DSR Houston Post-Race Recap
Mopar Express Lane NHRA SpringNationals Presented by Pennzoil
Event No. 10
Houston Raceway Park – Baytown, Texas
October 24-25, 2020
DSR Elimination Highlights:
- Don Schumacher Racing doubled-up for the 66th time on Sunday during the Mopar Express Lane NHRA SpringNationals Presented by Pennzoil, sweeping the nitro categories and upping the trophy count to 356 for drag racing’s winningest organization
- Tony Schumacher and Tommy Johnson Jr. raced to victory in their respective categories
- Schumacher picked up his first win since returning to the seat of a Top Fuel dragster earlier this summer after a year-and-a-half hiatus
- Johnson kept the DSR Dodge Hellcat undefeated streak alive, earning the 13th consecutive Funny Car triumph for DSR
- Johnson’s victory, his third of the season and 22nd overall, was achieved in MD Anderson’s backyard
- The final round featured DSR Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat Funny Car pilots (Johnson vs. Ron Capps) going head-to-head for the sixth time in the first 10 races in 2020
- Capps’ final round appearance was his third of the season
- DSR’s quartet of Dodge Funny Car pilots continue to dominate the championship rankings, occupying spots 1-2-3-4
43 points separate the top three ranked drivers – Matt Hagan, Tommy Johnson Jr., and Jack Beckman – setting up a heated three-way ‘down to the wire’ title chase at the points-and-a-half season finale in Las Vegas next weekend
- Antron Brown (Top Fuel) and Mark Pawuk (Factory Stock Showdown) both posted semifinal finishes, with Pawuk remaining solidly in second on the FSS leaderboard
DSR Doubles-Up for 66th Time; Schumacher and Johnson Victorious in Houston
BAYTOWN, Texas (October 26, 2020) – Don Schumacher Racing doubled-up for the 66th time during the Mopar Express Lane NHRA SpringNationals Presented by Pennzoil, upping the trophy count to 356 for drag racing’s winningest organization. Tony Schumacher and Tommy Johnson Jr. raced to victory in their respective categories, with Schumacher picking up his first win since returning to the seat of a Top Fuel dragster earlier this summer after a year-and-a-half hiatus, and Johnson earning the 13th consecutive Funny Car triumph for DSR.
Bannering the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, Johnson delivered the hometown victory for the Houston-based organization by battling through a stacked Funny Car field. Johnson, who entered the weekend ranked third and 77 points out of first, fought his way solidly back into the thick of the heated championship chase by claiming his third victory of the season, and first at Baytown, on Sunday afternoon at Houston Raceway Park.
Aboard the Doug Chandler-sponsored MD Anderson Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat, Johnson started from the top half of the field and picked off Jim Campbell and J.R. Todd in the first two elimination rounds. In the semifinals, he prevented point leader and teammate Matt Hagan from adding to his point total by powering to a winning 3.941 E.T. to advance to his fourth final round appearance of the season. Against Ron Capps, another DSR Dodge stablemate, Johnson set off the win lights once again, lighting up the scoreboard with his 3.929-second pass to earn his 22nd nitro triumph. The victory not only kept DSR’s undefeated Funny Car streak alive, extending it to 13-in-a-row, but helped Johnson move into second in the championship standings, and narrow in on Hagan, who holds a 42-point lead over Johnson heading into the points-and-a-half season finale in Las Vegas next weekend.
“It was a must-win,” said Johnson, who is aiming to close out his seven-year Chandler family ‘giving car’ run by delivering his first Funny Car world title for Doug Chandler. “We get close and then we stumble, and we think we’re out of it, and here we come again. We just keep coming back. It’s like a heavyweight battle and when we get knocked down, we get back up and keep swinging. I’m just really proud of these guys. They never quit. I’m just super happy with the fight in these guys and this has got drama written all over it when we go to Vegas. You’ve got to keep digging and you knew the final round was going to be a great race. It’s definitely been different this year, but once you fire the engine it’s no different. (Crew chiefs) John Collins, Rip Reynolds, and the whole MD Anderson team has done a really good job under some tough circumstances.”
