2021 NHRA Opener is Worst Outing for Team Mopar Since 2019

A Don Schumacher Racing Dodge Charger funny car won every single event during the shortened 2020 NHRA racing season, with Matt Hagan taking home the class championship as Team Mopar teammates Tommy Johnson Jr, Jack Beckman and Ron Capps finished second, third and fourth in the championship race. Hagan won two of the last three races of 2019 and Beckman won the third, so a DSR Charger has won the funny car class at every NHRA event since the third “shootout” race of 2019 – leading to a total of 14-straight national event wins.

Matt Hagan Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat Redeye Funny Car

With success like that, it seems likely that the Don Schumacher Racing drivers came into the 2021 season opener in Florida, even though the team has shrunken quite a bit during the off-season. Both Jack Beckman and Tommy Johnson Jr were released from the team, so the four-car team from 2020 was a two-car team at the 2021 Gatornationals, with Ron Capps and Matt Hagan left to take on the competition from Chevy, Ford and Toyota.

Ron Capps Dodge Charger

Sadly, it didn’t go as planned, as not only did a Dodge Charger not win the race, but there wasn’t even a DSR car in the semifinals, making this the team’s worst outing in well over a year. It didn’t go well for the Mopar entries in the Top Fuel or Factory Stock Showdown classes, either.

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Leah Pruett Dodge Challenger

Good Start Ends Quickly

Things started off well for Don Schumacher Racing, with Ron Capps setting the top time in qualifying in the first round with a 3.895 at 329 miles per hour. That time would hold up through all three rounds, putting Capps in the top spot for the start of eliminations. In fact, his 3.895 was the quickest funny car run of the event, as no one in the class ran in the 3.8X range during eliminations. Meanwhile, it took Matt Hagan a few runs, but with a 3.974 at 325, he qualified in the 8th spot on the elimination ladder.

Matt Hagan Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat Redeye Funny Car

The first round went well for Capps, who ran a 3.923 to beat Jim Campbell, but Matt Hagan lost a close first round battle to Bob Tasca’s Mustang, so the 2020 champ was out early. Tasca went on to beat Ron Capps in the second round when the Dodge Charger ran into issues, coasting through the top end with a 4.946 at 158 miles per hour. At that point, there were no Team Mopar racers left in the funny car class.

Ron Capps Dodge Charger

The final round saw Robert Hight and his Camaro take on JR Todd and his Camry. Both drivers had issues, but Todd managed to get to the line first, winning with a 5.184 at 286. That is what you get when there are no Mopars in the finals…a winner running a 5.XX in a Toyota Camry.

*Update: We focus so much on the Don Schumacher Racing teams due to their involvement with folks from Mopar that we forgot to include Cruz Pedregon, who drives a Dodge Charger funny car for his own team. Pedregon qualified 7th, beating Chad Green in the first round and Alexis DeJoria in the second round, advancing to the semifinals, where he ran into issues and lost to JR Todd. So, while neither of the DSR Chargers made it to the semifinals, there was still a Mopar-powered racer in the final four of the 2021 Gatornationals.

Top Fuel Results

While the Top Fuel vehicles aren’t branded, racing fans know that Leah Pruett’s Don Schumacher Racing dragster wears Dodge Hellcat branding. Pruett had a great qualifying run, grabbing the 3rd spot on the ladder and she won her first round matchup against Mike Butcher. However, Shawn Langdon beat her in a tight race in the second round, putting an end to her first event in the Top Fuel class.

Leah Pruett Dodge Top Fuel Dragster

As a reminder, Leah Pruett will be appearing at the upcoming Modern Street Hemi Shootout event in Florida. Click here for more information on that.

Factory Stock Showdown

There were two Dodge Challenger Drag Pack entries in the Factory Stock Showdown class at the Gatornationals, one driven by Mark Pawuk and the other driven by Leah Pruett. The rest of the field was made up of Ford Mustang Cobra Jets and Chevrolet Camaro COPOs, including Aaron Stanfield, who won five of the six FSS events in 2020. Spoiler alert – Stanfield won the 2021 Gatornationals in the Factory Stock Showdown class, too. There were more than 20 cars in the class, with only 16 making it into the elimination round. Pruett qualified 13th, Pawuk qualified 11th.

Leah Pruett Dodge Challenger

Leah Pruett ran a 7.806 at 177.44 miles per hour in the first round, losing to John Cerbone. Cerbone ran a slower 7.808 at 174, but his .002 reaction time made the difference when Pruett pulled a .073 reaction time. Meanwhile, Mark Pawuk made a free pass in the first round, running a 7.855 at 174 to advance to the second round. Pawuk got another win in round 2 with a 8.038 at 170 on another free pass, but his luck ended in the third round, when he was paired up with Aaron Stanfield. Pawuk lost on the redlight start and Stanfield advanced with a 7.89 at 173. He won in the finals with a 7.896 at 173 miles per hour.

Mark Pawuk Dodge Challenger

In short, it was one of the worst weekends for the Mopar drag racing program in more than a year, but we know that these teams will make improvements as the season goes on.

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