POMONA, Calif. (Feb. 11, 2017) - Don Schumacher Racing is starting the 2017 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series at Pomona, Calif., just like it ended the past season.
By dominating and continuing as the best group of teams in professional drag racing, with the best drivers and crew chiefs.
DSR's Leah Pritchett in the Papa John's Pizza Top Fuel dragster and teammate Matt Hagan in the Mopar Express Lane 2017 Dodge Charger R/T swept the nitro poles Saturday at the NHRA Winternationals at the Fairplex heading to Sunday's championship eliminations.
And Hagan with crew chief Dickie Venables and assistant Michael Knudsen got the pole on the last run of the night with an astonishing elapsed time of 3.822 seconds at 335.57 mph that matches the NHRA world records the team set last year.
It is the second time in the past five Mello Yello events - dating to the event in Reading, Pa. last October - that Pritchett and Hagan started race day in the No. 1 qualifying position.
"We got a new guy strapping me in the car so I've been getting in with the first pair of Funny Cars to make sure we had time for me to get comfortable," he said of not anticipating a lengthy delay for track clean-up. "I probably sat in there a good hour and I was like, 'Oh my goodness, let's go!' My legs were falling asleep and everything else. I was trying not to fall asleep in there.
"It was worth the wait obviously. We went out there and just laid down a great number. That just speaks tons for Dickie Venables. He rolled it out of the box here and we've been pretty much low about every session."
"I'm just super pumped that Dickie's got a lot of confidence rolling into the first race. Tomorrow is race day and anything can happen. Even having a great racecar, you've still got to stay very humble. Anything can happen on race day."
Hagan, a two-time Funny Car world champion, also tied his national records for elapsed time (3.822 seconds) and speed (335.57 mph) with crew chief Dickie Venables and assistant Michael Knudsen.
For Pritchett, starting her first full season with DSR after joining the juggernaut midway through last year and driving in 15 of 24 events, it was quite a homecoming. The 28-year-old grew up in nearby Redlands, Calif., and graduated from Cal State San Bernardino.
"This is what I consider one of the most prestigious races in the world," she said. "This is not just my home track where I first went down a drag strip in a Jr. Dragster 20 years ago, but there's a world of difference in what we just laid down out there. When (crew chief Todd Okuhara) tells me 'hang on,' I'm like, "I'm giving this everything I've got, if it starts to sashay, so what, if it goes two feet past the finish line, so what. We've got brakes, we've got parachutes. We are going to get every ounce out of this run.
"We have 15 cars so the No. 1 one spot is tenfold as important as it is in any full (16-car) field because tomorrow we start with a bye run.
DSR earned three of the top-five seeds with three-time world champion Antron Brown (Matco Tools/U.S. Army) at No. 3 and eight-time champ Tony Schumacher (U.S. Army) at No. 5.
QUALIFYING TOP FUEL
No. 1 qualifier: Leah Pritchett (Don Schumacher Racing), 3.672 sec., 327.90 mph
LEAH PRITCHETT, Papa John's Pizza
Crew chief: Todd Okuhara; assistant: Joe Barlam
First round opponent: bye
Qualified: No. 1
FRIDAY: 8.835 sec., 67.47 mph, (Session 1); rained out, (Session 2)
SATURDAY: 3.702, 324.83, (Session 3); 3.672, 327.90, (Session 4)
ANTRON BROWN: Matco Tools/U.S. Army
Crew chiefs: Brian Corradi, Mark Oswald; car chief Brad Mason
First round opponent: Steve Chrisman
Qualified: No. 3
FRIDAY: 3.732 sec., 323.27 mph, (Session 1); rained out, (Session 2)
SATURDAY: 3.695, 328.06, (Session 3); 3.715, 326.95, (Session 4)
Antron Brown and the Matco Tools/U.S. Army team were flashy to open the season as the three-time world champ and winner of the past two prestigious titles, but they were consistent and that's how crew chiefs Brian Corradi and Mark Oswald like it.
"Today was a solid day and we'll take being the third quickest car in our third race," Brown said.
"The first run we went out there and did exactly what we wanted to. Brian and Mark saw a couple of things they wanted to try for this last session, so they backed off on a couple of things. The car didn't run exactly like we wanted to. We just need to get it going a little earlier.
"Don't get me wrong, we would've liked to have run a 3.66 or .67, and Leah (Pritchett) had a great number with a .67 and Dougie (Kalitta) had a better run than that going but he didn't make it all the way. We're right where we need to be and keep on improving upon it.."
TONY SCHUMACHER, U.S. Army
Crew chief: Mike Green; assistant: Phil Shuler
Qualified: No. 5
First round opponent: Scott Palmer
FRIDAY: 3.729 sec., 325.06 mph, (Session 1); rained out, (Session 2)
SATURDAY: 3.716, 314.24, (Session 3); 3.864, 247.47 (Session 4)
Schumacher was surprised when his dragster shut off about 100 feet from the starting on the last run that prevented him from taking advantage of the day's most optimum conditions.
"It wasn't anything spectacular, it wasn't going to put us No. 1, but it was a good run and we know how to get down the racetrack. We know how to come out tomorrow, swinging and racing.