In Top Fuel, Schumacher gave DSR its first Top Fuel win of the season, and first nitro-sweep since the 2019 Brainerd event. Driving the Okuma/Sandvik Coromant Toyota Top Fuel dragster, second-seeded Schumacher opened his day with a first-round win over Cameron Ferre, then followed it up with victories over Doug Foley and Billy Torrence to advance to the finals against point leader Steve Torrence.
Both drivers turned in strong reaction times with Torrence having a slight advantage, but Schumacher ran him down by the 330-foot mark. The two heavy-hitters raced side-by-side through 600 feet, separated by just .001 seconds. The eight-time world champion then held off Torrence with a margin of victory of just .002 seconds, winning with a 3.669-second pass at 330.63-mph – the quickest pass of the weekend.
“We’ve only had a handful of races back as a team and they’re doing a great job for Sandvik, Okuma, and Toyota,” said Schumacher, a Texas resident who earned his NHRA record 85th Top Fuel win. “And Camping World, thank you for stepping up. It feels unbelievable. Both the semis and the finals were outstanding races. That’s about as rewarding of a day as anybody can have. We’ve been through three race cars in six races. We qualified excellent, then lost our car after Leah (Pruett) broke in St. Louis. We had to take a new car out and that’s just the second race on it. That car hasn’t made two dozen runs down a race track and (crew chief) Mike Green and this Okuma/Sandvik Coromant Toyota team just went out and figured out how to win a race with it. Unbelievable.”
Driver of the Okuma/Sandvik Coromant
Toyota Top Fuel Dragster
Qualified: No. 2 (3.685 E.T. at 330.07 MPH)
E1: 3.712 E.T. at 319.37 MPH defeated Cameron Ferre, Foul (red light)
E2: 3.735 E.T. at 327.43 MPH defeated Doug Foley 3.852 E.T. at 269.24 MPH
E3: 3.701 E.T. at 319.07 MPH defeated Billy Torrence 3.753 E.T. at 325.92 MPH
E4: 3.669 E.T. at 330.63 MPH defeated Steve Torrence 3.687 E.T. at 330.07 MPH
TOMMY JOHNSON JR.
Driver of the MD Anderson Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat
Qualified: No. 6 (3.973 E.T. at 317.94 MPH)
E1: 6.373 E.T. at 110.91 MPH defeated Jim Campbell 7.324 E.T. at 86.96 MPH
E2: 3.934 E.T. at 327.51 MPH defeated J.R. Todd 3.979 E.T. at 326.00 MPH
E3: 3.941 E.T. at 321.96 MPH defeated Matt Hagan 3.981 E.T. at 321.12 MPH
E4: 3.929 E.T. at 321.04 MPH defeated Ron Capps 3.952 E.T. at 325.14 MPH
Driver of the Matco Tools ‘Tools for the Cause’/Global Electronic
Technology/Toyota Top Fuel Dragster
Qualified: No. 4 (3.741 E.T. at 326.87 MPH)
E1: 3.731 E.T. at 324.12 MPH defeated Scott Palmer 4.283 E.T. at 197.10 MPH
E2: 3.719 E.T. at 329.42 MPH defeated Doug Kalitta 3.747 E.T. at 325.92 MPH
E3: 4.763 E.T. at 154.53 MPH defeated by Steve Torrence 3.673 E.T. at 324.83 MPH
Antron Brown powered the Matco Tools/Global Electronic Technology/Hangsterfer’s Toyota Top Fuel dragster to the third-quickest run of the second qualifying round to earn a fourth-seeded starting position. Brown, a two-time event champ who won his first Top Fuel trophy at Houston Raceway Park in 2008, was looking to make a deep run through the Top Fuel field on Sunday as he sought to capture his first trophy of the year. He easily dispatched his round-one opponent when he snagged the starting line advantage over Scott Palmer and never trailed for the win. In the quarterfinals, Brown played spoiler for Doug Kalitta, defeating the championship contender with a strong 3.719 E.T. to Kalitta’s 3.747-second effort. In the semifinals, Brown’s machine-like reaction time earned him a sizeable starting line advantage over Steve Torrence but Brown hazed the tires near half-track, and Torrence drove away with the win.
