Did you make it to this year's Gatornationals in Gainesville, FL? If you didn't, you missed one heckuva show, one where defending NHRA Pro Stock Champ Allen Johnson scored his first '13 win, and one where Johnny Gray drove his Dodge Charger Funny Car to the win.
Mopar drove its way to the winners circle for a third consecutive NHRA national event, this time posting notable wins in both Pro Stock and Funny Car classes at the 44th Annual Gatornationals.
Allen Johnson earned his first victory since the Mopar team’s Pro Stock Championship and title win in the 2012 season finale,and he did it on a holeshot over his teammate Jeg Coughlin Jr. in an all-Mopar final. Meanwhile, Funny Car driver Johnny Gray helped Don Schumacher Racing reach the 200-win milestone by posting his fourth career title in his Dodge Charger.
Both wins were firsts for each driver at the historic Gainesville Raceway.
“All of us at Mopar are very proud of Allen Johnson and Johnny Gray on doubling up today with wins at the NHRA Gatornationals to continue the strong start to the season,” said Pietro Gorlier, President and CEO of Mopar, Chrysler Group LLC’s service, parts and customer-care brand. “After winning both Pro Stock and Funny Car Championships in 2012, these two wins send a clear message that Mopar HEMI®-powered teams and drivers are once again going to be a force to reckon with in both classes, as they work to earn more wins and defend the world titles.”
After both Johnson and Coughlin put up career numbers in their Dodge Avengers with their qualifying runs, improving each of their marks for both quickest elapsed time and top speeds, they battled their way through eliminations only to set up a Mopar-versus-Mopar final showdown. Johnson’s quicker reaction time helped defeat his teammate with a 6.535-second elapsed time (212.59 mph) ahead of Coughlin’s quicker 6.514 E.T./212.25 mph.
It was Johnson’s first Gatornationals title win, and the 17th of his career after 37 final round appearances, and Coughlin’ssecond runner-up finish of the year.
“I think we’re one of the premier teams in Pro Stock now, and I think anyone would tell you that,” said Johnson after earning Mopar’s second Pro Stock title in three races this year after fellow teammate Vincent Nobile’s season-opening win over Coughlin. “We’ve got a crew that makes great decisions based on scientific methods and data, and we keep improving those decision-making tools. We’ll be right there again (for the championship).”
The three Hemi-powered teammates are now second (Coughlin), third (Johnson) and fourth (Nobile) in the championship points standing behind Mike Edwards, who took the lead on the merits of bonus points earned during the weekend as #1 qualifier, as well as setting the national event low E.T. and Gainesville top speed track records.
“I’ve said all along, everybody asks me why I hired my two assassins, two of the best drivers in the class,” said Johnson about battling his own teammates. “I said that they make me better. Last year in the last six races, I ran Vincent (Nobile) every race, and beat him in all six. I beat him because he challenges me and makes me better. That makes me better as a driver overall. Same thing with Jeggy (Coughlin), as I knew that I would have to do my ultimate best to beat him. I hope we can go head-to-head a bunch.”
In Funny Car action, after qualifying second, Gray helped garner the 199th win for his team in his Dodge Charger by beating Del Worsham at the finish with a 4.053 second/315.49 mph elapsed time run to his competitor’s 4.100 sec/303.50 mph pass.(Team Schumacher scored its 200th overall just minutes later, when Antron Brown won theGatornats' Top Fuel final.)
“It’s incredible,” Don Schumacher said. “It started in 1970 in Indianapolis, when I won the U.S. Nationals. I am not someone who ever counts things like that. I never thought it would happen or even considered it. Thanks to all of my drivers. They do an incredible job day in and day out.”
Gorlier conveyed Mopar’s pride at having being part of that journey. “On behalf of everyone at Mopar, I would like toextend our heartfelt congratulations to Don Schumacher and his team for reaching the 200 win milestone with victories by Johnny Gray in Funny Car and in Top Fuel with Antron Brown. Don has been a long-time loyal supporter and friend of the Mopar brand, as both a team owner and driver, making his first of many trips to the winner’s circle in 1970 Plymouth Barracuda Funny Car at the U.S. Nationals. We applaud his drive and determination that led him to this remarkable milestone and wish him many more wins in the years to come.”
Mopar driver Matt Hagan, a contributor to the Schumacher 200-win milestone with five titles of his own, qualified third for the Gatornationals and looked strong in his new blue and gold “Magneti Marelli Quality Auto Parts Offered by Mopar” Dodge Charger, but was ultimately defeated in the second round by his other DSR teammate, and defending 2012 champ, Jack Beckman. Hagan is fourth in the Funny Car championship standings behind teammates Ron Capps and Gray, who are tied with the lead with a win each.
Mopar will continue to work on adding to their four title wins with preparations for the next event, the 14th annual SummitRacing.com NHRA Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, slated for April 5-7, the fourth of 24 events on the 2013 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series schedule.
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