It was an all-Mopar Dodge SRT Funny Car final round showdown at the Arizona Nationals with Don Schumacher Racing driver Tommy Johnson Jr. earning his first victory of the 2020 National Hot Rod Association Mello Yello Series season over his teammate, Jack Beckman.
From his No. 4 qualifier position, Johnson drove his MD Anderson Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat past Paul Lee and Bob Tasca, then used a holeshot win over DSR teammate Ron Capps to set up a final elimination battle against Beckman. Johnson powered past his DSR opponent, who lost traction early, to make his way to the winner’s circle in the second event of the season.
With the win, Johnson collected his 18th career Funny Car national event Wally trophy, his second at Phoenix’s Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park and his first final round victory over Beckman in five final-elimination encounters.
The early season win provided some relief for Johnson and his team, who were looking to recover quickly from a difficult 2019 Countdown to the Championship that followed a promising regular season.
“We had such a good car last year and we didn’t finish well at all, so to come out strong and get that out of the way right off the bat and know how good a car you have right now is great,” said Johnson, who jumps four spots into second place in the Funny Car championship standings with his efforts this weekend.
“Now we just shift to maintaining it and learn from the mistakes you make. I think we learned really well what we did wrong last year and what we needed to do to fix it. It’s nice to be able to know that you did fix it.”
In the final against Johnson, Beckman initially had the advantage as they launched off the starting line but lost traction in his Infinite Hero Foundation Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat and, while he made efforts to pedal it, was unable to recover control quickly enough.
Coming off consecutive wins in both the 2019 season finale and the 2020 season opening national event at Pomona, Beckman’s runner-up finish to his teammate keeps him atop the Funny Car championship standings with 220 points.
The defending Arizona Nationals title winner, Matt Hagan, drove his Mopar Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat Funny Car to the provisional pole position with Friday’s second qualifying run and an elapsed time pass of 3.859 seconds at 331.61 mph. That time stood through Saturday’s qualifying session, shortened to just one run due to rain, to give him his second No.1 qualifier of the year, the 38th of his career and his second at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park.
In eliminations, Hagan beat his first round challenger, Jeff Diehl, off the starting line but as he began to power down the lane his Hemi-powered ride began to pull toward the centerline where it clipped a timing block to disqualify the run and bring his race day to a premature end. Despite the quick exit, Hagan remains fifth in points.
After qualifying eighth, Capps drove his Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat through the eliminations ladder with a win over J.R. Todd in the first round, followed by a quarterfinal victory against Jeff Diehl. That quarterfinal victory earned Capps a 750th career round win since making his professional debut in 1995 at this track while racing Top Fuel and earning his first round win against Joe Amato.
Capps then faced-off against his DSR teammate and eventual event winner Johnson in the semifinals for a solid side-by-side battle to the stripe. While he didn’t get the win, the result propelled Capps to the fourth spot in the Funny Car points standings.
In Top Fuel action, for a second consecutive national event, Leah Pruett drove her DSR Mopar Dodge SRT dragster to the third spot on the eliminations ladder to put herself in a good position to have a solid race-day showing. Bolstered by the memory of her first career Top Fuel victory at Phoenix in 2016, a No. 1 qualifier position in 2017 and runner-up finish last season in 2019, Pruett made quick work of getting through the first round and past Doug Foley with a solid 3.654-second run to make her way to the quarterfinals to face Billy Torrance. Once again, Pruett made another solid run with a 3.688-second elapsed time run but it wasn’t quite enough to beat her opponent to move further through elimination rounds. Pruett remains third in the Top Fuel standings.
With DSR Mopar Dodge SRT entries top-five in championship points and looking to continue to build on the momentum generated from two back-to-back Funny Car wins and No.1 qualifier positions to open the season, they now prepare to head to the East Coast for the third of 24 events on the 2020 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series schedule, the NHRA Gatornationals in Gainesville, Florida, March 13–15.