“We’ve been working on a lot of things. We’re definitely getting better. We’re consistent and going down the race track. We’re pressing. We want to get the car to leave better. (Crew chiefs) Brian (Corradi) and Mark (Oswald) and the rest of our Matco Tools boys are working towards that. Once we get to that happy spot, we should be good. We want to end this year off strong and make a good showing in Vegas and get ready for the 2021 season. We’re going to roll some dice next weekend. We were pressing on it in the semis today. We just pressed too hard in the middle. We wanted to run a high 3.60, but we have to get it going better early. That’s the main focus. We’ll get better and we’re making strides and not hurting parts and pieces.”
Driver of the Pennzoil Top Fuel Dragster
Qualified: No. 6 (3.767 E.T. at 324.20 MPH)
E1: 3.745 E.T. at 321.65 MPH defeated Lee Callaway 6.222 E.T. at 96.74 MPH
E2: 3.708 E.T. at 322.58 MPH defeated by Billy Torrence 3.708 E.T. at 331.61 MPH
Aboard the bright yellow Pennzoil Top Fuel dragster, Leah Pruett kicked-off her Sunday morning by navigating her 11,000-horsepower machine to a smooth 3.745 E.T., improving upon her qualifying time to defeat Lee Callaway who had a cylinder out early. Round two’s pairing with Billy Torrence came with steep championship implications. The two Top Fuel championship-contenders powered to identical 3.708 E.T.s, but Torrence’s slight starting line advantage gave him the extra edge to take the round win, halting Pruett’s day after round two. The early exit allowed top-ranked Steve Torrence to further his points lead to a 198-point margin over Pruett, ending her 2020 championship chase.
“The highlight of this weekend is that we solved a lot of problems with the car after really starting over after St. Louis. That put us behind and we feel we’re now in front of it. We have a race car that is performing very well. We had some additional software problems and we’ve been on the good side of these holeshot wins, but sometimes you’re going to find yourself on the other side of it. The most exciting thing about it is that we have one of the top, fastest hot rods going into Vegas. We have done very well in Vegas. I think points-wise we’re out of the championship, but we still have our eyes on moving forward on a high note.”
Driver of the Infinite Hero Foundation Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat
Qualified: No. 1 (3.884 E.T. at 328.14 MPH)
E1: 5.012 E.T. at 207.88 MPH defeated by Ron Capps 4.158 E.T. at 320.51 MPH
By qualifying No. 1 for the SpringNationals, Jack Beckman set himself up for a first-round battle rife with championship implications. Beckman, who was looking to pick up his second consecutive win and regain the point lead currently occupied by teammate Matt Hagan, drew No. 16 qualifier Ron Capps, who was fighting to keep his 2020 championship hopes alive. The former champions launched their DSR Dodge Charger SRT Hellcats off the line and into tire smoke. Both Beckman and Capps were on-and-off the throttle, but Capps was able to cross the finish line first, forcing his stablemate to continue his day as a spectator and watch as Hagan, his biggest threat to capture the Funny Car title, advanced to the semifinals.
Beckman departs Houston sitting in third on the Funny Car leaderboard and with a deficit of 43 points that he will work to overcome at the Las Vegas points-and-a-half season finale next weekend.
“A lot of cars struggled out there and we just didn’t capitalize on it. And you can say (Matt) Hagan was fortunate, but you can also say he did a good job catching the car and getting it to the finish line. This is the back-breaker about drag racing. There’s no do-overs. You don’t get to go back out for the rest of the race and earn some points. It’s sudden death, and that’s a bitter pill. To have such a good car and come out here and qualify No. 1, our fate is not in our hands right now. That’s the nature of our sport.”
