The thrill of victory has been within his grasp several times in 2019, but Sunday in the final of  the 35th annual Mopar Express Lane NHRA Nationals at Maple Grove Raceway, Jack Beckman seized the opportunity and registered his first Funny Car class victory of the season.

Two weeks after coming up agonizingly close to victory in the final regular season event at Indianapolis, Beckman and his Mopar-powered Infinite Hero Foundation Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat Funny Car of Don Schumacher Racing (DSR) were not going to be denied in the first of six Countdown to the Championship playoff races. Beckman defeated John Force in the final, capturing his 29th career victory and third career win at Maple Grove Raceway. With the win, Beckman quickly jumped to the top spot in the Countdown standings.

“Winning this one is extra special for a few reasons because we did it in the Mopar Express Lane NHRA Nationals,” said Beckman. “It’s our first win in the Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat body. We took over the points lead, and it’s been way too long since we’ve been to the winner’s circle. For a shot in the arm, for a psychological boost, for that mental edge, that intangible that I think you need to be able to win a championship, this might be the thing that is the first step for us.”

Beckman’s path to victory today started from the third qualifying position following consistent runs in sessions two, three and four, late Friday and Saturday afternoon. The 2012 Funny Car champion first defeated fellow Dodge//SRT driver Jim Campbell. Beckman then squared off with former champion Robert Hight, who led the Funny Car class point standings coming into the weekend, in round two. Beckman delivered another solid win from the left lane while Hight smoked the tires at the starting line. In the semifinal, the results were the same with Beckman charging his HEMI-powered machine cleanly down the left lane while his opponent, J.R. Todd lost traction and coasted to the finish.

In his 62nd career Funny Car final and eighth final-round appearance against Force, Beckman wasted little time by rolling in quickly and using his quick reflexes to post a .028 reaction time versus a .068 light for Force. Beckman’s fast start was the difference with his run of 3.958 seconds at 330.07 mph turning on the win light over Force’s slightly better run of 3.952 seconds at 328.78 mph, giving Beckman the holeshot victory and his first piloting a Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat.

Beckman’s appearance in the final marked the eighth consecutive race that a Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat Funny Car has competed for the class win; with four of the eight appearances resulting in wins for a DSR driver. A Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat Funny Car has also appeared in 15 of 19 final rounds in 2019.  

Five other Dodge//SRT Mopar drivers were part of Sunday’s Funny Car eliminations including DSR teammates Matt Hagan, Ron Capps and Tommy Johnson, Jr. Leah Pritchett carried the Dodge//SRT Mopar torch in the Top Fuel class.

Capps opened his run for a second NHRA Funny Car championship by establishing a new track record for elapsed time and speed Friday night in qualifying behind the wheel of his NAPA Filters Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat Funny Car. In eliminations, he stormed out of the gate with a run of 3.909 seconds to defeat Funny Car rookie Mike McIntire Jr., who smoked the tires during his run. It was a heavyweight DSR slugfest in round two with Capps and Hagan going to toe-to-toe. Capps was flawless again charging down the right lane with a 3.916-second run to advance to the semifinals to face Force. After a sizeable starting-line advantage, Capps’ machine lost traction causing him to lose any shot at the win.

Hagan ventured to Maple Grove Raceway eyeing a deep run to begin his 2019 Countdown to the Championship. The 2014 Reading winner opened eliminations Sunday in his Mopar Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat Widebody Funny Car versus fellow Countdown contender, Shawn Langdon, and it was clear Hagan’s crew chief Dickie Venables knew the importance of a strong first round run. The result was Hagan’s machine making a 3.899-second pass, which held up to be low E.T. of the round and race day.

The two-time Funny Car champion matched up with fellow Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat Funny Car and DSR teammate Capps in the second round. The crucial second-round race was over quickly when Hagan smoked the rear tires as soon as he launched the car. He tried to pedal it, but Capps’ clean run ended Hagan’s shot at a fifth straight semifinal appearance.  

After qualifying his Make-A-Wish Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat Funny Car in seventh, Johnson’s first-round opponent was reigning Funny Car champion J.R. Todd. Johnson took a slight advantage at the starting line, but slowly lost ground during the race to the finish. Todd’s quicker run of 3.915 seconds at 329.58 mph was just enough to defeat Johnson, who posted a pass of 3.977 at 327.66 mph. The first-round loss dropped Johnson to fifth in the standings heading to the next race in St. Louis.

After closing out qualifying with three consecutive strong runs, Pritchett started her eliminations with another consistent run in the Mopar Dodge//SRT Top Fuel Dragster to score the opening-round triumph over Lex Joon with a pass of 3.731 seconds at 326.40 mph. In the quarterfinals, she took on Austin Prock for the fourth time in 2019. Pritchett was looking to make it consecutive wins over the rookie driver and she launched from the starting line first. Both Top Fuel Dragsters lost traction near the 150-foot mark and the pedalfest began. Pritchett got back in the throttle twice, ultimately resulting in the burst panels blowing out, activating the mandated NHRA safety mechanisms which included deploying the parachutes ending her chances of catching Prock. Pritchett heads to the second Countdown event in St. Louis holding the eighth position in the championship standings. 

