DSR Norwalk Post-Race Recap

NHRA Norwalk Nationals
Event 12 of 24 (Norwalk)
Summit Racing Equipment Motorsports Park 
Norwalk, Ohio 
June 22-24, 2018
DSR Norwalk Elimination Highlights:

  • Matt Hagan locks in his second Funny Car win of the season 
  • Hagan's victory was his first at Norwalk, and 28th of his career 
  • Hagan advanced from sixth up to a second place tie with Jack Beckman in the Funny Car points standings
  • Leah Pritchett raced to a semifinal finish 
  • Hometown Factory Stock Showdown series racer Mark Pawuk advances to the final round at his second FSXX event
Hagan Races to Second Win of the Season; First at Norwalk

Norwalk, OHIO (June 24, 2018) –  Mopar Express Lane Dodge Charger R/T driver Matt Hagan, seeking a bit of redemption after first-round exits in the previous two events, began Norwalk eliminations with back-to-back battles against DSR teammates.
First up was Tommy Johnson Jr., with Hagan’s quick reflexes helping to score a close holeshot win by an ultra-thin margin of less than one-thousandth of a second. Hagan was again first off of the starting line in an all-Mopar Dodge quarterfinals fight, pulling away to defeat Jack Beckman with a 4.010-second at 322.27-mph pass.
The two-time world champion led from start to finish stripe in the semifinals, reeling off a 3.981 E.T. to defeat J.R. Todd and earn all-important lane choice against No. 1 qualifier Courtney Force in his fourth final round of the season and 51st of his career.

Hagan saved his best reaction time for the money round, a 0.033-second mark that gave him a jump over Force that he would never relinquish, recording a winning 4.094-second at 288.21-mph pass to his opponent’s losing 4.220 at 227.54-mph effort. 
“Super proud of my guys,” said Hagan, who picked up a win earlier in the year at the season-opening event in Pomona. “These cats have been working hard and we’ve obviously had a track prep change that we needed to adapt to and it took (crew chief) Dickie (Venables) a few runs to get there, but that’s why I love him and I’m glad he’s in my corner. He always figures it out.
“We had a good, solid car all weekend. Qualified well, went down the race track pretty much every lap. It hazed the tires out there and I was legging it out, but it’s the finals, man.
“You’re not (owed) anything out here because you have to earn it, but you almost feel like you were due for a win. It’s been a while since we turned on four win lights, but it’s a nitro Funny Car and you never know what you’re going to get.”
With the Norwalk win, Hagan was able to advance from sixth all the way up to a tie (with teammate Jack Beckman) for second in the Funny Car points standings.
Sunday’s victory was Hagan’s second of the season, 28th of his career and first-ever at Norwalk.
“I’m glad we were able to knock this (Norwalk) trophy off the checklist. For Mopar, for Pennzoil, Sandvik Coromant, and all of the folks that support us out here. I’ve been wanting one of these ice cream scoops, but I think mine is going to be a protein scoop (laughs). You know, two scoops of protein with this. We’re having fun, it’s good to see my guys be able to celebrate with the Wally.”

Qualified: No. 3 (3.981 E.T. at 325.22 MPH)

The Results:
E1: 3.994 E.T. at 327.19 MPH defeated Tommy Johnson Jr. 3.990 E.T. at 323.27 MPH
E2: 4.010 E.T. at 322.27 MPH defeated Jack Beckman 4.022 E.T. at 321.73 MPH
E3: 3.981 E.T. at 320.58 MPH defeated J.R. Todd 4.031 E.T. at 321.50 MPH
E4: 4.094 E.T. at 288.21 MPH defeated Courtney Force 4.220 E.T. at 227.54 MPH

Driver Information:

Top Fuel:

Driver of the Matco Tools/U.S. Army Top Fuel Dragster
Qualified: No. 5 (3.805 E.T. at 323.27 MPH) 

The Results: 
E1: 3.808 E.T. at 326.71 MPH defeated by Blake Alexander 3.802 E.T. at 319.75 MPH

Race Recap:
After a qualifying performance which positioned him in the top half of the field, Antron Brown drew Blake Alexander in the first round. The 2014 Norwalk event champion had a one-to-one record against Alexander prior to lining up on Sunday morning at the 12th annual NHRA Nationals. Both drivers were quick on the tree, with Brown earning a slight advantage (0.065 vs Alexander’s 0.068-second reaction time). Alexander took the lead almost immediately and raced down the track in 3.802-seconds, narrowly defeating Brown’s 3.808-second pass.

