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Hagan, Beckman, Johnson Jr. and Capps dominating NHRA Funny Car division

by Mike Haag | Posted on Saturday, October 17th, 2020

ENNIS – The battle for the Camping World NHRA Drag Racing Series Nitro Funny Car class is going down to the wire between Don Schumacher Racing drivers Matt Hagan, Jack Beckman, Tommy Johnson Jr. and Ron Capps.

Matt Hagan. NHRA photo

The quartet of drivers will square off against each other on Sunday during the opening rounds at the AAA Texas NHRA Fall Nationals at the Texas Motorplex near Dallas.  The elimination rounds begin at 10 a.m. TV coverage begins at 1 p.m. CT on FS1.

With three races remaining on the season schedule Hagan enters the race with a 16-point lead over Beckman. Johnson is 34 points back in third and Capps, who is a distant fourth, trails Hagan by 132 points and still has a mathematical shot.  Tim Wilkerson, J.R. Todd, Bob Tasca III, Alexis DeJoria, Paul Lee and Cruz Pedregon round out the top 10 in the standings.

All four of the DSR Funny Car drivers have each notched two wins a piece this season with Johnson scoring the latest victory for DSR at the Mopar Express Lane NHRA Midwest Nationals presented by Pennzoil two weeks ago at World Wide Technology Raceway in St. Louis.

Matt Hagan. NHRA photo

“Rolling into Dallas as the new point leader, obviously there’s pressure all year long but now it’s time to make sure we keep that lead,” Hagan said.  “We made up so much ground these last few races and were able to take the No. 1 spot from Jack Beckman. The points are still super tight though, and at the end of the day, Dallas is another race.”

Hagan, who drives the Pennzoil Synthetics Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat, has two wins in three final rounds this season.  He is a three-time event winner at the Texas Motorplex having won in 2010, 2016 and 2019, a race where he defeated Blake Alexander, Todd, Robert Hight and Tasca III.

Jack Beckman. NHRA photo

“Our car has been running really well all season long and (crew chief) Dickie Venables has a great handle on the tune-up,” Hagan said.  “Going to a new track, new conditions, only two qualifying sessions, you just never know, but we’ll take it one round at a time. We’re running the Pennzoil scheme for the first time this year and it’s exciting to show them some new love, especially in their home state of Texas. We’re looking forward to doing big things, we’re blessed to do what we do, and I’m really proud of my team. Going to go out here and have some fun.”

No. 2 ranked Beckman, who drives the Infinite Hero Foundation Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat, has two wins in four final rounds this season.  At the last race at St. Louis he was defeated by Johnson Jr. in the semifinals.

Jack Beckman. NHRA photo

“This year marks the 35th year of the Texas Motorplex, and let me tell you, I was there for ‘year one,’” Beckman said.  “I drove a thousand-mile round trip with a buddy of mine from the Air Force to be at the 1986 Nationals, and it was breathtaking.”

Beckman has 32 wins and 27 No. 1 qualifiers but he has never won at the FallNationals at the Texas Motorplex.  He finished as the runner-up in 2009 and 2015 and last year after qualifying 12th he was defeated by Tasca III in the quarterfinals.

“Texas Motorplex is a state-of-the-art facility and there was nothing like it at the time,” Beckman said.  “It still makes the hair on my arms stand up just thinking about it. I’ve had so many awesome experiences at Dallas over the years. What I have not had, is a winner’s circle, and we fully intend to fix that this year.”

Tommy Johnson Jr. NHRA photo

Johnson, driver of the MD Anderson Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat, enters the weekend as the most recent Funny Car winner on the tour after he defeated Terry Haddock, Lee, Beckman and Hagan two weeks ago in St. Louis.

“Looking forward to Dallas, especially with the momentum coming off of the win at our last race in St. Louis,” Johnson Jr. said.  “It’s getting down to crunch time, only three races left.  Texas Motorplex is such a historic track. I’ve been going there for years, and there are quite a few sentimental memories there. This year, with the limited NHRA schedule, we weren’t sure what would end up back on our schedule, but I’m certainly happy we’re able to go to the Motorplex, the original all-concrete track.”

