After four National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) Mello Yello Drag Racing Series events were held consecutively in Indianapolis following the mid-July restart of the revamped 2020 season, the championship battle now moves to Florida this weekend for the 51st annual NHRA Amalie Oil Gatornationals. The Don Schumacher Racing (DSR) Mopar Dodge SRT race cars were headed to the staging lanes at Gainesville Raceway when the pandemic brought a sudden halt to competition, but even a six-month delay hasn’t lessened the anticipation and excitement that comes with competing at the historic event.
Ron Capps has put his DSR Dodge Charger in the winner’s circle at the Gatornationals three times, including back-to-back Wally trophies in 2006-2007 and a victory in 2015, Jack Beckman won in 2018, and Matt Hagan and Tommy Johnson Jr. are hoping to be first-time winners. Leah Pruett is also looking for her first Gatornats event win in either Top Fuel or Factory Stock Showdown competition.
Also returning to the drag strip is the “Demon-possessed” Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat Redeye-themed DSR race cars of Hagan and Pruett. For a fifth straight event Hagan’s Funny Car and Pruett’s Top Fuel dragster will feature the fierce-looking red, black and chrome paint scheme in tribute to the new 797-horsepower Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat Redeye, the most powerful and fastest mass-produced sedan in the world.
Adding to the anticipation of competing at the Gatornats this weekend is the opportunity for the DSR quartet of Dodge Charger Funny Cars to extend a nine-event winning streak that dates back to the October 2019 FallNationals at Texas Motorplex with Hagan’s victory aboard the Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat Widebody. All four DSR Dodge entries have contributed to the continuous string of victories with Hagan leading the charge with four wins, Beckman adding three, while Johnson and Capps each providing a Wally trophy to the count. Three of those occasions featured an all-DSR Dodge final round battle for the win.
The only previous time in series history that a team swept 10 consecutive race wins in a single NHRA category was during the 2017 season when the same lineup of DSR Funny Car drivers contributed to that streak. Capps posted six of those 10 wins, with Beckman adding two, while Hagan and Johnson had one each.
The chance to claim a 10th consecutive win in the Funny Car category at the GatorNats comes after the team achieved an unprecedented milestone of 350 NHRA national event victories at the U.S. Nationals with Beckman’s winning drive behind the wheel of his Infinite Hero Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat. It also comes with just five national events left to fight for the 2020 NHRA Funny Car
Championship title and all four DSR drivers in a fierce battle atop the top five positions in the standings. Beckman leads with a pair of wins and has Hagan on his heels with a 35-point deficit and two victories of his own. Johnson stays close in third place just 22 points behind Hagan, while Capps rounds out the top five.
Battling for a championship title in the Top Fuel category is Pruett, who has positioned her Mopar dragster in second place between competitors Doug Kalitta and Steve Torrance. She is challenging for the lead based on her runner-up finish at the U.S. Nationals and while she hasn’t yet hoisted a Wally trophy yet this season, she has won a round at every event this year, something that points leader Kalitta can’t say.
Pruett is pulling double duty again this weekend as she will compete in the SAMTech.edu NHRA Factory Stock Showdown (FSS) class aboard her Mopar Drag Pak alongside teammate Mark Pawuk, with qualifying scheduled to begin on Friday. Pawuk comes into Gainesville Raceway second in points with four events left after driving his Empaco Equipment Mopar Drag Pak to a No.2 qualifying effort and runner-up finish at the U.S. Nationals.
NHRA qualifying highlights will be broadcast on FS1 on Saturday, September 26, at 5 p.m. ET, while television coverage of the elimination rounds, including LIVE finals at Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals, will air on Sunday, September 27, on FS1 beginning at 2 p.m. ET.
ADDITIONAL NOTES and QUOTES:
Jack Beckman, Infinite Hero Foundation Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat Funny CarBeckman is the current Funny Car points leader with two wins and two runner-up finishes in six races this season. He won the Gatornationals Funny Car Wally in 2018.
“With a maximum of 20 rounds of eliminations left, and the fact that this championship is the first since 2006 that will be determined based on cumulative points, a win at Gainesville could prove essential to winning this year’s championship.”
Matt Hagan, Mopar Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat Redeye Funny Car Hagan is second in points with two wins and two No. 1 qualifier positions. While he did make it to a final round of eliminations, he has not yet won at Gainesville Raceway.
“I have never won Gainesville. I’ve been to the final there, Jack Beckman beat me in 2018, so I really want to put a Gainesville Wally (trophy) on the shelf. We definitely have the car to do that this year. Our Dodge Hellcat Redeye is really responding well to the adjustments (crew chief) Dickie Venables has been making. I’ve got a really strong race car underneath me, my lights have been great, and I’ve been pretty shallow and making sure we keep lane choice.
“The package we’re creating this year has been great. We’ve won a few races. The points battle is always a dogfight, but especially this year with no points reset. Everything is coming down to these last few races, and it’s going to be a battle to the end. Our DSR team cars are tough, there’s just no way around it. My teammates are good drivers, good leavers, they have good race cars, good tuners, and all of the same parts and pieces that we do, so it’ll come down to who will have the best tune-up/driver combo. I’ve won a championship with Dickie (2014), and my first in 2011, so I understand the pressure and what it takes to get there. Sometimes you just have to sit back and trust in your team and allow all of the hard work they’ve put in over the year and the winter to come to you, so I’m just going to drive this Dodge Hellcat as best as I can, and focus on putting on four win lights this weekend.”
Tommy Johnson Jr., MD Anderson Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat Funny CarJohnson has one win and one runner-up finish this season along with three No.1 qualifier positions to sit third in points behind his DSR teammates Beckman and Hagan.