“We came out this weekend and had a couple good qualifying runs – top five in each session. Then my Matco Tools/U.S. Army/Toyota boys gave me a good car today and we went out and made a solid run with a 3.80, only to lose by three one-thousandths of a second. It’s just been that kind of season. Blake (Alexander) and the Vandergriff team have run really well – that’s definitely not a team you expect to be qualifying 12th. The good thing is we keep improving and, eventually, things are going to even out.”

Driver of the FireAde Top Fuel Dragster
Qualified: No. 8 (3.838 E.T. at 324.98 MPH)

The Results:
E1: 3.794 E.T. at 328.94 MPH defeated Doug Kalitta 3.805 E.T. at 321.73 MPH
E2: 3.788 E.T. at 327.74 MPH defeated Clay Millican 3.817 E.T. at 327.03 MPH
E3: 4.185 E.T. at 254.28 MPH defeated by Blake Alexander 3.799 E.T. at 329.91 MPH

Race Recap:
Leah Pritchett faced Doug Kalitta in the opening round of eliminations on Sunday morning. Kalitta had a slight advantage on the launch and led for nearly the entire span of the 1,000-foot stretch, but Pritchett charged hard in her Mopar-powered FireAde machine, chasing Kalitta down at the far end of the track to set off the win light. Her 3.794-second effort held up to be the second-best of the session.

The six-time Top Fuel winner powered to her best run of the weekend in the quarterfinals to claim the upset win over No. 1 qualifier Clay Millican and earn lane choice over semifinal opponent Blake Alexander. Pritchett was first on the throttle, but encountered issues just past halftrack. The 2018 Atlanta winner pedaled the throttle and harnessed her FireAde machine enough to recover before giving way to a fireball, enabling Alexander to claim the win with his clean pass. 

“We started race day with all new information. We weren’t able to take a lot from qualifying. We made wholesale changes on Saturday night, and with that confidence coming into Sunday, the FireAde team output exactly what we input. We had two awesome and consistent runs. It’s been a while since we had some real tight racing like that where the car was on point, I was on point, the team was on point, and we had no mechanical malfunctions.
“Unfortunately, we spun (the tires) in the semis against Blake (Alexander), who’s a great driver. We’re getting to that time, it’s halfway through the season. Everybody’s best is starting to shine and right now this FireAde team is starting to shine really bright. We needed that momentum. It’s good to end this swing on a semifinal finish. Of course, we wanted to finish with a win, but to see the adversity this team has gone through over this weekend – limited runs, runs that didn’t really count for us for anything, and taking a shot at it on Sunday and going some rounds is what we needed.”

Driver of the U.S. Army Top Fuel Dragster
Qualified: No. 4 (3.792 E.T. at 330.63 MPH)

The Results:
E1: 3.807 E.T. at 327.66 MPH defeated Kyle Wurtzel 3.902 E.T. at 306.74 MPH
E2: 3.779 E.T. at 330.31 MPH defeated by Blake Alexander 3.798 E.T. at 330.15 MPH

Race Recap:
Last week’s Top Fuel winner (Bristol) started race day from the fourth seed, pitting the veteran racer against newcomer Kyle Wurtzel in round one. Tony Schumacher was able to overtake Wurtzel near the 330-foot mark and wheel his Mopar-powered U.S. Army dragster down the track in 3.807-seconds, carrying the lead the rest of the way.
Schumacher, the inaugural Top Fuel winner (2007) at the Norwalk facility, lined up next to Blake Alexander in the quarterfinals. Schumacher was hoping to avenge teammate Antron Brown’s first round loss to Alexander, but a lengthy starting line tree caused Schumacher to have an uncharacteristically delayed reaction time (0.146-seconds). The Army car raced down the track in 3.779-seconds, but Alexander was able to steal the holeshot round win with his 3.798-second pass.