Driver of the Pennzoil/NAPA AUTO PARTS Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat
Qualified: No. 16 (5.295 E.T. at 136.44 MPH)
E1: 4.158 E.T. at 320.51 MPH defeated Jack Beckman 5.012 E.T. at 207.88 MPH
E2: 3.962 E.T. at 326.87 MPH defeated Cruz Pedregon 3.961 E.T. at 324.36 MPH
E3: 4.160 E.T. at 247.38 MPH defeated Alexis DeJoria 5.175 E.T. at 142.10 MPH
E4: 3.952 E.T. at 325.14 MPH defeated by Tommy Johnson Jr. 3.929 E.T. at 321.94 MPH
Starting from the unfavorable and unfamiliar No. 16 qualifying position, Ron Capps battled through a competitive Funny Car field to advance to the final round on Sunday at the Mopar Express Lane NHRA SpringNationals Presented by Pennzoil.
Capps’ march to the final, his third appearance in the first 10 events, began with a monster first-round match-up against championship front-runner, Jack Beckman. Versus his No. 1 qualified teammate, Capps found himself engaged in a classic pedalfest, as both drivers lost traction in the tricky Sunday morning track conditions. Capps successfully got his Pennzoil/NAPA AUTO PARTS Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat to recover first, allowing him to take down Beckman and help to keep his own 2020 championship title hopes alive. Capps then used his starting line advantage to earn a holeshot victory over Cruz Pedregon in the quarterfinals, pitting him against Alexis DeJoria in the semis. Capps was on a good run until halftrack when he started dropping cylinders. Lucky for him, DeJoria suffered the same fate and Capps was able to hang on for the win, but not before his engine backfired, resulting in a cracked Funny Car body.
With the clock ticking, Capps and the Rahn Tobler-led NAPA team worked feverishly to prepare their back-up car in time for the Funny Car finals where they were set to square off with another DSR Dodge teammate, Tommy Johnson Jr. Against Johnson, Capps stole the starting line advantage, but by the 330-marker, Johnson had pulled into the lead and was able to cross the stripe first in a race so close, it was won by less than three-thousandths-of-a-second.
By advancing to the final round, Capps maintained his No. 4 ranking in the heated Funny Car championship chase. A total of 183 points are up for grabs in Las Vegas. Capps sits 163 points out of first.
“We were trying to implement some new parts and do some testing, and that’s hard to do with only two qualifying runs and you definitely don’t want to do that on Sunday. That put us behind. But I say it time and time again, coming in Sunday morning, I’ve never thought we didn’t have a chance at winning the race no matter what position we start from. We sure had the FOX TV people scrambling to see when the last time someone won from the 16th spot. You hate to knock out a teammate in the championship, but it’s mano-y-mano up there, and Sunday morning you have one of the leading cars in the points race, and we knew we were capable. It’s just one of those ‘grind ‘em out’ days. These are the weekends where you look back at the end of the season and you sort of circle them and you remember that this is where most teams would have gone out early and we gutted out a lot of big round wins and 20 points here and there. When you’re running great and things don’t go wrong, it seems a little easier. Today was one of those knock-down, drag-out fights. In the semifinals, I stayed in the throttle and I didn’t see Alexis (DeJoria). In a nitro Funny Car, when you stay in the throttle bad things can happen and unfortunately, we hurt the beautiful Pennzoil body. But fortunately, we have great sponsors with Pennzoil and NAPA AUTO PARTS and we have plenty of parts at DSR and we have four days to get to (Las) Vegas and do it again.”