“The points battle has come down to three of us from the same team and the pressure is on. We know what the remaining schedule is going to be, we know how many races are left to gain as many points as we can. The U.S. Nationals didn’t go the way we had planned. We had some unfortunate parts damage first round that cost us the win and really hurt us with points. We had been looking so good.
“Gainesville isn’t necessarily a must-win, but it’s a ‘must do really well’ weekend and we need to get a lot of good points so we can come out of there and still be in the race with my teammates. They’re going to be tough. I know what kind of competition they are, and what they have, and we’ll have to bring our best. It’s just like any other year; when it comes down to crunch time, you have to be on your game, and hopefully, we’ve got all of our bad luck and misfortune out of the way and we can make a real run at it these last five and see what we can do.”
Ron Capps, NAPA Auto Parts Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat Funny CarCapps has one win, one semi-final appearance, and a No.2 qualifier position to put him fifth in points. His runs in eliminations have been ended by DSR teammates in five of six events this season. Capps has three wins at the Gatornationals including back-to-back wins in 2006-2007 and 2015.
“We have a great streak going with the DSR Dodge Funny Cars, but one of the things I love about Don Schumacher is that you’d never know it. He is throttle down and when you talk to him, you’d think that we haven’t won a race in two years, and I don’t mean that in a negative way. I mean it as in, he wants you to go up there and just absolutely crush your competition, and that’s what we’re trying to do. He’s ultra-competitive.
“I think with the NAPA team, you’re going to see more of what you saw at the last two Indy races, and that is, pushing it. We’re going to push it quite a bit more than we would have before. We won Indy 3 which was great, and we made up a lot of points there. Qualifying No. 1 during the first session of the U.S. Nationals, and then every other session we gathered those qualifying bonus points. We were one of the top three cars during every run, and I think that’s what you’re going to see at these last five races because really, it’s like a mini Countdown, and that’s how you have to approach it. Our teammates and J.R. Todd are ahead of us, but it doesn’t matter. When a world championship is on the line, we know we’re going to have to defeat the best cars anyways. I’m looking forward to this championship chase because I think you’re going to see a different mentality from (crew chief) Rahn Tobler and our NAPA team, and a little more aggressiveness.”
Leah Pruett, Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat Redeye Top Fuel Dragster Pruett is second in points on the strength of her runner-up finish at the NHRA U.S. Nationals, three semi-final finishes, a No.2 qualifier position and three No.3 starting positions in six races to date.
“Indy is great, and we’re all very fortunate to have been able to run there as many times as we did, but the essence of traveling and seeing our various fan groups across the country is something I’ve truly missed. We traditionally have not had a great deal of racing success at the Gatornationals, which brings me to my favorite overall Gainesville memory, which was setting the stock Dodge Demon record on a cool late evening with the talented SRT team back in 2017. Now that we are continuing to adorn the Hellcat Redeye livery at the Gatornationals, I hope to create our very best memory there yet, by putting the themed dragster of Dodge’s most currently available, highest HP factory produced car, the Hellcat Redeye, in the winners circle. Something I feel we are outrageously close to doing.
“The championship math is simple. We are basically in what some would call ‘countdown weather’ without a countdown. We are aware of our position two-and-a-half rounds (50 points) behind Doug (Kalitta) and with Steve Torrence half of a round (10 points) behind us, but that is not our focus. They and the other strong competitors are not our focus. Qualifying low, heightening our adaptability and staying focused on our hot rod is what we believe will yield us the results we want.”
Mark Pawuk, Empaco Equipment Mopar Drag Pak– Factory Stock ShootoutComing off his Factory Stock Showdown (FSS) No. 2 qualifying effort and runner-up finish at “the Big Go,” Mark Pawuk drives his Empaco Equipment Mopar Drag Pak into the NHRA Gatornationals second in the FSS championship battle.
“After qualifying No. 2 and going to the finals at the U.S. Nationals, we definitely have shown that we have revived our program. I’m looking forward to the Empaco Equipment Dodge Challenger Drag Pak having another nice, long Sunday and going rounds in Gainesville this weekend. The team is going to test with Leah (Pruett) before the race to try out some new parts and pieces which we think will make us be even more competitive. (Crew chief) Kevin Helms did a great job turning our performance around from that first showing in Indy this year, and we look forward to continuing it this weekend.”
Leah Pruett, Dodge Challenger Mopar Drag Pak – Factory Stock ShootoutPruett sits just outside two points out of the top-10 in the FSS standings with four events left.
“We have been unable to test for months until this week, which brings me great joy leading into this race. Heading into to South Georgia Motorsports Park now with some setup changes Kevin Helms has been wanting to try that will hopefully bring Mark (Pawuk) and I even closer to that win we are both hunting for. I’m proud of Mark and his success in Indy and couldn’t ask for a better teammate.”
NHRA Championship Points Standings:
Following the 2020 DENSO Spark Plugs NHRA U.S. Nationals
FUNNY CAR (season wins in parentheses)
1. Jack Beckman (Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat) – 517 (2)
2. Matt Hagan (Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat) – 482 (2)
3. Tommy Johnson Jr. (Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat) – 460 (1)
4. J.R. Todd – 387
5. Ron Capps (Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat) – 376 (1)
6. Bob Tasca III – 355
7. Tim Wilkerson – 348
8. Alexis DeJoria – 241
9. Cruz Pedregon – 234
10. Paul Lee – 225
TOP FUEL (season wins in parentheses)
1. Doug Kalitta – 492 (1)
2. Leah Pruett (Mopar Dodge//SRT) – 442
3. Steve Torrance – 432 (2)
4. Justin Ashley – 370 (1)
5. Billy Torrance – 331 (1)
6. Shawn Langdon – 330 (1)
7. Antron Brown – 316
8. Terry McMillen – 305
9. Clay Millican – 27910. TJ Zizzo – 179