Tommy Johnson Jr. raced to his first win of the season at the 22nd Annual Route 66 NHRA Nationals near Chicago on Sunday, June 2, moving up to second in the Funny Car point standings and bringing home the third consecutive win this year for a Mopar Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat NHRA Funny Car driver.
The win was the 18th of Johnson’s career in his 50th overall final and second this season, and marked his first victory since the NHRA Finals in November 2017, ending a 32-race drought. The triumph was also the second for the Make-A-Wish Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat driver in five career final-round appearances at Route 66 Raceway.
The Don Schumacher Racing (DSR) pilot led a field of seven Dodge//SRT Mopar Funny Car drivers into eliminations, with five advancing out of the opening round and two into the semifinals. Johnson’s Chicago win marks the third in a row for Dodge//SRT Mopar following victories at Atlanta and Richmond by DSR teammate Ron Capps, and is the fourth in nine races this year for the Charger SRT Hellcat.
Johnson kicked off race day from the No. 2 spot after a strong qualifying effort that saw the 2015 Chicago event winner collect six bonus points. He posted a steady 3.946-second elapsed time (ET) in round one to defeat fellow Dodge Charger driver Paul Lee, and was even better in the quarterfinals with the quickest pass of the round at 3.941-seconds to outrun DSR Mopar Dodge teammate Matt Hagan.
Johnson left first in the semifinals against John Force with a quicker .081-second reaction time to Force’s slower .137 mark, earning him the holeshot win on a 3.972/321.81 run and a spot against No. 1 qualifier Robert Hight in the final round. Hight knocked out three Dodge machines on his path to the final but Johnson ended that trend in dramatic fashion, overcoming a “boom and bang” under the hood to hold off Hight, who smoked the tires early, at the stripe.
The 2012 Funny Car world champion and Infinite Hero Foundation Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat Funny Car driver “Fast” Jack Beckman lived up to his nickname when he unloaded with a 3.930 ET at 329.18 mph against Blake Alexander in round one, which held up to be the quickest and fastest of race day.
In round two, Beckman ripped off another impressive run, a winning 3.962 ET over Jeff Arend. The semifinal round pitted Beckman against current point standings leader Hight. Beckman suffered an uncharacteristic miscue when he stood on the throttle early and activated the red light, handing the round win to his opponent.
Hagan used the final qualifying session on Saturday to jump his Mopar Express Lane Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat Funny Car into the top half of the field at No. 7, and he carried that momentum into Sunday with a winning 3.954/328.46 first-round pass against Bob Tasca III. The three-time Chicago event winner was trailing in a close battle with DSR teammate Johnson in the quarterfinals when a dropped cylinder down track ended any hopes of yet another Route 66 Raceway victory by Hagan.
Back-to-back NHRA event winner Ron Capps, runner-up last year at Chicago, entered race weekend seeking his third consecutive victory. The Mopar-powered NAPA Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat driver collected six bonus points in qualifying to begin race day from the No. 3 seed. Capps defeated Bob Bode in round one but the DSR driver’s streak of nine consecutive round wins would come to an end in the Joliet quarterfinals when he was defeated by Force during the 102nd head-to-head race day matchup between the two stars.
Cruz Pedregon, one of five Mopar Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat Funny Car drivers to qualify in the top half of the field, was also one of five Hellcat pilots to advance to the second round at Chicago. Pedregon took out Tim Wilkerson but bowed out against Hight in the quarterfinals. Dodge driver Jim Campbell also lost to Hight in round one.
In Top Fuel, Leah Pritchett, runner-up last year at Route 66 Raceway, qualified eighth in her Okuma Mopar Dodge Top Fuel dragster. She faced off with T.J. Zizzo in round one and was first to leave the starting line, but as Pritchett neared halftrack mechanical issues resulted in a fiery engine “boom” and caused a rear tire to blow. She skillfully avoided the wall and was able to guide her car safely to rest, but her competitor drove to the round win.
