The Mopar-brand has followed up on the recent success of the NHL’s Stanley Cup Championship Chicago Blackhawks to deliver that area some more winning moments…..
The domination of Mopar drag racing continued by earning a pair of national title wins at the 18th annual Lucas Oil Route 66 NHRA Nationals at Route 66 Raceway thanks to victories by Allen Johnson in the Pro Stock class and Tommy Johnson Jr. in the Funny Car category.
“All of us at Mopar are very proud of Allen Johnson and Tommy Johnson Jr. for doubling up today with their wins at Chicago,” said Pietro Gorlier, President and CEO – Mopar Brand Service, Parts and Customer Care, FCA. “We’re very pleased to see both the Dodge Dart and the new 2015 Mopar Dodge Charger R/T in the winner’s circle yet again. A lot of time, investment and hard work went into designing and building these two vehicles and we’ve very pleased at the success they have shown in such competitive fields.”
For both drivers (who are not related) it was their first trip to the winner’s circle this season and their first national titles earned at the Chicagoland facility.
Allen Johnson’s well-earned Pro Stock win was the 25th of his career, and came as a relief after flirting with two recent runner-up finishes, a difficult first-half of the season, and finally brought an end to the nearly year-long drought since his last victory at the 2014 Mopar Mile High Nationals.
“I had confidence coming into Chicago but this will give us even more confidence for the western swing and namely the Mopar Mile High Nationals,” said Johnson who has sixth wins in eight years at the upcoming nationals in Denver, Colorado, and is working towards a fourth consecutive win for Mopar’s signature event at Bandimere Speedway.
“There were lots of positives today,” Johnson added. “25 wins is just unbelievable and to be put in the record books with some of the top racers in this class forever is an honor. It’s also my first win here and one of the few tracks I’d never won at so that’s another little notch in our Mopar belt. Hopefully we can build on this and turn up the heat on it for the rest of this year.”
The driver of the “Magneti Marelli Offered by Mopar” Dodge Dart was seeded seventh on Sunday’s eliminations ladder and used a quick .017-second reaction time to get things started against his first round opponent Bo Butner and then beat him with an elapsed time run of 6.602 seconds at 209.82 mph to a 6.634/209.56 pass.
The next two round wins showed just how hungry the Mopar driver was to get back to winning form as he used a holeshots to defeat both Chris McGaha and Pro Stock points leader Greg Anderson. Johnson had a .028-second reaction time and ran a 6.606/209.62 to cross the finish line just five-thousandths of a second ahead of McGaha’s (.043-second reaction time) 6.596/210.280 pass. He then had an identical start in the semifinals with a 6.605/209.88 pass against Anderson’s 0.53-second light and quicker 6.588/210.08 for a margin of victory of 0.0088-seconds.
In Johnson’s third final round appearance of the year, he once again had the starting line advantage against Larry Morgan and then led all the way to the finish with a 6.624/209.99 run over his competitor’s 6.667/210.18 pass.
“The Mopar team has really been digging the last three or four races and we pretty much have a handle on the issues that plagued us to start the year,” said Johnson who jumps from seventh to fifth in the Pro Stock standings with today’s efforts. “We’ve struggled more at the start of this season than I think we have at any time in the last ten years but we’re finally back where we should be. I think we had a better car than we’ve shown because of some bad luck so today we really dug in, made some consistent runs and even when the heat came out in the final I was able to hold the track a little bit better than our opponent to pull off the win. Denver is a really important race for us and for Mopar, and this is just what we needed to go there firing on all HEMI cylinders.”
Tommy Johnson Jr. was the victor in his all-Mopar Funny Car category final elimination battle against Don Schumacher Racing teammate Matt Hagan who was looking to defend his consecutive title wins at Route 66 Raceway. Johnson drove his Make-A-Wish 2015 Dodge Charger R/T from a No.4 qualifier position through the ladder by beating Brian Stewart, DSR teammate Jack Beckman, and then Cruz Pedregon to advance to the his second final elimination round of the year.
In what was the fourth All-Mopar Funny Car final of the season, Johnson Jr. felt his DSR machine start to lose traction just before the finish without realizing Hagan had a similar issue off the start and wasn’t close enough to take advantage, giving the Make-A-Wish car its first win in since Bristol in 2014. Johnson Jr. now joins his three DSR teammates in having taken the new 2015 Mopar Dodge Charger R/T to the winner’s circle this year and adds a tenth win to the new body’s tally since it made its debut 13 events ago.