“The U.S. Army car just continues getting better. Credit Blake Alexander and his team. That run he made would have beaten everyone. He had what a 0.054 (second) light. We both left early. We both guessed and then stopped. It was a long tree. I was waiting on that tree really deep and it didn’t come on when I thought it was going to. I hit it and came off of it…almost two stepped it. I heard something when I squeezed the throttle and I didn’t know if it was him or me so I pulled back and the light came on. That Alexander kid did a good job. This one is on me today. Mistakes happen. People are human. It’s unfortunate, but it’s racing. It’s just the level we are at. Everyone has to be so good. The best thing about where we are halfway through the year is that we have a great car. We brought Mike Neff in to lead this U.S. Army team and he’s doing exactly what we hoped he would. He and Phil (Shuler) have meshed really well and we have as good of car as anyone out here. I just really hate to let one slip away like we did today” 

Funny Car:

Driver of the Infinite Hero Foundation Dodge Charger R/T

Qualified: No. 11 (4.101 E.T. at 308.57 MPH)

The Results:
E1: 4.047 E.T. at 319.07 MPH defeated Tim Wilkerson 9.812 E.T. at 93.13 MPH
E2: 4.022 E.T. at 321.73 MPH defeated by Matt Hagan 4.010 E.T. at 322.27 MPH

Race Recap:
“Fast” Jack Beckman scored an upset in the opening round, taking his No. 11-qualified Infinite Hero Foundation Dodge Charger R/T past the higher-seeded No. 6 machine of Tim Wilkerson. Beckman, a three-time champion at Norwalk, easily claimed the round win with a 4.047-second at 319.07-mph run after Wilkerson smoked the tires.
The defending Norwalk event winner trailed off the starting line in an all-Mopar Dodge DSR quarterfinal matchup against Matt Hagan. Beckman regained the lead briefly at the 60-foot mark but ultimately was unable to drive past his teammate for the round win. Beckman leaves Norwalk still ranked second in the standings (tied with Hagan) and as the winningest Funny Car driver in the facility’s history.

"We're still in a brand-new car. I think it's the fourth race for this new chassis, brand-new clutch in our car, the pressure plate and the (recent changes) in track prep. You hate to say that you're testing, but the definition of testing is trying to zero-in on a combination that works, so we're testing.

"We had a phenomenal car earlier in the year. We could not seem to qualify any worse than fifth, and now some races we're struggling to qualify in the top-half, but we seem to be a very intelligent race-day crew. We seem to be able to beat out round wins no matter where we qualify. Now, if we qualify better, we'll have more favorable race day pairings. We'll stay tomorrow (in Norwalk) and test, and we will keep zeroing in on this thing. The changes that we made with the other clutch and the other chassis have different effects on this one, but every run we make we get data and we get better."

Driver of the NAPA AUTO PARTS Dodge Charger R/T 
Qualified: No. 2 (3.961 E.T. at 320.28 MPH) 

The Results:
E1: 4.034 E.T. at 315.05 MPH defeated Jeff Diehl, Foul (Red light)
E2: 9.588 E.T. at 81.56 MPH defeated by J.R. Todd 4.004 E.T. at 321.27 MPH

Race Recap:
Ron Capps and the NAPA AUTO PARTS Dodge Charger R/T Funny Car team entered the 12th annual NHRA Nationals fresh off of a trip to the winner’s circle from the previous event.
Picking up right where they left off, the Rahn Tobler-led team dominated throughout qualifying. Two days of persistent rain showers meant nitro teams were permitted only two shots at the race track before race day fields were set. Capps collected bonus points during each session, running second-best in round one, and “best of class” in the second session.
Capps, a three-time Norwalk runner-up, kicked off his 500th professional race day start with a matchup against No. 15 qualifier Jeff Diehl. Capps drove away with the immediate round win when Diehl stood on the gas early and fouled out.
In round two, Capps faced J.R. Todd. The NAPA machine went up in smoke almost immediately, ending Capps’ chances at winning Norwalk’s coveted ice cream scoop trophy.

“We haven’t smoked the tires that early into a run in a very long time. We had so much momentum, we felt great about going in (to round one). The good thing is, if you take the silver lining on this cloud of losing second round is this race car we’ve been running is going into the DSR fab shop this week and getting a front half. We try to put a certain amount of runs on each of our Funny Cars at DSR, and it’s gotten more and more runs which is great, but as busy as DSR is with four Funny Cars and three dragsters, you sort of have to get in line and get on the list to get it done. Luckily (crew chief) Rahn Tobler got on the list for this week after this race, so going into Epping we’re going to have brand-new pipe. It’ll almost be like a brand-new chassis. That’s probably what happened (in round two) is the chassis has got a lot of runs on it. I’m excited, it’ll be like a new car and we’ll run that for the rest of the year.”