Dodge//SRT Mopar NHRA Sportsman Spotlight
Mike Cotten from Cave Creek, Arizona, qualified a strong No. 7 and drove his F/SA 1973 Plymouth Duster 340 to a solid round-four finish in Stock Eliminator at the Route 66 NHRA Nationals. Cotten was edged out of a semifinals appearance by about two feet, but earned the Dodge Top Finisher award in the class for his deep run in eliminations.
In the Super Stock class, Lapeer, Michigan, native Mike Wagner steered his 426 GEN III HEMI-powered FSS/D 2015 Mopar Dodge Challenger Drag Pak to a round-two finish, good for Dodge Top Finisher honors.
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.
Dodge//SRT Mopar NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series: Notes & Quotes
Mark Bosanac, Head of Mopar Service, Parts & Customer Care, FCA – North America
“Congratulations to Tommy Johnson Jr. on his win today in Chicago. His victory is the third consecutive for a Mopar Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat Funny Car driver this year, and we hope it’s just one of many more visits to the winner’s circle this season for our drivers and teams.”
Tommy Johnson Jr., Make-A-Wish Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat Funny Car
(No. 2 Qualifier – 3.882 ET)
Rd 1: (.081-second reaction time, 3.946 seconds at 325.85 mph) beat No. 15 Paul Lee (.078/4.673/180.72)
Rd 2: (.071/3.941/323.81) beat No. 7 Matt Hagan (.078/4.071/274.16)
Rd 3: (.081/3.972/321.81) beat No. 11 John Force (.137/3.953/322.42)
Rd 4: (.062/4.175/229.86) beat No. 1 Robert Hight (.049/4.438/202.55)
“I felt it (the car) start spinning the tires and I didn’t see him (opponent Hight), and it’s been a long time since I’ve won, so I was going to leg it to the lights, I didn’t care. We were going to get that win. I’m just happy for everyone – Make-A-Wish, Mopar, Hangsterfers, our new partner Okuma. I drove my Dodge Hellcat to the track this weekend and I just drove this one to the winner’s circle, baby!
“It makes your heart stop for a second because you’re sitting there coasting and you know he’s (Hight) got to be there somewhere. It’s the longest coasting you’ve ever done in your life. You’re thinking ‘come on, get there,’ and then I saw the light come on and I was just so thrilled for the guys and (team sponsor) Doug Chandler. He continued this program, so I’m happy we could get this win for him. We’ve been close a lot – seven times we were there in the final and couldn’t get it done so it was nice to finally do that. You keep trying to get these wins and you come up short, and you come up short, but you keep fighting. I can’t thank my guys enough. They’ve done a great job.”
Jack Beckman, Infinite Hero Foundation Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat Funny Car
(No. 5 Qualifier – 3.899 ET)
Rd 1: (.069-second reaction time, 3.930 seconds at 329.18 mph) beat No. 12 Blake Alexander (.074/4.250/222.77)
Rd 2: (.087/3.962/329.75) beat No. 13 Jeff Arend (.110/4.028/317.49)
Rd 3: (-.044/4.352/206.86) lost to No. 1 Robert Hight (.055/4.105/239.40)
“I feel about three inches tall right now. My job as a driver is to go up there and drive the car well, and I didn’t, and what makes it sting even worse is, we had the better car that round. Not to say we would’ve won the race but we certainly would’ve won that round and I gave it away with a red light. There’s no silver lining on that. I’m not going to beat myself up for two days because t hat doesn’t work. I’m going to go home and be dad for two days then get back on an airplane and head to Topeka, so I’ll be ready to go. I’ll think positive thoughts, I’ll practice at home, I’ll visualize and if we’re holding the trophy Sunday at Topeka, that’s probably the best salve for this.”
