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SEASON OF CHANGE
It’s been a dominant run for Mopar® drivers in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series, earning five professional category championships in the last five years. The 2016 season will feature new looks and fresh faces, but with a lineup of drivers that have earned a collective 19 crowns, don’t doubt that the blue Omega M will be in the championship mix yet again. Here’s what Mopar is doing to stay on top.
With major makeovers happening both in the class and within the Team Mopar lineup, a pair of champions will join the fold, as back-to-back NHRA Pro Stock champ Erica Enders and five-time overall title winner Jeg Coughlin Jr. switch to Mopar. Fan favorite and 2012 champ Allen Johnson and veteran V. Gaines will also wheel Mopar machines.
The entire class will have to adjust to new rules designed to update the engine technology and increase spectator appeal. Gone are carburetors, (replaced by electronic fuel injection), wheelie bars have been shortened and hood scoops removed. For driver and teams, the changes will add short-term headaches. For fans, the new rules mean more excitement in a class already characterized by photo finishes.
Mopar will extend its reach to the NHRA Top Fuel class with an assist from a legendary eight-time series champ. DSR driver Tony “The Sarge” Schumacher will carry the Mopar logo on the valve covers of his HEMI engine-powered, 330-plus mph U.S. Army Top Fuel Dragster.
The 2016 season will mark the 50th anniversary of the NHRA Funny Car class, and the Don Schumacher Racing (DSR) foursome of Matt Hagan, Jack Beckman, Ron Capps and Tommy Johnson Jr. are hoping to celebrate with their fourth Mopar championship in the last six years. Minor tweaks have been made to strengthen the Dodge Charger R/T body that claimed 15 wins in 2015 and took all four DSR drivers to the top five.
The new year brings a fresh logo and TV package for the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series. FOX Sports 1 will provide coverage of Friday/Saturday qualifying and Sunday eliminations, with 17 eliminations shows presented live. Four live elimination shows — including the Mopar Mile- High NHRA Nationals — will air on the FOX national broadcast network.
Mopar is unveiling new initiatives and continuing with popular programs to support dedicated Sportsman competitors.
The Mopar Contingency Program, which rewards NHRA racers who compete and win with Mopar power, will see a slight expansion in 2016, with special contingency postings to be announced during the season. A dedicated online presence is also being developed to provide Sportsman racers and fans a source for at-track updates, Mopar contingency news and more. Look for more information in future issues of Mopar Magazine.
Popular events and programs will return to honor the passion of Sportsman racers. Mopar will host its annual U.S. Nationals Sportsman dinner and product presentation at the prestigious event in Indianapolis, and at season’s end the Tom Hoover Award will be presented to the Mopar Sportsman racer who earns the most points in NHRA Stock or Super Stock competition.
Claiming a championship at the strip isn’t quite as unique as it once was for a female driver. For proof, look no further than the two recent titles claimed by current Team Mopar® NHRA Pro Stock driver Erica Enders. Perhaps that’s why Mopar Dodge Challenger Drag Pak driver Michelle Chiles Martel is taking her 2015 IHRA Stock Eliminator World Championship trophy in stride.
Racing a 2010 Mopar Drag Pak (production No. 38), the Virginia-based driver scored the IHRA World Championship after a dramatic event run during the season-ending Summit Tournament of Champions held last year in Memphis, Tennessee.
Chiles Martel outran the “best of the best” in that elite format, invitation only race, which featured head-to-head competition to decide the IHRA’s ultimate Stock eliminator season title. Including Kevin Helms’ NHRA Stock Eliminator championship, Mopar Drag Pak drivers earned overall 2015 Stock crowns in both the NHRA and IHRA.
Chiles Martel’s Drag Pak was built originally from a body-in-white, with chassis work at KKRC and an engine program from Joe Clark Performance.
“I finished second in points within our IHRA Pro-Am Division, which qualified me for the World Finals,” said Martel. “Winning the World Championship was an incredible experience that I’ll never forget. It was surreal at that moment, and it’s still surreal.”
“I’ve been drag racing for the last 15 years, since my dad got us into Jr. Dragsters,” said Chiles Martel. “I get to spend a lot of time with my family, and my husband and I are passionate about the same thing. That in itself is a dream come true.”