“When you get to a final, you gotta take advantage of it,” said Johnson Jr. who moves into fifth place in the standings with the result. “I had no idea where he (Hagan) was and my heart dropped when I spun the tires down there. I kept looking and I didn’t see him, and I actually didn’t see the win light. To win races like this, they still mean something. They’re very special to me and you never know how long you’ll be doing this. You just try as hard as you can while you’re here and enjoy every moment.”
While the defending NHRA Funny Car world champion, Hagan, was disappointed that he didn’t raise a fifth Wally trophy in his fifth final round appearance of the year with the Mopar Express Lane Dodge Charger R/T, his runner-up finish helped extend his lead in the standings to 178 points over his teammate Ron Capps in second place with just five events left before the start of the “Countdown to the Championship” playoff series begins. Hagan beat Capps in the opening round of eliminations.
Also scoring in Professional categories during the Lucas Oil Route 66 Nationals were Tony Schumacher (Top Fuel) and Hector Arana Jr (Pro Stock Motorcycle).
Schumacher pushed his U.S Army dragster to the winner’s circle with a 3.844-second pass at 320.20 mph, beating Larry Dixon’s 3.932 at 298.93 in the final round. The win was Schumacher’s third victory of the season and a category-high fifth at Chicago. Schumacher, the eight-time and defending world champ, now sits five victories from tying Pro Stock’s Bob Glidden for third on the all-time wins list in any NHRA professional category.
“That was a fun race,” said Schumacher, who moves into the Top Fuel points lead with the win. “Our crews are so good and win so many races. There are no easy races. Just proud to be in the position we’re in. When we’ve had to win and it positively had to be done, we’ve been great at that. You have to be great every day and you have to be better than that some days.”
Schumacher has faced Dixon 82 times with 20 of those meetings occurring in a final round, where Schumacher holds a 14-6 advantage. Dixon, a three-time world champ, was appearing in his fourth final of the season in the C&J Energy Services dragster and is closing in on his first win since Phoenix 2011. The result moves Dixon to third in points.
In Pro Stock Motorcycle, Arana Jr. defended his Chicago win from last season with a 6.918 at 194.66 on his Lucas Oil Buell, defeating two-time world champ Matt Smith in the final. The win was Arana Jr.s’ 10th career victory, first of the season and second at Route 66 Raceway. He defeated LE Tonglet, Jerry Savoie and Chaz Kennedy before taking Smith out in the final. Arana Jr. sits second in points.
“This is one of my favorite tracks,” Arana Jr. said. “We had the bike and I knew we had the bike all weekend but we couldn’t get it to leave the line well and we finally figured it out for the last session. We made a change and we felt good about it so we didn’t change anything for the first round and from then on out we didn’t touch it. We just went consistently down the track.”
Smith, a two-time world champ, was looking to win his first race since the 2013 Fall event at Las Vegas. Despite getting his Victory Racing Gunner to a head start on the starting line against Arana Jr., Smith was unable to claim the win when Arana Jr. drove around him on the top end. Despite the loss, it was a positive points day for Smith who moves into the top ten in points at No. 8 with four Pro Stock Motorcycle events remaining before the Countdown to the Championship playoff.
The Lucas Oil Lowdown
Chris Demke and Steve Harker, reining national champions, clinched wins in the Lucas Oil Route 66 NHRA Nationals presented by General Tire at Route 66 Raceway.
Demke, from Tujunga, Calif., secured the Top Alcohol Dragster win by taking the advantage at the start and never wavering to maintain the lead and capture the win. Harker’s win in Top Alcohol Funny Car is his first national event win this season and the 11th of his career.
Demke worked his way through the field and ran 5.321 seconds at 270.81 mph in his final round victory over Mia Tedesco, Pittsburgh, who clocked in at 5.372 seconds, 265.59 mph. Demke was first off the line and had the power to hold on for the win over the event’s No.1 qualifier. The win made it three consecutive victories for Demke in Chicago, and his 18th national event win overall.
Harker, originally from Australia, but now based out of Gainesville, Ga., had luck on his side in the Top Alcohol Funny Car final when Kris Hool went red off the tree. Harker got out of the groove and slowed to a 6.197 second pass to flip on the win light.
In the Comp Eliminator final, reigning event champion Troy Galibraith of Indianapolis, defended his win against Glen Treadwell, Sorrento, Fla. Treadwell got the advantage off the line, but Galbraith reeled him in and went around for his second national event win with a 6.832 second, 194.35 mph pass.