Matt Hagan, Mopar Express Lane Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat Funny Car
(No. 7 Qualifier – 3.936 ET)
Rd 1: (.113-second reaction time, 3.954 seconds at 328.46 mph) beat No. 10 Bob Tasca III (.078/4.014/320.28)
Rd 2: (.078/4.071/274.16) lost to No. 2 Tommy Johnson Jr. (.071/3.941/323.81)
“We struggled a little bit in qualifying, but we found the problems and addressed those issues and ended up having a really good race car on race day. I got through round one and didn’t have lane choice. I just let it get a little inside, and it got sucked in and kind of pulled the tires loose. Once you get these things inside, it’s hard to get them back. Just a little combination of everything. This one falls on me this weekend, so I’ll have to do better in Topeka for my team. We’re looking forward to racing the next couple of weekends in a row. We’ve got a lot of data to accumulate and a lot of different racetracks to hit. Ready to do a little work at home, and then get back here and get busy again.”
Ron Capps, NAPA Brakes Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat Funny Car
(No. 3 Qualifier – 3.882 ET)
Rd 1: (.083-second reaction time, 3.944 seconds at 325.53 mph) beat No. 14 Bob Bode (.116/4.349/215.51)
Rd 2: (.066/4.018/298.47) lost to No. 11 John Force (.054/3.961/325.53)
“The car fell off a lot during round two, and (crew chief Rahn) Tobler and the guys are trying to figure out what happened. It looks like it lost a little bit of fuel pressure, but we’ll find out and see what’s going on. The good thing is, we have back-to-back race weekends. Four races in a row can be fun if you’re running good and have a great car like we do. I’m excited to get back to our signature blue NAPA livery in Topeka and continue climbing back up in the Mello Yello points.”
Leah Pritchett, Okuma Mopar Dodge Top Fuel Dragster
(No. 8 Qualifier – 3.776 ET)
Rd 1: (.071-second reaction time, 4.736 seconds at 137.39 mph) lost to No. 9 T.J. Zizzo (.087/3.821/313.22)
“First and foremost, unfortunately, we did not get the win light, which is disappointing. But man, we were on one heck of a pass going for a low 3.70 before we had a part malfunction which led to a chain of events eventually resulting in all hell breaking loose and a cut tire among other things. Every safety mechanism we had in place on the car did its job. I was able to get the car straight and stopped. Our crew chiefs and engineers are all working toward making sure a situation like that doesn’t happen again. We had the best-case scenario in a worst-case storm in regards to safety. Sometimes people lose sight of these cars and the fast show we put on that it could end a different way. I’m thankful for the team that I have and the guys back at the shop for developing a great chassis and parts. We’re keeping our sights on win lights, but for now, we’re focused on fixing this problem.”
Up Next: NHRA Heartland Nationals
Dodge//SRT Mopar drivers will head next to the second of four consecutive events, the NHRA Heartland Nationals, scheduled for June 7-9 at Heartland Motorsports Park in Topeka, Kansas. DSR Funny Car drivers have enjoyed much success at the Midwest stop — Ron Capps owns four career wins at Topeka, while Jack Beckman has visited the winner’s circle twice and Matt Hagan once. For complete event information, visit www.nhra.com.
2019 NHRA Championship – Point Standings After Round 9 of 24
(Season Wins in Parentheses)
NHRA Funny Car
1. Robert Hight (3) – 818
2. Tommy Johnson, Jr., Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat (1) – 650
3. Ron Capps, Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat (2) – 610
4. John Force – 596
5. J.R. Todd (1) – 593
6. Matt Hagan, Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat (1) – 559
7. Jack Beckman, Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat – 553
8. Tim Wilkerson – 495
9. Shawn Langdon (1) – 435
10. Bob Tasca III – 401
NHRA Top Fuel
1. Steve Torrence (4) – 820
2. Doug Kalitta (1) – 574
3. Mike Salinas (1) – 573
4. Brittany Force (1) – 572
5. Antron Brown – 544
6. Clay Millican – 523
7. Leah Pritchett, Mopar HEMI – 497
8. Richie Crampton (1) – 410
9. Terry McMillen – 383
10. Austin Prock – 375