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NHRA Winternationals


Words by Kay Burk

Photos by Ron Lewis and Pam Conrad

Matt Hagan takes the Funny Car win for Mopar over Robert Hight. 


Matt Hagan started the 2018 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series the same way he began his 2017 season — driving the Mopar and Dodge//SRT brands to victory at the NHRA Winternationals in Pomona, CA.


The two-time NHRA Funny Car champion wrapped up a dominant weekend in which he also claimed the pole in his Mopar Express Lane Dodge Charger R/T Funny Car by outgunning Robert Hight in the final round at Auto Club Raceway. The victory was Hagan’s second straight at the NHRA Winternationals and the 27th of his career in 48 final rounds.


“Congratulations to Mopar Express Lane Dodge Charger R/T driver Matt Hagan on starting off the 2018 NHRA season with a visit to winner’s circle,” said Pietro Gorlier, head of Park and Service (Mopar). “The Mopar and Dodge brands are working even closer together this year to expand our commitment to NHRA, and this is a great early return on that teamwork. We’re hopeful this is the first of many Sunday celebrations at the drag strip for our brands this year.”

Top Fuel driver Tony Schumacher raced his Mopar HEMI-powered U.S. Army dragster to his first final round since the 2017 Atlanta event. Schumacher outran Terry McMillen, Terry Haddock and Antron Brown before falling to Doug Kalitta in the money round. 


Adding to the Mopar and Dodge//SRT Sunday celebration was a runner-up showing by Hagan’s Don Schumacher Racing (DSR) teammate Tony Schumacher in Top Fuel and an NHRA Stock Eliminator win by Larry Gilley in a 1969 Dodge Dart GTS 340. Hagan was also joined in the Funny Car semifinals by two of his Mopar-powered DSR Dodge teammates, Jack Beckman and Ron Capps.

Mopar Dodge NHRA Top Fuel dragster driver Leah Pritchett will look to rebound from an early first-round exit at Pomona. Starting from the No. 4 spot in the first round against Scott Palmer, Pritchett’s parachute popped out prematurely during the burnout, ending the DSR star’s Winternationals title defense before it could truly begin.

All Pritchett could do was watch teammate Matt Hagan make winning rounds all day. 


After earning the No. 1 qualifying spot on Saturday with a 3.822-second elapsed time (ET), Hagan recorded the second quickest run of the first round on Sunday to defeat Dodge Charger R/T driver Jim Campbell. The DSR driver next bested Cruz Pedregon before winning a tight all-Mopar Dodge match against Capps. In the final, Hagan’s 3.823/335.90 run was enough to hold off Hight’s strong 3.866/336.99 pass.

Jim Dunn’s Charger Funny Car sported a new look from sponsor Mooneyes to start the season. Driver Jim Campbell met Hagan in the first round and was out of the competition. 

Infinite Hero Dodge Charger R/T Funny Car driver Beckman posted impressive numbers in the first two elimination rounds. The 2012 Funny Car champion opened his day by using the third-quickest run of the round to best Bob Tasca, and then was quickest in the quarterfinals in trailering Tim Wilkerson. That ended in the semis, when Beckman’s car went quiet shortly after launch, ending his day.

Ron Capps’ crew gets the Charger ready to run in the staging lanes. 


Capps’ run to the semifinals included a first-round win over Shawn Langdon and an interesting battle with Jonnie Lindberg in the quarterfinals. Lindberg took the red light foul loss after leaving too early, which also caused Capps to launch a tad too soon as well.

The fourth DSR Funny Car team member, Make-A-Wish Dodge Charger R/T driver Tommy Johnson, was unable to move past the first round after smoking the tires and losing to Cruz Pedregon. 

Alan Prusiensky is the only Dodge Dart driver in the Pro Stock class after Allen Johnson retired and Deric Kramer moved to Chevrolet. Prusiensky moved too soon in his first-round match with Vincent Nobile. 




Just like in the professional ranks, a Mopar-powered NHRA Sportsman competitor visited the winner’s circle at Pomona. Larry Gilley marched through six rounds of intense competition and reached the finish line first in a heads-up final to claim the Stock Eliminator crown at Pomona in his 1968 Dodge Dart GTS 340.


“It’s a dream come true. I’ve always wanted to win the Winternationals my whole life, since I was a kid and came her with my father,” said Gilley, 54, who also earned the $500 Dodge Top Finisher award with his victory. Winner of the prestigious NHRA U.S. Nationals event last year, Gilley has been competing for more than 15 years in nothing but Mopar-powered Dodge and Plymouth muscle cars.

Larry Gilley (far lane) got the win in Stock running the quarter mile in 10.627 seconds to 10.664 seconds for Ryan Mangus’ Camaro. 


“NHRA Sportsman racers are the most dedicated and passionate competitors, and we congratulate Larry Gilley on his victory today,” said Pietro Gorlier, Head of Parts and Service (Mopar), FCA. “Through our long-running Mopar Contingency Program, we are able to recognize and reward racers like Larry who compete and win with Mopar products. We hope this victory is the first of many in 2018 for our Mopar-powered Sportsman competitors.”


Under the Mopar Contingency Program, Sportsman racers who win or finish runner-up while utilizing Mopar valve covers, intake manifolds, cylinder heads and engine assemblies are eligible for monetary rewards.


“Congratulations to Larry Gilley on racing his Dodge Dart GTS 340 to victory today in the Stock Eliminator class,” said Steve Beahm, Head of Passenger Cars, Dodge//SRT, Chrysler and FIAT, FCA North America. “We are proud to support passionate Sportsman racers like Gilley through the Dodge Top Finisher award, now in its second year, which awards $500 to the Stock and Super Stock drivers who advance the furthest behind the wheel of a Mopar-powered car at all 24 national events.”


Staci Smith, from Lancaster, CA, drove her 1993 Dodge Daytona Super Stocker to the fifth round at the season-opening event. Smith’s Daytona runs in the GT/HA category, allowing her to convert the car to a rear-wheel-drive configuration and install a Mopar V8 engine. Smith, a 30-year-old who has spent most of her life racing with her family, took home the Dodge Top Finisher award in Super Stock.

A tribute to the famous Yeakel Plymouth Special Top Fuel Dragster was on display. The original car from the 1960’s was owned by Lou Blaney, tuned by Vince Rossi, and driven by Tom “Mongoose” McEwen.    



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