Shanna Snyder, the No.1 qualifier in Top Dragster, laid down a .001 second reaction time off the tree in the final, but it was not enough to overtake Steve Cohen of Trilby, Fla. Cohen, who picked up the win in the rain delayed final from the NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals earlier in the weekend, ran a 6.579 second pass on his 6.57 dial to secure the win. With the two victories, Cohen now has 21 national event wins to his name.
Other racers visiting the winners circle this weekend were Jeff Strickland, Red Bay, Ala., in Stock Eliminator; Gary Williams, Jacksonville Beach, Fla., in Super Comp; Ray Connolly, Elyria, Ohio, in Super Gas; Rob Kropfield, Hamilton, Ohio in Super Street; and Canadian Mike Williams who is from Tilley, AB, in Top Sportsman.
JEGS All Stars Shines Bright
Once again in conjunction with the event, a special race within a race was contested where the best drivers in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series faced off in the prestigious JEGS Allstars. Racers competed for team and individual honors and a share of the $124,000 purse.
The team championship for the 31st annual JEGS Allstars race wasn’t determined until the final round of the final race, but when the smoke cleared, the NHRA Southeast Division (Division 2) had claimed its seventh overall team title at the prestigious event.
Division 2 was led by Kevin Brannon and Jeffrey Barker, who claimed wins in Super Comp and Top Sportsman, respectively, and enjoyed a strong outing from Jeff Strickland, who earned a runner-up finish in Stock.
The Southeast Division’s seventh title ties it with the North Central and Northeast Divisions for the most championships at the historic event.
The epic points battle came down to the Top Dragster final. Chris Carrico had a chance to win the title outright for the Division 3 team, but his car suffered a mechanical problem just off the starting line, and the win went to Pacific Division racer Michael MacBrair.
Watching the race from the starting line, the Division 2 team, led by NHRA Southeast Division Director Rich Schaeffer, erupted into a joyous celebration.
In the final tally, the Division 2 team finished with 1,100 points, the same number earned by the North Central Division, so the title was decided via a tiebreaker, which is based on a progressive round-win total. The members of the Division 2 team split a $20,000 bonus from JEGS Mail Order.
The alcohol portion of the JEGS Allstars race was also a tight finish with the Central Region claiming the top spot via a tirebreaker over the West Region. Joey Severance of the West Region won the Top Alcohol Dragster title by defeating East Region racer Duane Shields in the final round. Reigning JEGS Allstars champ John Lombardo Jr., of the Central Region, successfully defended his title by stopping West Region racer Annie Whiteley in the final round.
The JEGS Allstars final rounds were delayed by rain until Sunday and were run in conjunction with the Lucas Oil Route 66 NHRA Nationals. Division 6 racer Jeff Lane scored the Comp title by stopping defending event winner Greg Kamplain, who returned as a blocker for the Division 3 squad.
Phil Unruh, of Division 5, topped Division 6 racer Sean Cour in the Super Stock final. Last year, Unruh was the Top Dragster winner in the JEGS Allstars. On Sunday, he collected the JEGS double-up bonus when he drove his Special Metals Cobalt to the Route 66 Nationals Super Stock title. In the Stock final, Anthony Fetch scored the lone win for the Division 1 team when he defeated Strickland’s COPO Camaro.
Brannon, the current points leader in Super Comp, drove to an 8.92 to 8.93 win in the final round against Division 2 blocker and reigning JEGS Allstars champ Ray Miller III. The Division 3 team got a boost from Super Gas winner Luke Bogacki, who defeated Division 7 racer Marko Perivolaris in a double-breakout final. Bogacki is the reigning national champion in Super Gas.
The host team from Division 3 also got a strong performance from Super Street champion Scotty Rienschield, who claimed the title when Division 4 racer Don Snow broke on the starting line.
Barker’s Top Sportsman win came at the expense of Division 3 racer Lester Johnson. Barker, who is also the current Top Sportsman points leader, drove his Chevy Cobalt to a perfect 6.65 on his 6.65 dial to seal the victory. Barker and the rest of the JEGS Allstars champions have earned the right to return for next year’s event to participate as blockers.
Final 2015 JEGS Allstars standings:
1. Division 2 *1,100
2. Division 3 1,100
3. Division 4 700
4. Division 5 600
5. Division 6 600
6. Division 7 600
7. Division 1 400
Posted with files from: Pat Caporali, NHRA Communications, Mani Ramirez, Rob Geiger & Bruce Biegler
All Photos by: Bruce Biegler
To view DragRaceCanada’s Lucas Oil Route 66 event photo gallery click: HERE