There was a time – not long ago – that Matt Hagan’s chances of winning an NHRA nitro Funny Car Mello Yello Series world championship seemed dead.
That’s not the case anymore.
Thanks to back-to-back wins at Dallas and Las Vegas, Hagan is right in the title hunt, just 56 points behind leader Robert Hight with one race remaining – the Auto Club Finals in Pomona, Calif. (Nov. 14-17).
Hagan put himself in this position by winning the NHRA Nationals presented by Pennzoil at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway Sunday.
Hagan clocked a 3.876-second elapsed time at 331.36 mph in the finals to beat Jonnie Lindberg’s 3.945-second lap at 321.12 mph at The Strip.
“We are just thankful to be here, and the glory goes to God,” Hagan said. “It all worked out and lined up. We got some lady luck this weekend and I want to say thank you to my guys who bust their a** and work so hard on this car. To come back from nothing and not really be in it to now we’re right in the thick of this hunt with points-and-a-half in Pomona. I love my guys and Dickie Venables (Hagan’s crew chief), bad a** job. I love you.”
Hagan pilots the MOPAR Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat Widebody for Don Schumacher Racing.
“Good job to Jonnie and Jim Head and those guys, he drove his a** off (Sunday),” Hagan said. “I’m telling you what, I’m excited. I’m fired up right now. When you have that opportunity to come into Pomona and still be in the championship hunt, that is why we do this. This is what gets my adrenaline pumping. I love winning races, but it is about this hunt. That’s what gets me fired up and gets me motivated. It makes me want to come in here and dig and work and just keep my nose to the grindstone and turn on win lights. I’m just so proud of my guys. They are killing it.
Coming into Pomona, I wish it was tomorrow. Let’s do this. Let’s get it done.”
The unofficial points standings after Vegas have Hight in front followed by Jack Beckman (46 points back), Hagan (56 back), John Force (72 back), Bob Tasca III (104 back), Ron Capps (160 back), J.R. Todd (182 back) and Tommy Johnson Jr. (188 back).
In Pomona, the points-and-a-half system will be in play. There is a maximum of 191 points available for competitors in Pomona. Qualifying runs are 15 points, with a maximum of 26 points in qualifying and 30 points are up for grabs each round.
“We kind of knew (the 6-disc clutch) needed to be in there, but we were struggling with it,” Venables said. “It just takes time. It takes runs and fortunately, we were able to do that and get the thing where it needs to be. What a great job Matt did all weekend. He drove his butt off. My guys, I can’t say enough about them. They were flawless.”
Hagan, who won NHRA nitro Funny Car world titles in 2011 and 2014, captured his 33rd career win and fourth this season. He has victories this season in Phoenix, Ariz., Epping, N.H., Dallas and Las Vegas.
This was Hagan’s second career win at the Vegas fall race. His other came in 2017.
Hagan’s victory parade Sunday consisted of wins over Paul Lee, Tommy Johnson Jr., Bob Tasca III and Linberg.
“To come out here and turn four win lights on and win the race in front of everybody (all his sponsors), that’s a fairytale,” Hagan said. “The points are going to fall where they fall. All we can do is focus on what we can control and that isn’t a whole lot out here. We just have to do the best job we can, and it will fall where it falls.
I guess Tasca kind of cost me a championship one time back in the day, so I’ve always kind of had it out for him a little bit. We played some games up there on the starting line and it didn’t work out my way and here in the Countdown we have met him three times and loaded him up three times. But I have a lot of respect for that guy. He gave me a ride back from the top end (Sunday). He was like ‘man, I really look up to as far as leavers and the starting line and all that kind of stuff.’ He said some really kind words that he didn’t have to say after just getting beat. It showed how much respect he has for me and I have that much if not more respect for him.”
Following the St. Louis race Sept. 29, Hagan dropped to ninth in the points and things looked bleak.
“I think a lot of people wrote us off,” Hagan said. “Everybody was kind of moping around and then we bounced back and I told my guys we could still do this. I’m going to get my pom poms on and start cheering. We are still in this thing. It’s hard to win back-to-back races and to do that showed you what we are capable of. To win three a row is almost impossible. I’m sure people do it all the time, but it is really hard to do. I will tell you this much, we are going to go into Pomona and we are going to work as hard as we can and we are going to double-check and triple-check ourselves and we are going to put the best race car underneath me and I’m going to drive to the best of my abilities and we are going to leave it on the table and it will be what it will be.”
Hagan did give a look into what his immediate plans will be before he gets to Pomona.
“I have been an adult all weekend and I’m not going to be an adult (Sunday night),” Hagan said. “Second of all, I think that practice makes perfect and you never practice enough. I’ve seen a lot of times people push something away. They want something so bad that they go up there trying to something or make something happen and I’ve learned over 10 years of driving and winning some championships that you have to believe in your abilities and hone your skills, but let it come to you. If it is meant to be it will be. Everybody around fully has to do their job. All I can control is leaving the starting line on time, keeping it in the groove and turn the win light on and rest of it has to take care of itself.”