Driver of the Pennzoil Synthetics Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat
Qualified: No. 2 (33.907 E.T. at 327.74 MPH)
E1: 4.286 E.T. at 301.00 MPH defeated Dave Richards 4.421 E.T. at 212.86 MPH
E2: 3.914 E.T. at 328.78 MPH defeated Blake Alexander 13.014 E.T. at 54.58 MPH
E3: 3.981 E.T. at 321.12 MPH defeated by Tommy Johnson Jr. 3.941 E.T. at 321.96 MPH
Matt Hagan entered his sponsor’s race armed with the Funny Car point lead. By blasting the Pennzoil Synthetics Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat to the quickest run of the opening qualifying session, Hagan captured three valuable bonus points and earned the No. 2 starting position.
Hagan began his race day with an ugly round win, pedaling to victory when his machine shook, rattled, and smoked the tires early into the run. His opponent, Dave Richards, also encountered issues but Hagan’s mastery behind the wheel enabled him to claim the win over his competitor.
Hagan and teammate Jack Beckman have been taking turns sitting atop the Funny Car championship leaderboard for the past two months, and after learning Beckman had bowed out early in round one, Hagan knew he had to capitalize on the opportunity to stack up as many points as possible. It was ‘mission accomplished’ in round two when Hagan navigated the Pennzoil Dodge to a smooth 3.914 E.T. to defeat Blake Alexander who smoked the tires right at the hit of the throttle. The semifinal round showdown between Hagan and teammate Tommy Johnson Jr. was a critical round for both championship-contending drivers. Both drivers made solid runs in their Dodge Hellcats with Johnson coming out on top.
A semifinal appearance coupled with a strong qualifying performance allowed Hagan to maintain the point lead heading into the final race of the season. He will carry a 42-point lead over Johnson, and a 43-point lead over Beckman.
“A really good weekend here in Houston with the Pennzoil colors again. We’d have liked to have been in the final round, but we picked up some points this weekend. It was a close race with TJ (Tommy Johnson, Jr.) in the semis, and I have all the confidence in the world in my crew and Dickie Venables rolling into Vegas. I’m confident we’re going to do what we need to do and win this thing. I’ve been on both sides of it. I’ve led, and I’ve chased, and I’d rather lead than be chasing going into Vegas. It’s a hard task trying to make up points. I’m proud of my guys to put ourselves in the position to make some ground this weekend and extend the lead.”NHRA Camping World Countdown to the Championship Standings (unofficial):
1. Steve Torrence – 868
2. Doug Kalitta – 767
3. Billy Torrence – 675
4. Leah Pruett – 670
5. Shawn Langdon – 544
6. Antron Brown – 534
7. Justin Ashley – 485
8. Terry McMillen – 436
9. Tony Schumacher – 415
10. Clay Millican – 414
1. Matt Hagan – 842
2. Tommy Johnson Jr. – 800
3. Jack Beckman – 799
4. Ron Capps – 679
5. Bob Tasca III – 595
6. J.R. Todd – 584
7. Tim Wilkerson – 570
8. Alexis DeJoria – 489
9. Cruz Pedregon – 388
10. Paul Lee – 382
Factory Stock Showdown Series:
Driver of the Empaco Equipment Mopar Dodge Challenger Drag Pak
Qualified: No. 2 (7.814 E.T. at 175.48 MPH)
E1: 7.900 E.T. at 173.38 MPH defeated Lindsey Wheelock 8.157 E.T. at 167.36 MPH
E2: 7.901 E.T. at 173.09 MPH defeated Stephen Bell 7.905 E.T. at 173.45 MPH
E3: Foul, red light; defeated by Aaron Stanfield 7.894 E.T. at 173.87 MPH
On Sunday at the SpringNationals, Mark Pawuk advanced the Empaco Equipment Mopar Dodge Challenger Drag Pak to the semifinals for the second week-in-a-row. Pawuk carried a strong qualifying run of 7.814 seconds from St. Louis into Houston to earn the No. 2 starting position. In round one, he piloted his machine to a 7.900 E.T. to outpace Lindsey Wheelock and advance to round two. He then used a stout .006-second reaction time coupled with another solid 7.90-second run to maintain the lead over Stephen Bell in the quarterfinals. The round win earned him a berth to the semifinals where he faced 2020 Factory Stock Showdown champion Aaron Stanfield. Unfortunately for Pawuk, his race would be over before it even began when he suffered a rare foul start, activating the red light and allowing Stanfield to claim the round win. While the 2020 championship chase may be over, Pawuk is focused on closing out the season with a Las Vegas trophy next Sunday when he seeks to maintain his No. 2 ranking.
