teams know what each other is capable of doing and step up. She really makes me step up and I stepped up for Antron (Brown). I think that’s the epitome of competition are the people that really push you.

“Overall I’m satisfied with what we have learned because we have been racing in such light conditions, so to speak, and learning our program throughout the beginning of the season. This was so much different and once we get our mechanical problems out of the way, the tune-up is definitely there. We showed it in eliminations being one of the quickest ones to get down the track. I’m very confident in the decisions that (crew chief) Todd (Okuhara) and (assistant) Joe (Barlam) are making. I guess putting it all together, I’d said at the beginning of Vegas, ‘you know we didn’t come here to play.’ People get excited about Vegas and that’s been kind of our theme throughout our whole team.”

Jack Beckman, Infinite Hero Dodge Charger R/T Funny Car
(No. 5 Qualifier – 3.886 seconds at 329.18 mph)

Rd 1: (.406-second reaction time, 7.322 seconds at 90.06 mph) defeated No. 12 Cruz Pedregon (no show – red light)
Rd. 2: (.082/4.096/312.42) lost to No. 13 Jonnie Lindberg (.106/4.017/325.37)

“Wow, tough day for us. You have no control of the ladder and your opponents. We’ve won some races where we just had four killer cars in the other lane. Today it looked like we had a favorable side of the ladder if there was one and we just didn’t capitalize on it. (In the) second round (the car) dropped a cylinder the instant I stepped on the throttle. The thing still ran okay, but it’s down 1200 horsepower at that point. Tough deal, we’ll have to figure it out. We’re going to stay and test tomorrow (Monday). We’re going to test some clutch stuff, we’re going to test our backup race car and we’re going to figure out why it did what it did and do our best to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

Ron Capps, NAPA Dodge Charger R/T Funny Car
(No. 4 Qualifier – 3.877 seconds at 322.04 mph)

Rd 1: (.081-second reaction time, 5.607 seconds at 125.26 mph) lost to No. 13 Jonnie Lindberg (.103/4.332/250.37)

“It’s difficult here, it really is. For the tuners, the dry air, the track for the drivers, it’s a very demanding place and I love it. Unfortunately, which is so rare for (crew chief Rahn) Tobler and our NAPA AutoCare team, it put a cylinder out, maybe two, on the left side. I knew it when I hit the throttle but it’s Sunday and there’s not a whole lot you can do. I thought about maybe pedaling it because I didn’t see him or hear him and I thought, ‘oh maybe I’ll give it a slap, but with that much volume of fuel going in you don’t want to do that that far in the track. It just finally knocked the belt off of it. That happens, just not very often with us.”

Tony Schumacher, U.S. Army Top Fuel Dragster
(No. 2 Qualifier – 3.739 seconds at 326.87 mph)

Rd. 1: (.089-second reaction time, 3.767 seconds at 327.98 mph) defeated No. 15 Terry Haddock (no show – mechanical)
Rd. 2: (.083/3.865/316.45) No. 10 Terry McMillen (.077/3.916/311.70)
Semis: (.069/3.775/320.97) defeated No. 3 Doug Kalitta (.066/3.782/326.87)
Final: (.057/3.809/325.14) lost to No. 8 Antron Brown .038/3.747/321.09)

“It’s all good – the Army car is running well, the team is feeling good, at the end of the day, everything is fine. You couldn’t ask for too much more. It was another good day for DSR and the U.S. Army. We’ve been more consistent to start the season than we have been in a while. The Army car is just great. Everybody on the team has confidence. We dropped a cylinder twice today, but that is going to happen. We got away with it in the second round today but not in the final. It happens, it’s OK. Antron (Brown) and his team did what they had to do to win the races they had today.

“I’m just happy that our car has been going down the track since the very first run at Pomona. I’m excited because that means we can have a great car all year long and that’s how you win championships. It’ll be good to go to Houston, which is now one of my home races. We won’t go there as the winner of the last race like we did here, but we’re going there as the points leader. That’s a big deal. We’ve made two semifinals and two finals in the first four races this year and that’s incredible. If we do that at the end of the season, we win the championship and that bodes well for us.”

Mopar/Dodge NHRA Sportsman Spotlight
It was an all-Mopar final in Super Stock, with Mike Loge and his SS/LA ’72 Plymouth Barracuda defeating Tm Hall’s SS/JA ’74 Dodge Dart to take home the Wally from Las Vegas. Loge, a native of Antioch, California, turned in a breakout pass of 11.549 seconds on an 11.55 dial-in at 113.04 mph with a .032-second reaction time. However, he collected the win after Beaumont, California’s Hall went red. It is Loge’s third national event victory. Three Dodge or Plymouth vehicles advanced to the semifinals in the Super Stock ranks.

Bob Elliott of Phoenix meanwhile took his B/SA ’64 Dodge Polara equipped with a 426 all the way to the semifinals in the Stock Eliminator class. There he turned in a pass of 10.786 seconds on a 10.78 dial-in at 123.80 mph after a .076-second reaction time.

Both Loge and Elliott were awarded the Dodge Top Finisher for being the highest finishing Dodge or Plymouth drivers in Super Stock and Stock, respectively. The award pays $500 to the winner and is in place at all 24 NHRA national events in 2017.

In the Top Sportsman class, Eastvale, California’s Paul Mitsos advanced his ’08 Dodge Stratus to the semifinals on Sunday afternoon, a feat made even more impressive after an incident at the top end in the morning put his return for the afternoon rounds in doubt.

Next Event
A trip to the Lone Star State is up next on the NHRA national event calendar, with the 30th annual NHRA Springnationals at Royal Purple Raceway slated for April 21 – 23 in Baytown, Texas. The Houston-area track has played host to numerous records over the years due to its proximity to Trinity Bay, which provides the facility with cool air. Ron Capps has won at the track three times in the Funny Car class with his most recent victory coming in 2015, while Tony Schumacher has collected two Wally trophies in Houston in Top Fuel. The NHRA Springnationals will be broadcast on FS1, with the elimination rounds airing on the network at 5:30 p.m. ET on Sunday, April 23.

For more information on Mopar and Dodge in NHRA, check out the Mopar brand’s official blog, http://blog.mopar.com.

2017 NHRA Championship — Point Standings After Round 4 of 24
(Season Wins in Parentheses)

NHRA Funny Car
1. Matt Hagan, Dodge Charger R/T (2) – 368 
2. Tommy Johnson Jr. Dodge Charger R/T (1) – 324 
2. John Force (1) – 314
4. Ron Capps, Dodge Charger R/T – 275
5. Courtney Force – 218
6. Jack Beckman Dodge Charger R/T – 205      
7. Robert Hight – 201
8. Jonnie Lindberg – 183
9. Jim Campbell Dodge Charger R/T – 180 
10. J.R. Todd –170

NHRA Top Fuel
1. Tony Schumacher, Mopar HEMI (1) – 382
2. Leah Pritchett, Mopar HEMI (2) – 376
3. Antron Brown (1) – 357
4. Doug Kalitta – 301
5. Brittany Force – 258
6. Steve Torrence – 251
7. Clay Millican – 187
8. Troy Coughlin Jr. – 176
9. Terry McMillen 164
10. Scott Palmer – 148
*Photo credit Auto Imagery/Richard Shute