Mopar® Express Lane SpringNationals Presented by Pennzoil®
The 2019 Mopar® Express Lane SpringNationals presented by Pennzoil® recently took place at Houston Raceway Park April 12-14. In its 30-year history of hosting NHRA national event races, this was the first time that the Houston event was sponsored by Mopar and Pennzoil. Since Houston is also the home of Pennzoil, you can imagine the excitement in the region as this turned out to be one big Texas showdown at the Raceway Park!
To kick off the festivities, the Mopar Career Automotive Program (CAP) held a first-of-its-kind student “Assemble Your Future” career day at the race track. Students from Lone Star Community College – North Harris in Houston and San Jacinto College in Pasadena, Texas, received a behind-the-scenes tour of the Don Schumacher Racing (DSR) pit paddocks and were given the opportunity to meet with NHRA racers Matt Hagan, Leah Pritchett and their respective crews.
“We’re excited to launch the Mopar CAP ‘Assemble Your Future’ initiative and host our first group of technician students,” said Steve Beahm, Head of Parts and Service (Mopar) and Passenger Car Brands, FCA – North America. “This program allows the technicians of tomorrow to connect with more than 10 dealerships from the Houston area for potential career opportunities. It also provides a once-in-a-lifetime chance to meet and interact with NHRA superstars.”
The event will be replicated at all four of the Dodge/Mopar/Pennzoil race events in 2019. Those three remaining events are the NHRA races in Denver, Colorado; Reading, Pennsylvania; and Las Vegas, Nevada.
Starting on Friday, Houston NHRA fans came out in droves to support the drivers and teams competing. The large crowds and ecstatic fans did not stand in the way of the business at hand for the NHRA race teams and drivers.
As always, the event included classes of Nitro Top Fuel and Funny Car featuring Dodge/Mopar teams and drivers in both classes. The weather proved to be a challenge for local meteorologists as temperatures and winds seemed to change all day on Friday and Saturday. This made tuning a nightmare for all of the tuners attempting to maximize their 11,000-horsepower Nitro-powered machines.
In Top Fuel, Don Schumacher Racing driver Leah Pritchett and tuner Todd Okuhara were able to measure the conditions well enough to qualify for third position during the Sunday elimination rounds. This continued the trend of bringing their number 777 Top Fuel hot rod toward consistent round-winning results for the 2019 season.
For the Funny Car class, Don Schumacher Racing driver Ron Capps and tuner Rohn Tobler delivered a second position in qualifying for the number 28 Dodge Charger. In addition to Capps, DSR drivers Matt Hagan, Jack Beckman and Tommy Johnson Jr. finished sixth, eighth and 11th, respectively. The two additional entries of Cruz Pedregon — in his Cruz Pedregon Racing Charger — was seventh, while Jim Dunn Racing’s Dodge Charger driver, Jim Campbell, finished 13th in qualifying.
On race day, Pritchett started off strong by winning Round 1 in a very close race against Shawn Reed. In the second round, Pritchett lost on a red light to DSR teammate Antron Brown.
In Funny Car, Capps and Hagan were able to advance to the semi-finals where they faced one another. Hagan prevailed in a wild “peddle fest” that saw both drivers having to handle Funny Cars that repeatedly lost traction as they made their way down track.
This led to a showdown for Hagan in the finals where he narrowly lost to Robert Hight.
While Dodge and Mopar did not find victory lane in Top Fuel or Funny Car, the entire weekend was a big win for the fans of Dodge and Mopar, both on and off the track.