Mopar Dodge//SRT NHRA Sportsman Spotlight
Jimmy Daniels and David Barton were winners of the Dodge Top Finisher honors in Stock Eliminator and Super Stock, respectively.

Daniels, the Yardley, Pa. racer drove his SS/AH 1968 Dodge HEMI Dart to a round-three finish in Super Stock. The 23-year-old driver recently won his fourth consecutive Dodge HEMI® Challenge victory at the U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis.

Fellow Pennsylvanian and Mopar HEMI racer Barton raced his AA/SA 1965 Dodge Coronet to a round-two finish at the historic track in Mohnton, Pa.

The Dodge Top Finisher award, now in its third year, awards $500 to Stock Eliminator and Super Stock drivers who advance the furthest behind the wheel of a Mopar-powered Dodge, Chrysler, or Plymouth race car at all 24 NHRA national events.

Mopar CAP and NHRA YES events host student groups at Mopar Express Lane NHRA Nationals
Before the first-round qualifying sessions at Maple Grove Raceway began on Friday, Sept. 13, education took center stage with the Mopar Career Automotive Program (CAP) “Assemble Your Future” initiative and the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) Youth & Education Services (YES) program.

Mopar CAP, through a partnership with Pennzoil, hosted 45 students from five area schools. At the track, students visited with Hagan, toured the DSR pit areas and networked with representatives from 15 area FCA US LLC dealerships. Established in 1984, the program prepares students to begin their automotive technician careers upon graduation from a certified, two-year training institution, such as a university, college, community college or technical center. Currently, FCA has more than 9,000 active students enrolled in its Mopar CAP program, with students completing more than 100,000 class courses.

The program is the third of four Mopar CAP “Assemble Your Future” initiative programs at NHRA national events in 2019, with the Dodge NHRA Nationals presented by Pennzoil at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in late October, being the final event. For more information on the Mopar CAP program, visit www.MoparCAP.com.

As part of the NHRA YES initiative, more than 2,000 local high school students heard testimonials from Dodge//SRT Mopar driver Leah Pritchett and other industry spokespeople focusing on the importance of math, science and other skills that can lead to new career opportunities.

Hagan finished second in Home Run Derby at Mopar Mega Block Party
On Thursday, Sept. 12, thousands of Dodge//SRT Mopar and NHRA fans kicked off the race weekend at FirstEnergy Stadium, in Reading, Pa. at the fourth annual Mopar Mega Block Party. The free event included a full slate of family activities and concluded with a Mega Fireworks display. Two-time world NHRA Funny Car champion Hagan provided plenty of hitting fireworks of his own during the home run derby, but the 2014 Mopar Express Lane NHRA Nationals winner came up just short of winning the event, which was eventually won by Julian Haynes from Pennzoil. Proceeds raised from this event benefited the Make-A-Wish and Infinite Hero Foundations.

Mopar Express Lane NHRA Nationals: Elimination Rounds Summary/Notes & Quotes

Jack Beckman, Infinite Hero Foundation Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat Funny Car
(No. 3 Qualifier – 3.876)

Rd. 1: (.107-second reaction time, 3.908 seconds at 331.45 mph) beat No. 14 Jim Campbell (.110/4.204/249.21)
Rd. 2: (.076/3.927/331.61) beat No. 6 Robert Hight (.074/9.203/83.25)
Rd. 3: (.068/3.916/331.12) beat No. 10 J.R. Todd (.070/5.501/167.26)
Rd. 4: (.028/3.958/330.07) beat No. 5 John Force (.068/3.952/328.78)

“Our Sunday was perfect. Our Infinite Hero Foundation Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat was consistent, and it was fast. To run numbers like we did as good as any other car out here, up and down the race track all four runs is pretty impressive. To win on a great side-by-side race, and to do it on a holeshot, that’s just awesome. If you’re going to win a race, the way to do it is a close side-by-side one like John (Force) and I had in the final. I’m sure Mopar is thrilled that we whooped up on a different manufacturer in the final, and the fact that’s it’s driven by the winningest driver in the history of the sport, probably doesn’t hurt.”

Matt Hagan, Mopar Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat Widebody Funny Car
(No. 9 Qualifier – 3.913)

Rd. 1: (.072-second reaction time, 3.899 seconds at 332.02 mph) beat No. 8 Shawn Langdon (.052/3.961/329.91)
Rd. 2: (.068/8.623/79.91) lost to No. 1 Ron Capps (.066/3.916/329.18) 

“First round losses are the kiss of death with the Countdown. We got past the first round, and we have five races left going into St. Louis. It was a hot, greasy track today. Avoiding that first round loss is key, and we did that. We had a good, fast race car beside us with Ron (Capps) and we had to push it a little bit. They went 3.91, which was low of the session, and our lap wouldn’t hold. We’ll roll into St. Louis with a great Mopar team, and there’s a lot of racing left in 2019.”

