The latter part of the 2018 NHRA Mello Yello Series season was a wild ride for veteran nitro Funny Car driver Matt Hagan – literally.
Hagan, a two-time world champion (2011 and 2014), acknowledged to CompetitionPlus.com, a chassis issue with his Funny Car left him doubting his own ability.
“For six races toward the end of the year I had a froze kingpin in our front A-Arm and I told Dickie (Venables, Hagan’s crew chief) and we were blaming things on this new Hellcat body and all this other mess. I said in 10 years I’ve never had this many problems driving a race car. I said I need to take two weeks off or quit forever, or we have something really wrong.”
Fortunately for Hagan, his crew finally did diagnose the problem.
“After six races they found out it was a kingpin that was froze in our front A-Arm and they fixed it, and it was like driving a Cadillac again,” Hagan said. “There for a while, you start questioning your abilities and everything else. Then, it all came down to a little part on the race car that wasn’t right that seized up and froze up. With that (a kingpin that was froze in our front A-Arm), when you put the car to the right, it just keeps going right. A lot of times you will move it and it settles back down, well then you have to pull it all the way back to the left again. It looks like a heartbeat monitor on the Lateral Gs when you’re going down through there. It was everywhere.
“We fixed it for the last two races of the Countdown, but six races before that and before the Countdown I was like I can’t drive this thing. My mind is at ease going into 2019 that we found the problem. It wasn’t that my guys weren’t looking for what was wrong, but we just put that new (Hellcat) body on there and we were looking at this body and trying to dissect it and we never really chased down the chassis side of it. It was huge for us to find that and fix that and knowing it wasn’t the new Hellcat body. I also didn’t want to go into the offseason going like ‘Can I still drive a race car?’
Hagan also was not blaming the chassis issue on his team’s results. His Don Schumacher Racing Funny Car dropped to eighth in the points standings.
“There’s no excuse for our performance,” Hagan said. “We came into the Countdown second and finished eighth. We just kind of fell off. Nobody can make any excuses for that; those results speak for themselves. We just didn’t perform. We have to re-evaluate what we are doing and hopefully enter 2019 with a little better game plan than we left 2018 with. I think we are going to continue with the five-disc (clutch) like our teams are. There’s still that possibility since we spent so much time on the six-disc that we might go back to it.”
For the upcoming season, Hagan said his crew remains intact which he welcomes.
“We have all of our crew guys which is good, nobody left, and we are not having to train anybody new,” he said. “Everybody is in the same position. Dickie (Venables) is back and as far as I know everything should be just like we left it. It’s going to be really nice not having to train somebody and knowing that we can roll right into competition and our guys can make the turn and nothing is going to be new.”
Now, Hagan is counting the days until the 2019 season-opening Winternationals Feb. 7-10 in Pomona, Calif.
“I’m so ready to get back in a race car it is crazy,” Hagan said. “It is a fix you can’t get anywhere else. It’s a great adrenaline high. Being out of a car for a couple of months just makes you appreciate how special that is that are more than seven billion people in the world and there are probably 50 of us that get to do what we do. When you put that in perspective, that is amazing. I definitely don’t take any time I get to stand on the loud pedal for granted.”