Dodge Mile-High NHRA Nationals
Presented by Pennzoil
Event 14 of 24 (Denver)
July 19-21, 2019
DSR Denver Elimination Highlights:
After 35 years, Tommy Johnson Jr. finally conquered Thunder Mountain and captured his first Bandimere Speedway Wally trophy
Johnson’s Dodge Mile-High NHRA Nationals Presented by Pennzoil win was his second victory of the season, 19th of his career and propelled him to the No. 2 spot in Funny Car point standings
The triumph for Johnson was the sixth win by a DSR Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat Funny Car driver in 2019, and 339th overall victory for Don Schumacher Racing
Antron Brown, Leah Pritchett, Jack Beckman and Ron Capps all recorded quarterfinal finishes
Brown maintained his No. 3 Top Fuel point ranking; Beckman and Capps also maintained their ‘top five’ rankings
Denver Victory for Tommy Johnson Jr. 35 Years in the Making
MORRISON, Colo. (July 21, 2019) – Tommy Johnson Jr. ended his 35-year quest for a victory in Denver, driving his MOPAR-powered Make-A-Wish Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat Funny Car to the win at the Dodge Mile-High NHRA Nationals Presented by Pennzoil at Bandimere Speedway in Morrison, Colo. near Denver.
Johnson’s win Sunday, his 19th career NHRA victory and second in 2019, was the sixth triumph by a DSR Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat Funny Car in 2019, and fifth in the last eight events.
The run to victory, one that had eluded him for nearly three-and-a-half decades, came in Johnson’s 51st career final. His first final round appearance came at Bandimere back in 1984, when at age 15 he raced to a runner-up finish while competing in Super Gas. Three years later he found himself in the Denver finals again while competing in Top Alcohol Funny Car, and four years after that (1991), he was defeated in his first professional final round while competing in Top Fuel. Two years ago, Johnson lost in the Funny Car final, but this Sunday he was not going to be denied.
Johnson, cheered on by event Honorary Starter and four-year-old Wish Kid Porter Johnson (no relation) from the local chapter of the Make-A-Wish Foundation, started Sunday by driving his Make-A-Wish Hellcat to an opening-round win over Jeff Diehl, setting up a quarterfinal matchup with fellow DSR Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat pilot Jack Beckman. A starting-line advantage was the difference in pushing Johnson past Beckman into his seventh semifinal of the season. Next in his way was Cruz Pedregon, and Johnson raced to another consistent lap in the John Collins-tuned Hellcat to advance to his third final of 2019.
Johnson was undefeated in seven previous meetings with Bob Tasca III and made it eight straight, and first in a final, by storming down the track with a final round pass of 4.102 seconds at 308.50-mph to capture his first Bandimere triumph.
“It wasn’t easy today, we had some close ones,” remarked Johnson. “Beckman was right there, Tasca was right there in the final. We struggled on Friday, like a lot of teams, and we felt pretty confident that Saturday would be okay. We had a nice get-down-the-track run on Q3, but last night we made a great run (3.978 seconds, 317.72 mph), my quickest and fastest ever up on the mountain, and that gave John, (assistant crew chief) Rip (Reynolds) and the guys a ton of confidence. I knew going into today we had a great race car and if we could control it on the track with the sun being out, we’d be good. They did a great job. We’re a much better team than we have been in the past and we’ve really grown as a team.”
For Johnson and his Doug Chandler-sponsored ‘giving car’ program, Sunday’s victory was extra sweet with the added addition of Porter Johnson in the Make-A-Wish cheering section, and a reminder of the importance of bannering the Make-A-Wish Foundation on the side of his race car.
“It speaks volumes of our whole program and what Doug Chandler is doing,” explained Johnson. “Make-A-Wish is such a great organization, and he funds this team and gives it away to raise awareness for that organization. We have Wish Kids out every Saturday and to see Porter come out today and also to see the sponsors get involved – that was a MOPAR/Dodge decision to have a Make-A-Wish Kid as the Honorary Race Starter – it was cool to see everyone get behind this. It’s obvious what a great foundation Make-A-Wish is and all of the great things they do for the kids, so to be a part of it is very humbling. I could’ve got runner-up today and been all bummed out again, but you see kids like Porter, and it puts everything into perspective. He was a natural, he’s four-years-old, and I was nervous for him going out on stage in front of the crowd, but he wasn’t nervous at all, so it was cool. I really enjoyed experiencing that with him.”
Johnson’s Dodge Mile-High NHRA Nationals Presented by Pennzoil victory marked event win No. 339 for Don Schumacher Racing, and allowed Johnson to advance to No. 2 in the NHRA Countdown to the Championship Funny Car point standings.