Tommy Johnson Jr. NHRA photo

Johnson Jr., a two-time event winner this season, is hoping to record his third win of 2020 and first at the Texas Motorplex.  He was the runner-up in 1999, the No. 1 qualifier in 2018 and last year he qualified ninth and was defeated in the quarterfinals by John Force.  A victory this weekend would be the 21st of his Funny Car career.

“The conditions should be good for everybody,” Johnson Jr. said.  “It’ll be interesting, we’ve had extreme heat followed by extreme cold at the last two races, so maybe we’ll meet somewhere in the middle this weekend. Our MD Anderson team needs to go rounds and we would love nothing more than to win it this weekend; that would help our cause a lot. Not only are we battling everyone else for the race win, but we’re battling our teammates for the points. It’s going to come down to the wire, but I’m looking forward to building off of the momentum we’ve got.”

Ron Capps. NHRA photo

Capps, who drives the NAPA Auto Parts Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat, remains in the championship hunt after posting two event wins and 13 round wins this season. He is hoping to improve from his last performance in St. Louis where he qualified 14th and was defeated in the quarterfinals by Hagan.

“2020 has been weird, but look how it’s blossomed into having Camping World come on board, and the fact that I get to strap into the NAPA Auto Parts Funny Car a few more times this year is awesome,” Capps said.  “We’re pumped to get to Dallas and try and move our way back up into the point standings and see if we can run for the championship this year.”

Ron Capps. NHRA photo

Despite picking up a Texas Motorplex win in 1998 at the discontinued Dallas 1 event, Capps is still searching for his first FallNationals victory.  The 66-time NHRA Funny Car winner has finished as the runner-up in 2011, 2016-17.  He was the No. 1 qualifier here in 1997 and 2005.  Last year at this race he qualified fifth and was defeated in the first round by Beckman. 

“I have to be honest, every time we’re talking about these upcoming races, I think some of us are taking this for granted.” Capps said.  “It was only a few months ago that we were all wondering what was going to go on with the NHRA season, and while it’s been a crazy year, we obviously hoped that we were going to see some of these race tracks back on our schedule. Props to NHRA for keeping us out racing.  I’m always excited to go to Dallas and visit Billy Meyer’s Texas Motorplex. Billy is an old Funny Car driver and I always thought the world of him, especially when he built the ‘super track’ back in the day. It’s a great race track, the fans are unbelievable there. It’s great for our sport to get back there.”

DSR drivers by the numbers

Hagan

Career: 272 races; 35 wins; 39 No. 1 qualifiers

Season: Two event wins; 18 round wins; ranked first in points

2019 at Dallas: Hagan qualified sixth and won the event after defeating Blake Alexander, J.R. Todd, Robert Hight and Bob Tasca III.

Beckman

Career: 332 races; 32 wins; 27 No. 1 qualifiers

Season: Two event wins; 18 round wins; ranked second in points

2019 at Dallas: Beckman qualified 12th and was defeated by Bob Tasca III in the quarterfinal round.

Tommy Johnson Jr.

Career: 477 races; 20 wins (two Top Fuel); 21 No. 1 qualifiers (one Top Fuel)

Season: Two event wins; 16 round wins; ranked third in points

2019 at Dallas: Johnson Jr. qualified eighth and was defeated in the quarterfinals by John Force.

Ron Capps

Career: 563 races; 66 wins (one Top Fuel); 24 No. 1 qualifiers

Season: Two event wins; 13 round wins; ranked fourth in points

2019 at Dallas: After qualifying fifth Capps was defeated in the first round by Beckman.

About the Author

Mike Haag has covered motorsports in San Antonio and South Texas for more than 33 years. In addition to covering motorsports for the San Antonio Express-News for nearly 28 years, Mike also has co-hosted TrackSmack with Dawn Murphy for 16 race seasons. In addition to being a writer, Mike taught high school English and Journalism for 30 years before retiring in May, 2020.