Ron Capps, NAPA Filters Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat Funny Car
(No. 1 Qualifier – 3.837)

Rd. 1: (.116-second reaction time, 3.909 seconds at 327.51 mph) beat No. 16 Mike McIntire Jr. (.098/5.898/119.98)
Rd. 2: (.066/3.916/329.18) beat No. 9 Matt Hagan (.068/8.623/79.91)
Rd. 3: (.060/4.262/240.25) lost to No. 5 John Force (.102/3.929/329.42)

“This was a wild weekend. It was crazy for us to come here with a game plan to work on, knowing the cool temperatures that faced us on Friday and Saturday, especially since we’ll likely see similar conditions later in the Countdown. Then, to go out and set the track records, that was fun because I knew what we were trying to do, and it was neat to go out and watch a plan come together. We also knew that the conditions today were going to be completely different – mid 80s and hot. (Crew chief) Rahn Tobler is so good at adapting to the changing conditions, and it was fun to watch him approach today like he did.”

“We definitely made up some ground in the points, and that’s something we discussed heading into the Countdown. We want to gather up all the small points that we can. There are so many good race cars out here, but to be able to gain eight points during qualifying, that’s almost a full position. We’re off to a good start. We’ve said it before, you can’t win the Countdown in Reading, but you can certainly put yourself out of position to win it, and I think we had a good solid weekend.” 

Leah Pritchett, Mopar Dodge//SRT Top Fuel Dragster
(No. 2 Qualifier – 3.673)

Rd. 1: (.088-second reaction time, 3.731 seconds at 326.40 mph) beat No. 15 Lex Joon (.124/4.858/152.73)
Rd. 2: (.058/5.736/105.48) lost to No. 7 Austin Prock (.059/4.735/219.51)

“What an eventful weekend. Ultimately, we have a better car, package and team than our results show, and that is what is most frustrating. Our quick and consistent qualifying was no accident; neither was our first-round win. Our second-round elimination was not a factor of tuning up too far over-center for the competition, but merely blindly adapting to less track prep conditions than the previous two days of qualifying, which resulted in us smoking the tires against Austin Prock, one of our strongest rivals. We still believe we have a better package this last quarter, and we are excited about our full potential showing through in St. Louis as it did in Brainerd.”

Tommy Johnson Jr., Make-A-Wish Foundation Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat Funny Car
(No. 7 Qualifier – 3.905)

Rd. 1: (.076-second reaction time, 3.977 seconds at 327.66 mph) lost to No. 10 J.R. Todd (.077/3.915/329.58)

“Today certainly wasn’t ideal. We ran decent in qualifying and coming off of such a great season so far, I had high hopes for the Countdown, but starting off with a first-round loss isn’t what we had planned. Not totally demoralized by it, but we have our work cut out for us now. We’ll have to do exceptionally well at the last five to regain our position if we want any shot at the championship. I’m sure over the next week or so we’ll reevaluate and see if we can’t turn things around in St. Louis and keep a shot at the championship.”

Up Next: AAA Insurance Midwest NHRA Nationals
The playoff intensity continues in two weeks with the eighth annual AAA Insurance Midwest NHRA Nationals at Worldwide Technology Raceway, in Madison, Illinois. Beckman, a two-time St. Louis winner, leads the contingent of Dodge//SRT Mopar drivers and teams into the second of the six-race NHRA Countdown for the Championship takes place September 27-29.  

2019 NHRA Championship Point Standings: Through 19 of 24 Rounds
(Season Wins in Parentheses)

NHRA Funny Car
1. Jack Beckman, Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat (1) – 2,179

2. John Force (2) – 2,160
3. Robert Hight (5) – 2,155
4. Ron Capps, Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat (3) – 2,136
5. Tommy Johnson, Jr. Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat (2) – 2,105
6. Matt Hagan, Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat Widebody (2) – 2,092

7. J.R. Todd (1) – 2,089
8. Bob Tasca III (2) – 2,072
9. Tim Wilkerson – 2,057
10. Shawn Langdon (1) – 2,043

NHRA Top Fuel
1. Doug Kalitta (2) – 2,180
2. Brittany Force (1) – 2,147
3. Steve Torrence (8) – 2,133
4. Antron Brown – 2,127
5. Richie Crampton (2) – 2,126
6. Mike Salinas (2) – 2,104
7. Austin Prock (1) – 2,094
8. Leah Pritchett, Mopar HEMI (1) – 2,093
9. Clay Millican – 2,092
10. Billy Torrence (1) – 2,032