Qualified: No. 2 (3.978 E.T. at 317.72 MPH)
E1: 4.156 E.T. at 268.54 MPH defeated Jeff Diehl 8.776 E.T. at 97.67 MPH
E2: 4.059 E.T. at 316.01 MPH defeated Jack Beckman 4.092 E.T. at 316.30 MPH
E3: 4.056 E.T. at 311.49 MPH defeated Cruz Pedregon 4.944 E.T. at 166.72 MPH
E4: 4.102 E.T. at 308.50 MPH defeated Bob Tasca III 4.158 E.T. at 302.14 MPH
Driver of the Matco Tools Top Fuel Dragster
Qualified: No. 6 (3.854 E.T. at 315.71 MPH)
E1: 3.867 E.T. at 321.27 MPH defeated Greg Carrillo 3.920 E.T. at 275.62 MPH
E2: 3.910 E.T. at 318.54 MPH defeated by Jordan Vandergriff 3.837 E.T. at 321.12 MPH
Antron Brown entered the race weekend at Bandimere Speedway with 498 Top Fuel round wins under his belt and was looking to cross ‘500’ off his list en route to his first event victory of 2019.
Brown and the Matco Tools Toyota team were strong throughout qualifying, earning the No. 6 starting position and a first-round meeting with part-time race Greg Carrillo on Sunday morning. Brown got the jump at the starting line and never trailed, posting a 3.867 to defeat Carrillo and set off his 499th Top Fuel win light. Unfortunately, Brown came up just short of the milestone round win count when he fell to opponent Jordan Vandergriff in a tight round two battle, with Vandergriff 3.837 second pass edging past Brown’s holeshot 3.910 E.T.
“We made some big strides this weekend in our Matco Tools Toyota. Our crew chiefs made some big moves. They have been wanting to switch some stuff around some different combinations. We did it here, and it worked out for the better. We would have liked to go further, but you have to look at all the pluses – we’re leaving here without tearing up any parts, we made big gains, and have our car where it doesn’t drop holes anymore, and we’re running good mile-per-hour through the finish line. Now when we come here next year, we have a good starting place where we can start where we left off and have a car that’s capable of running high 70s and maybe even go for a mid-to-low 70. We’ll be able to start off in the right position to do that, knowing where the tune-up needs to be at, and the engine isn’t hurting itself. The good part is that we made big strides and I think it’s the strides we need to get ready for the Countdown. We’re really looking forward to going to Sonoma next weekend. I think Sonoma is going to be a break-out race. I can’t wait to get out to the race track.”
Driver of the MOPAR Dodge 1320 Top Fuel Dragster
Qualified: No. 2 (3.761 E.T. at 315.19 MPH)
E1: 3.877 E.T. at 310.98 MPH defeated Terry Totten 4.052 E.T. at 296.05 MPH
E2: 3.988 E.T. at 260.71 MPH defeated by Clay Millican 3.861 E.T. at 320.13 MPH
Leah Pritchett returned to Thunder Mountain on a mission to become the fifth driver in Top Fuel to score back-to-back wins in more than 30 years at Bandimere Speedway, and the first since Joe Amato accomplished it in 1999 and 2000.
After dominating last year’s Dodge Mile-High NHRA Nationals by qualifying No. 1 and powering to a Sunday triumph, Pritchett looked to make it two straight triumphs in the DSR “Angry Bee” MOPAR Dodge 1320 Top Fuel dragster after qualifying second in the field. She opened her defense with a solid opening-round victory with her lap of 3.877 seconds to eliminate Terry Totten and advance to the second round. In the quarterfinals, Clay Millican stole the early lead and Pritchett struggled to overtake him after losing a cylinder early in her run, ending her day prematurely.
“We came into the Dodge Mile-High NHRA Nationals with a hard, heavy charge up the hill. We felt good about making three good runs in qualifying and picking up those valuable points. Unfortunately, we had real high clutch wear at mid-track in that race with Clay Millican, and it just started dropping cylinders.
Our plan is to take this momentum we’ve created here on Thunder Mountain straight to Sonoma.
“Overall, representing Dodge and Mopar at this event in front of all of these great fans is a highlight of our season. I’m really impressed with the team’s preparation for this weekend. It proves we are the team that everyone expects us to be, and we’re looking to show it the rest of the way."
Driver of the Infinite Hero Foundation Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat
Qualified: No. 10 (4.099 E.T. at 308.92 MPH)
E1: 4.084 E.T. at 316.23 MPH defeated Matt Hagan 4.177 E.T. at 239.27 MPH
E2: 4.092 E.T. at 316.30 MPH defeated by Tommy Johnson Jr. 4.059 E.T. at 316.01 MPH
Three-time Dodge Mile-High NHRA Nationals Funny Car champion Jack Beckman entered Bandimere Speedway with his sights set on a fourth Denver victory and his first of 2019. His Infinite Hero Foundation Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat has been one of the fastest cars in the competitive Funny Car class over the course of the last eight events, and the 2012 world champion has been itching to score his first Wally of the season.
