To be the man, you have to beat the man.
That old adage, made famous in the 1980s by professional wrestler Ric Flair during his 16-time run as world champion, was on full display Sunday at the NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series season finale as the man, Matt Hagan, had to beat the men at his Don Schumacher Racing stable to take his turn atop the Funny Car championship podium.
In the closest battle of the four premier classes, Hagan’s title fight came down to the wire, but the driver of the Mopar Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat Funny Car took care of business and left zero room for error by winning the race and, in the process, the championship at the Dodge NHRA Finals presented by Pennzoil at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
“These DSR Funny Cars are all going to the finals every weekend, whether it is me or (Ron) Capps, or Tommy (Johnson), or Jack (Beckman). So we knew that for us to win this, we had to go to the finals,” Hagan said. “That’s a tall order to fill in Funny Car. It just shows the caliber of the team I have. I know how bad we wanted it and how hard these guys have been working. There are a handful of guys on my team that have never won a world championship before and they’ve been with me a little while now. That is something that is really special to be able to give them that and get up on the wheel and drive my ass off.”
Having already clinched the championship in the round prior, Hagan entered the final round against teammate Ron Capps looking to earn his third Wally of the season and add icing to the championship cake. In a battle of the top two qualifiers from Saturday, Capps took a small starting line advantage but saw it quickly evaporate when the engine on his NAPA Dodge Charger Funny Car let go at half track, allowing Hagan to cruise by for the win.
Hagan earned his third win of the season and the 36th of his career with a 3.914-second pass at 326.40 mph. Capps had a 4.463 at 173.70 mph in the losing effort.
“That’s just icing on the cake,” an elated Hagan said. “Capps drilled my ass on the tree, but I was still solid. We have a good car and these guys just did a great job. I’m excited. We worked hard over the offseason and we showed up. We’ve had a fast car all year long. We came back and made up a lot of points on Beckman, then took the lead and kept the lead.
“We just kept digging every race and kept getting better and better. The car kept running better and better. As a driver, that makes me want to step up and make sure I don’t give it up on a holeshot or anything like that with big rounds there in front of us. I’m just amazed. This win is all about my guys.”
Entering this weekend’s race, all four DSR drivers were mathematically eligible to win the championship. Hagan paced the field, but in a season where the four drivers at Don Schumacher Racing swept the Funny Car class with a perfect 11 wins in 11 races after Sunday, Hagan knew that it would take something special to walk away the victor.
Capps, Hagan and Johnson took care of business on Saturday, qualifying first, second and fourth on the ladder, while Beckman placed himself behind the eight ball qualifying in the bottom half of the field.
On Sunday, Beckman was the first to fall out of the championship picture in a round one loss to Paul Lee – his second first-round defeat in as many races. Losing lane choice with his 10th place qualifying effort, Lee drove around the driver of the Infinite Hero Foundation Dodge with a 3.933 at 327.82 mph to Beckman’s 3.975 at 317.05 mph.
Two rounds later, Johnson was next to fall as the DSR team continued to cannibalize each other with Capps taking the round win – a 3.906 to a 3.943 – and handing the championship to Hagan.
“This was one of the hardest ones because you don’t know what’s going to happen next,” Hagan said. “This one has been more draining mentally than anything. Are the sponsors going to let us race? What’s happening with Covid? We didn’t even know when the season was going to end. So, mentally, I think this has been one of the most stressful championships, but I like this championship because there was no reset. I really love that old school feel to it. So that, to me, is a really special championship because of that.”
Hagan’s road to victory included wins over Cruz Pedregon, Paul Lee and Alexis DeJoria. Hagan recorded the quickest and fastest pass of the event in the round one defeat of Pedregon – a 3.901 at 328.38 mph – and built on that momentum throughout.
He gave up lane choice to both DeJoria and Capps, but drove around both to collect the win.
Capps had wins over Chris Morel, J.R. Todd and Johnson to reach his fourth final of the season.
Hagan finishes the season with three wins in five final round visits. He was an impressive 27-8 in rounds won and lost, winning a staggering 77 percent of his rounds this season. It is also Hagan’s third championship, to go along with titles in 2014 and 2011.
With Hagan’s win, Sunday also finalized an impressive 11-for-11 sweep for the Don Schumacher Racing team in Funny Car. Hagan, Beckman and Johnson all had three wins apiece, while Capps added two victories to the perfect tally.
Down the stretch, however, Hagan was at his best, visiting three final rounds in the season’s final four races and led the championship wire-to-wire over that same stretch.
While the unique nature of this year’s championship will certainly be one to remember in a shortened season brought about by the pandemic, Hagan’s mind is already shifting to what to do in the offseason and what is next for his team.
“I already want to get going tomorrow. I think that sometimes it’s too long to think about stuff. I just hope that my team stays together so we can keep everybody here,” Hagan said. “It’s really nice to give these guys a world championship that have never tasted it. I’ve been on the other side of it where you lose it. A few times I’ve runnered-up. I’ve come back and won the world championship. This time, we just did what it took in an environment that was unpredictable. So we’ll go out there and enjoy the night and focus on Monday for next year.”
— Competition Plus (@competitionplus) October 27, 2020