NHRA Funny Car Standout Hagan Remains Driven

Courtesy of NHRA Communications

Matt Hagan already has two world championships and 18 career wins in what has been a standout Funny Car career in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series. 

But those accomplishments, coupled with the ultra-competitive and record-breaking state of the Funny Car class, only has the Don Schumacher Racing star even more driven for the 2016 season in his 10,000-horsepower Mopar Express Lane/Rocky Boots Dodge Charger R/T.

Coming off a first-round loss at the season-opening race in Pomona, Hagan has high hopes heading to Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park, home to the CARQUEST Auto Parts NHRA Nationals, Feb. 26-28. Hagan is the defending winner of the event, making it the perfect opportunity to start his championship quest.

“I’m focused for sure and very driven to win another championship this year,” Hagan said. “We have all the folks to do it and I think DSR is one of those teams that will be a handful for everyone. I hope we’re one of those cars nobody wants to race. We’ve got good people, good parts and it’s just a matter of executing on raceday. As a driver, it’s about being focused and when you have a great car you don’t mess it up. I want to make sure I’m doing my job and holding up my end of the bargain.”

Tony Schumacher (Top Fuel) and Rodger Brogdon (Pro Stock) joined Hagan in the Winner’s Circle last year. For fans watching at home, the race will be televised nationally on Fox Sports 1 (FS1), including Saturday qualifying coverage as well as live coverage of Sunday’s finals at 5 p.m. (ET). The race is the second of 24 during the 2016 season and Hagan, who won world championships in 2011 and 2014, hopes for better results in Phoenix after a hiccup in Pomona.

The opener wasn’t what the team envisioned, but crew chief Dickie Venables got to the heart of the matter almost immediately after the first-round loss to Chad Head. Venables and the team disassembled the car in the pits, quickly finding the root of the problem. It wasn’t the most ideal situation, but Hagan was pleased the team resolved the issue swiftly, hopefully ensuring there won’t be a carryover heading to Phoenix.

“We got to looking and there was some stuff that just wasn’t right on the car,” Hagan said. “We pulled our old car back out. It’s proven, has a lot of notes on it and we won a championship with it. Eventually we’re going to have to run a new car but some of the stuff put us in a bind and we had to make some changes. Hopefully we can make up some ground with this car going to Phoenix. That’s racing, everything is not right all the time. It’s unfortunate it happened but I would rather catch it now than five races into it.”

That’s the advantage of having a crew chief like Venables, who zeroed in on a solution before the team even left the track in Pomona. It is something that Hagan certainly appreciates and it is a big part of the reason the team has meshed so well.

“I plan on winning a lot of races this year but planning and doing are two different things,” said Hagan, who won four races in 2015. “(Dickie) is so tedious with everything. He knows what is broke and how to fix it. You have to have a guy like that if you want to have any success in this class. He creates answers and that’s what you need. You need that type of guy. He’ll get out there and do whatever it takes. (In Pomona), he tore the car apart and found the solution. It’s pretty cool to see he cares that much.”

Finding immediate solutions and advantages is a must these days in Funny Car, which features a host of star drivers who delivered a renaissance season in 2015. The class reached new heights, records were broken multiple times and the category became even more competitive. 

Del Worsham ended up with the world championship thanks to an impressive performance in the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship, but other top drivers include national record holder and seven-time 2015 winner Jack Beckman and 16-time world champ John Force, the winningest driver in NHRA history at Phoenix with eight victories, Tommy Johnson Jr., Ron Capps, who won in Pomona, Courtney Force, Cruz Pedregon, Alexis DeJoria and Robert Hight.

Hagan knows he needs to continue to improve to have success in 2016. He won four races in the first 11 events last season but went winless for the rest of 2015, something the Christiansburg, Va. cattle rancher hopes to avoid in 2016. 

“All of these cars are so competitive and that makes it so tough,” Hagan said. “Funny Car, man, hands down is the most competitive class out there. There’s so many cars that can go out there and win on Sunday.” 

In Top Fuel, defending world champ and three-time Phoenix winner Antron Brown will battle against a tough field of contenders including U.S. Army dragster pilot Schumacher, the defending and five-time CARQUEST Nationals winner. Other challengers include talented Aussie Richie Crampton, Brittany Force, Doug Kalitta, Shawn Langdon, Steve Torrence, who won the season-opening race in Pomona, J.R. Todd and Quaker State dragster driver Leah Pritchett. 

Competition is expected to be fierce in the new-look NHRA Pro Stock category and two-time defending world champ Erica Enders and her new Dodge Dart teammate, five-time world champ Jeg Coughlin, are both past winners at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park. Others expected to challenge for the victory in the 200-mph factory hot rod class include last year's top rookie, Drew Skillman, tough Texan Chris McGaha, Shane Gray, Vincent Nobile, Bo Butner and veteran racer Allen Johnson, Pomona winner and points leader Greg Anderson, Jason Line and V. Gaines.

The sleek new Pro Stock cars will feature fuel-injected engines, shorter wheelie bars, flat hoods and a 10,500 RPM rev-limiter.

As always, fans will have the opportunity to interact with their favorite drivers as they’re granted an exclusive pit pass to the most powerful and sensory-filled motorsports attraction on the planet. This unique opportunity in motorsports gives fans direct access to the teams, allowing them to see firsthand the highly-skilled mechanics service their hot rods between rounds, and get autographs from their favorite NHRA drivers.

The event also will feature thrilling competition in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series.

Mello Yello Drag Racing Series qualifying will feature two rounds at 1:30 and 4 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 26 and the final two rounds of qualifying on Saturday, Feb. 27, also at 1:30 and 4 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sunday, Feb. 28.

To purchase general-admission or reserved seats, call (800) 884-NHRA (6472) or visit www.NHRA.com/tickets.  Kids 12 and under are free in general admission areas with a paid adult. For more information about the NHRA visit www.NHRA.com.


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