“Another great weekend for the Don Schumacher Racing Empaco Equipment/Ohio CAT/Mr. Heater Dodge Drag Pak. Driver did his job second round, and unfortunately left a little bit early in the semis and the red light got us this weekend. But hey, another semifinal finish keeps us in the points. Unfortunately, we don’t have a shot at No. 1 anymore, but I think we are pretty solid at No. 2, and hopefully we can go to Vegas and carry this momentum for one more race. My last race I won as a professional, when I ran Pro Stock, was in Vegas in 2001. Would love to go back and win that race!”
Driver of the Mopar Dodge Challenger Drag Pak
Qualified: No. 11 (7.955 E.T. at 172.32 MPH)
E1: 8.611 E.T. at 171.08 MPH defeated by John Cerbone 7.903 E.T. at 170.77 MPH
Leah Pruett qualified 11th on the strength of her St. Louis Q1 run for the second-to-last Factory Stock Showdown event of the 2020 season. The Mopar Express Lane NHRA SpringNationals Presented by Pennzoil also marked the second-to-last event where she’ll wheel the Mopar Dodge Challenger Drag Pak she affectionately refers to as ‘el Bandito.’ Pruett was looking to have a long day at the rescheduled Houston event, but her hopes of a first Houston Factory Stock triumph were dashed when she stood on the gas in round one of eliminations and immediately spun the tires while her opponent made a clean pass for the win.
“We’re glad our qualifier from St. Louis held to carry us over. We were really running out of options with our program so we decided to make a setup change during the week, and no thanks to a delivery company, we didn’t get the parts we needed until late Saturday evening. We ran first round of eliminations rolling the dice with a setup we’ve never tested before and we had to go for it; it was the power we were looking for, but definitely too much. That’s given us good insight going into Las Vegas. It’s a different mindset when you’re not chasing a championship and you’re chasing progression, that’s what I’ve seen. We have something to work from for Vegas. Mark (Pawuk) is carrying the Mopar flag. We’ve figured out some things with ‘el Bandito’ and we’re feeling pumped.”ABOUT DON SCHUMACHER RACING
Established in 1998 as a single-car Top Fuel team, Don Schumacher Racing (DSR) has grown to become the winningest organization in NHRA Drag Racing history. Including team owner Don Schumacher’s five NHRA Funny Car titles from the 1970s, DSR’s current win count stands at 356, and DSR is one of a very small handful of teams in the motorsports industry to surpass the 350 milestone. DSR owns 17 world championships in three different NHRA categories.
Headquartered in Brownsburg, Indiana, DSR currently fields seven professional teams competing in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series. In Top Fuel, the Matco Tools/Global Electronic Technology/Toyota dragster driven by three-time world champion Antron Brown, the Mopar/Pennzoil dragster driven by Leah Pruett, and the Okuma/Sandvik Coromant machine driven by eight-time world champion, Tony Schumacher. In Funny Car, the NAPA AUTO PARTS Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat driven by 2016 world champion Ron Capps, the Mopar Express Lane/Pennzoil Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat piloted by two-time series title-holder Matt Hagan, and in Doug Chandler’s ‘giving cars,’ 2012 NHRA world champion Jack Beckman in the Infinite Hero Foundation Dodge, and Tommy Johnson Jr. behind the wheel of the MD Anderson Dodge.
DSR also campaigns two Factory Stock Showdown entries. The duo is piloted by Pruett, the 2018 Factory Stock Showdown Series champion, and former Pro Stock racer Mark Pawuk.
Photo Credit: Auto Imagery via Don Schumacher Racing