Beckman began Sunday with an all-DSR/all-Charger SRT Hellcat Funny Car matchup with the series’ most recent winner, Matt Hagan. Beckman masterfully raced his way around Hagan to meet another teammate, Tommy Johnson Jr., in the second round. The two met most recently in the semifinals at Norwalk, with Beckman prevailing, but on Sunday in Denver, it was Johnson that turned on the win light in a close side-by-side race.
“It’s kind of the story of our year. When we lose, our run is usually good enough to win the other races in that round, but you are not going to survive on woulda, coulda, shoulda. We are still top-five in points. We have been a strong car throughout the year. We’ve had our ups and downs, but I feel like we are sorting this thing out. Denver is always an anomaly. Sometimes great cars do terrible up here and vice versa, just because it’s so hard to tune here. We did okay. We need to do better.”
Driver of the NAPA AUTO PARTS Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat
Qualified: No. 4 (4.005 E.T. at 316.97 MPH)
E1: 4.078 E.T. at 309.91 MPH defeated Todd Simpson 4.356 E.T. at 269.94 MPH
E2: 5.597 E.T. at 130.49 MPH defeated by Bob Tasca III 4.097 E.T. at 313.29 MPH
Despite being one of four cars to miss out on an opportunity to make the final qualifying run due to inclement weather on Saturday, Capps and the Rahn Tobler-led NAPA AUTO PARTS team earned their seventh consecutive top-seeded starting position by qualifying in the No. 4 spot.
As the 2018 Dodge Mile-High Nationals runner-up, Capps was looking to go one step further and seal the deal on Sunday. He began his race day with a first-round matchup versus Todd Simpson. The two-time 2019 winner powered the NAPA AUTO PARTS Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat down the track in 4.078 seconds at 309.91-mph to dispatch Simpson and advance to round two. Against Bob Tasca III, Capps nabbed the early lead, but a mechanical malfunction caused his machine to slow, and his opponent was able to drive around for the win ending Capps’ day at the quarterfinals.
“Tobler will pour over the data and see what happened, but the thing is, you leave here and throw that data away for a year and get ready for Sonoma. This is such a hard place to do well at, and when you do go to the final round like we did last year, you feel that much better about conquering this mountain. It’s that tough racing here at Bandimere. We had a great first round and didn’t want to beat ourselves and unfortunately, we lost lane choice to (Bob) Tasca for the quarterfinals. But, the lane wasn’t an issue, the clutch might have grabbed the motor a little more than Tobler wanted it to, and you can’t make a mistake against a team that’s as good as Tasca is right now. We’re going to Sonoma, and that’s maybe my favorite track, and I can’t wait.”
Driver of the MOPAR Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat Widebody
Qualified: No. 7 (4.054 E.T. at 283.07 MPH)
E1: 4.177 E.T. at 239.27 MPH defeated by Jack Beckman 4.084 E.T. at 316.23 MPH
Two-time Funny Car world champion Matt Hagan was looking to carry his new 2020 Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat Widebody graphics package on to his first Denver triumph on Sunday.
Hagan was quickest off the starting line in his fifth first-round match up versus a DSR teammate in 2019, but his machine began to slow three quarters of the way through the race and came up short of advancing with his run of 4.177 seconds against Beckman. The two-time 2019 Funny Car winner ranks eighth in the championship standings with four races remaining before points are reset for the Countdown to the Championship.
“It’s always a challenge up here on the mountain. You always have to change things up to make the cars run up here, and we struggled a little bit with our fuel curve this weekend. I think going back down to Sonoma we’ll be in good shape. Once we get off the mountain, we tend to do well. But, we made a lot of progress up here. We had a good race car first round. Our new Hellcat Widebody was running really good early, we just had a pan pressure issue. We’ll dive into it and figure it out. I was feeling like we were going to win that one, and it’s just a helpless feeling when that thing goes silent, and you can hear him drive around you. I’m looking forward to Sonoma and Seattle and turning some more win lights on.”
NHRA Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship Standings: Top Fuel
1. Steve Torrence - 1407
2. Brittany Force - 852 3. Antron Brown - 839
4. Doug Kalitta- 831
5. Clay Millican - 813
6. Mike Salinas - 763 7. Leah Pritchett - 714
8. Richie Crampton - 666
9. Scott Palmer - 613
10. Terry McMillen- 607 Funny Car
1. Robert Hight - 1159 2. Tommy Johnson Jr - 1010
3. John Force - 958 4. Ron Capps - 927
5. Jack Beckman - 904
6. Bob Tasca III - 865
7. J.R. Todd - 857 8. Matt Hagan - 794
9. Shawn Langdon - 727
10. Tim Wilkerson - 724