Driver of the Make-A-Wish Foundation Dodge Charger R/T 
Qualified: No. 14 (4.209 E.T. at 245.81 MPH)

The Results:
E1: 3.990 E.T. at 323.27 MPH defeated by Matt Hagan 3.994 E.T. at 327.19 MPH

Race Recap:
Beginning eliminations from the No. 14 position, Make-A-Wish Dodge Charger R/T pilot Tommy Johnson Jr. faced off in an intra-squad battle with fellow DSR stablemate Matt Hagan. Johnson overcame his teammate’s slight edge off the starting line (a 0.071-second reaction time to Johnson’s 0.075) to put the nose of his Mopar Dodge out front at the 660-foot mark, but Hagan surged ahead to beat Johnson's quicker 3.990-second effort to the finish by a razor-thin margin of about five inches.

“It’s a frustrating loss. To run so well and lose by less than one-thousandth of a second, all you can say is it was a great drag race. It was really, really close and I was happy with the way the car ran, it was just qualifying that bit us. Only having two runs and not getting a good qualifying run in on those two. The guys did a great job of hitting the tune-up on Sunday, it was just nine-thousandths of a second too short.”

NHRA Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship Points Standings:

Top Fuel

1. Steve Torrence - 964
2. Clay Millican - 847
3. Tony Schumacher - 817
4. Doug Kalitta - 749
5. Leah Pritchett - 736
6. Terry McMillen - 643
7. Antron Brown - 622
8. Brittany Force - 594
9. Mike Salinas - 475
10. Scott Palmer - 471

Funny Car

1. Courtney Force - 1038
2. Jack Beckman - 788
2. Matt Hagan - 788
4. Robert Hight - 771
5. J.R. Todd - 767
6. Ron Capps - 755
7. Tommy Johnson Jr. - 637

8. John Force - 577
9. Shawn Langdon - 537
10. Bob Tasca III - 532 

Factory Stock Showdown Series:

Driver of the Empaco Equipment Mopar Dodge Challenger Drag Pak

Qualified: No. 2 (8.102 E.T. at 169.06 MPH)

The Results:
E1: 8.167 E.T. at 167.76 MPH defeated Arthur Kohn 8.196 E.T. at 165.99 MPH
E2: 8.091 E.T. at 169.19 MPH defeated Chuck Watson 8.075 E.T. at 169.81 MPH
E3: 8.104 E.T. at 169.02 MPH defeated Aaron Stanfield 8.178 E.T. at 166.66 MPH
E4: 8.115 E.T. at 168.58 MPH defeated by Joseph Welch 8.107 E.T. at 168.07 MPH

“What a great weekend for the Empaco Equipment corporation, Mark Pawuk Racing, Mopar/Dodge, supported by Don Schumacher Racing. I only wish I could’ve brought home a win from my home track where I started racing back in the late 1970’s, but I will say, for the way we ran in Bristol last week, really struggling, to rebounding this week and making it to the final is just awesome. Kudos to my crew who worked so hard the last week and a half to really put this program in a forward direction. We ran great all weekend. I’m proud of everybody and I’m looking forward to Indy.”

Driver of the Mopar Dodge Challenger Drag Pak

Qualified: No. 3 (8.117 E.T. at 170.02 MPH)

The Results:
E1: 8.185 E.T. at 169.15 MPH defeated Leonard Libersher 8.222 E.T. at 166.27 MPH
E2: 8.179 E.T. at 168.98 MPH defeated by Stephen Bell 8.137 E.T. at 167.78 MPH

“Pretty epic feeling to have my teammate (Mark Pawuk) race in the finals. Couldn’t be more proud to be a part of the Mopar team and this Factory program. All win lights, they actually do feel the same, whether it’s in Top Fuel or Factory Stock, because the input of passion and effort is all still the same. With my car, we had it tuned up for E2 and that output wasn’t quite there but feeling good about the progress that we’ve made.”  

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