"I know there are cars running just a little bit quicker than us right now, but to be honest we're not getting all the way to the finish line. When we finally make it, we'll be running similar numbers. Good car, but we've got to keep it from blowing up because we're hurting parts and we've got to figure that part, first because this sport is all about safety.
No. 1 qualifier: Matt Hagan (Don Schumacher Racing), 3.822 sec., 335.57 mph (both match Hagan's national records set in 2016)
MATT HAGAN, Mopar Express Lane 2017 Dodge Charger R/T
Crew chief: Dickie Venables; assistant: Michael Knudsen
First round opponent: Jeff Diehl
Qualified: No. 1
FRIDAY: 3.840 sec., 330.15 mph, (Session 1); rained out, (Session 2)
SATURDAY: 3.878, 304.87(Session 3); 3.822, 335.57-both match Hagan's national records, (Session 4)
RON CAPPS, NAPA AUTO PARTS 2017 Dodge Charger R/T
Crew chief: Rahn Tobler; assistant: Eric Lane
First round opponent: Bob Bode
Qualified: No. 4
FRIDAY: 4.148 sec., 325.14 mph, (Session 1); 8.363, 79.98, (Session 2)
SATURDAY: 3.850, 325.85, (Session 3); did not run, (Session 4)
Ron Capps started defense of his first NHRA world championship precariously with subpar runs on Friday before a 3.850-second time at 325.85 mph to jump to the No. 4 qualifying position for Sunday's championship eliminations.
"The opening day of Friday qualifying almost felt like an extension of our pre-season testing, in the fact that I pedaled it the first run we got in the show, but it shook both runs. But we were trying some things that were new for us this year in the clutch department.
"(Crew chief Rahn Tobler) went to the hotel Friday night and overnight decided to put the clutch back to where we had it last year. Obviously winning the world championship, it was a pretty good setup to fall back on.
"We got to the track today and sure enough it went 3.85, right to the No. 3 position at the time. That shows the savviness and experience that he has; to be able to plug another piece of clutch part in from last year on a whim, and go out and be one of the quickest cars of the session.
"We're happy where it is right now, and it feels like it was actually an extra day of testing, believe it or not. Even though it was at the race, we learned a ton, more what not to do than what to do, and a lot of times that's a better benefit than actually learning something in the other direction."
JACK BECKMAN, Infinite Hero Dodge Charger R/T
Crew chiefs: John Medlen, Dean Antonelli, Neal Strausbaugh
First round opponent: Cruz Pedregon
Qualified: No. 8
FRIDAY: 4.153 sec., 295.14 mph, (Session 1); rained out, (Session 2)
SATURDAY: 5.937, 123.42, (Session 3); 3.853, 327.43, (Session 4)
Jack Beckman and the Infinite Hero Foundation team, funded by Terry Chandler, enter the first race of the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing series with a new team but the same goal.
"I'm confident - and I truly am - and I'm not just saying that!" said Beckman, the 2012 Funny Car champion. "I think every driver should think that, but I have every reason to believe that.
"There's a lot of fire power on this team. Nobody is a newbie on the team, it's just the first time we've worked together as a group."
During the first round of qualifying, Beckman had to pedal his Funny Car and coasted to a 4.153-second lap at 295.14 mph. Later Friday night, rain cancelled the second session for most teams..
On Saturday, Beckman ran into problems again and his car quit before the finish line, resulting in a 5.937 (123.42). Finally, during the final qualifying session, Beckman clocked a 3.894 at 333.99 mph to earn the No. 8 seed and will race former world champion Cruz Pedregon in the opening round of eliminations.
"That 3.89 was far from a perfect run," Beckman said. "The speed showed some potential. We actually softened (the tune-up) up but it was a little weak on ET (elapsed time).
"We tested well a week ago, we had a lot of good time slips from that. But they don't count. They're not for points, they're not for a trophy, they're not during a race."
TOMMY JOHNSON JR., Make-A-Wish 2017 Dodge Charger R/T
Crew chief: John Collins; assistant: Rip Reynolds
First round opponent: Alexis DeJoria
Qualified: No. 10
FRIDAY: 4.723 sec., 183.97 mph, (Session 1); rained out, (Session 2)
SATURDAY: 3.942, 320.58, (Session 3); 3.933, 323.97, (Session 4)
Tommy Johnson and the Make-A-Wish Funny Car team, also funded by Terry Chandler, did not qualify where they wanted to for the opening race of the 2017 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing series season but that can be attributed to damaged done to its primary chassis a week ago during testing near Phoenix.
However, Johnson and the team remain confident in the abilities of their back-up Dodge Charger R/T Funny Car. The team finished qualifying in the No. 10 position with their best qualifying effort of a 3.933-second pass at 323.97 mph in Saturday evening's last qualifying session.
"We didn't perform like we wanted to," Johnson said. "It's been a little bit of a struggle ever since we had to do a car switch after the wheelstand last week during testing in Phoenix.
"Every run is getting better. Hopefully by race day, we will have enough data in the book and the guys will make the right calls. We have a lot of good data from the Finals in November when we won the title so I'm still confident going into race day. We didn't ran as good as we wanted to so far, but we're not junk either."
Johnson with crew chief John Collins and assistant Rip Reynolds closed the past season by winning the at Pomona in the year's last race.
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