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New season kicks off for Mopar and Dodge

by Bill Cawthon on

The 2017 NHRA Mello Yello drag racing season began today with the opening of the 2017 Winternationals at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona, California.

After a dominant Funny Car season that saw Ron Capps win his first-ever championship and Dodge taking home the Manufacturers championship for the first time in decades, all four Don Schumacher Racing Charger R/Ts are back to take a shot at another championship. Of the four DSR drivers, only Tommy Johnson Jr. hasn’t collected a championship.

Jim Campbell has replaced John Hale at the wheel of the Jim Dunn Racing Dodge, the fifth 2017 Charger in the field. Campbell competed in 11 events during the 2016 season and finished 15th in the point standings while Hale ran a full season and finished 13th.

Campbell isn’t new to Dodges; in 2016 he competed in a Charger owned by Chuck and Del Worsham (Worsham won the 2015 Championship in the DHL Toyota Camry).

There are two more Dodges in the 18-entry Funny Car field, both 2014 Chargers. Bob Bode, who competed in a Toyota last year, will be driving the Arbee Plastic Bags Charger and Phil Burkhart Jr. will be racing for

leah Pritchett

Leah Pritchett, will be back in her DSR Mopar-powered Top Fuel dragster, still sponsored by Papa John’s Pizza (the official pizza of the NHRA). Pritchett, who finished seventh in the Top Fuel points race last year, turned in an unofficial 3.677-second ET, the fourth-fastest in Top Fuel history, in testing at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park in Chandler, Arizona.

Although Mopar and Dodge have officially withdrawn from Pro Stock, Allen Johnson is keeping the faith with another season behind the wheel of the Mopar 500-powered Marathon Oil Dart. It’s listed as a 2017 Dart, which probably makes it the only 2017 Dodge Dart in the world.

Deric Kramer and Alan Prusiensky will be back with their 2016 Darts and their 2016 sponsors.

With Erica Enders and Jeg Coughlin Jr. returning to Camaros after a disappointing season in 2016, the three Dodges will be up against an army of Chevys. Johnson did manage to pull out a win last year and finished eight in the Countdown to the Championship.

Qualifying for Sportsman class got underway at 8:15 AM local time (11:15 Eastern) and Top Alcohol racers will take their first trips down the track this afternoon. Top Fuel and Pro Stock qualifying are supposed to begin tomorrow and continue through Saturday but rain is forecast for much of Friday and Friday night so the schedule is definitely subject to change. The National Weather Service is calling for sunny and cool for Saturday’s qualifying rounds and for the eliminations scheduled for Sunday.

Bill Cawthon grew up in the auto industry in the 1950s. His Dad worked for Chrysler and Bill spent a number of Saturdays down on the plant floor at Dodge Main in Hamtramck. Bill is also the U.S. market correspondent for, a British auto industry publication, and a member of the Texas Auto Writers Association, which has named the Jeep Grand Cherokee the “SUV of Texas” several times and named the Ram 1500 as the “Truck of Texas” two years running.

Bill has owned five Plymouths (including the only 1962 “Texan”), one Dodge and one Chrysler and is still trying to figure out how to justify a Wrangler. He also has owned at least one of every 1:87 scale model of a Chrysler product. You can reach him directly at (206) 888-7324 or by using the form.

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