He likely will have to add magician to his titles if he wants to win a third NHRA world title.
Hagan will arrive at the season-ending NHRA Auto Club Finals Nov. 10-13 in Pomona, Calif., in second place in the points standings – 86 points behind his Don Schumacher Racing teammate Ron Capps.
“It’s a huge deficit to overcome,” Hagan said. “Can miracles happen? Absolutely. It’s going to be tough. The odds are stacked against us. We have to go out and get all the qualifying (bonus) points we can and we need him to go out first round and then we have to go on and win the race. My mindset is to drive my race car the way I have been driving it all year long.”
Hagan has had a stellar season, winning four races, including the U.S. Nationals, and establishing world records. Hagan set the nitro Funny Car elapsed time record with a 3.822-second run Aug. 20 at Brainerd, Minn. He also established a new nitro Funny Car mph record with a 335.57 lap May 20 in Topeka, Kan.
“We have a fast Hot Rod and we’re going to go race the race and let things fall where they fall,” Hagan said.
While Hagan has been to the NHRA summit, the veteran Capps, a fan favorite, is searching for his inaugural NHRA world championship. Capps has finished second in the points four times (1998, 2000, 2005, and 2012).
“I like Ron as a person and I like him as a driver and he’s just an all-around good dude,” Hagan said. “Ron’s worked hard for it, but we’ve worked hard for it as well. If we have a shot and we have an opportunity, we’re going to take it. We’re going to go out there and race our race and let the chips fall where they may. If they happen to mess up in first round and we win the race, and we have the qualifying points, then we will have enough to hold the championship up ourselves.
"A lot can happen before that happens, but it’s not impossible. You just have to go out there and have the mindset in qualifying to be aggressive because if you’re not aggressive you’re not going to get those eight (qualifying bonus points for being No. 1 each session). If you qualify aggressive and get those points, you can set yourself up for anything that will happen on race day.”
Although Hagan is friends with Capps, he puts that aside during eliminations.
“I want to beat everybody who I line up against,” Hagan said. “It’s not about Ron Capps. It’s not about John Force. It’s about turning the win light on and you do whatever it takes to make things happen. I don’t let who I’m racing impact what we do on the race track. We just have to go be aggressive and race our race car.”
LAS VEGAS (Oct. 30, 2016) – Matt Hagan is headed into the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series finale with a shot, albeit a long one, at his third Funny Car world championship.
After a semifinal finish on Sunday for Hagan and the Mopar Express Lane/Rocky Boots team led by crew chief Dickie Venables and assistant Michael Knudsen, they will go into the NHRA Finals at Pomona, Calif., in two weeks 86 points behind Don Schumacher Racing teammate and points leader Ron Capps, who is chasing his first career title. The most points a driver can earn at an event is 130.
“We've been in the corner pushing, and the car has been running well,” Hagan said. “We had to run well, and we just pushed a little too hard in the semis. That was kind of the nail in the coffin right there. We had to win that round to keep our championship hopes alive. On paper, it's still a possibility but it’s a longshot with how well that NAPA team is running.”
Hagan and the team ousted John Hale in the opening round and reigning Funny Car world champion Del Worsham in the second round before falling to eventual event winner John Force in the semifinals round. Hagan’s 10,000-horsepower Dodge Charger R/T drove into tire smoke.
“We'll just go to Pomona and see if we can add a trophy to the collection,” Hagan said of his 22 career titles. The Mopar team has racked up four wins in six final round appearances this season along with 5 No.1 qualifier positions.
“It's tough when you can taste it, it's that close, and you know you have a shot at it,” he said. “When I felt it go up in smoke, you just feel your heart fall. But at the end of the day, we have a great team, a great car, and I hope everybody stays together at the end of the year and we can come back and keep working on trying to win more races next season.”
Event winner: John Force (John Force Racing)
No. 1 qualifier: Jack Beckman (Don Schumacher Racing) 3.871 sec.-track record, 327.43 mph
MATT HAGAN, Mopar Express Lane/Rocky Boots Dodge Charger R/T
Crew chief: Dickie Venables; assistant: Michael Knudsen
Qualified: No. 2
SUNDAY CHAMPIONSHIP ELIMINATIONS
First round: HAGAN (3.911 sec., 328.14 mph) def. John Hale (4.389, 201.82)
Second round: HAGAN (3.887, 329.02) def. Del Worsham (3.935, 326.71)
Semifinals: John Force (3.928, 330.39) def. HAGAN (6.561, 122.13)
FRIDAY: 3.882 sec., 326.95 mph, (Session 1); 3.872-track record, 326.71, (Session 2)
SATURDAY: 4.549, 180.84, (Session 3); 5.834, 121.78, (Session 4)
Qualified: No. 2
Round One matchup First round: John Hale
Qualifying 3.882 sec., 326.95 mph, (Session 1)
3.872-track record, 326.71, (Session 2)
4.549, 180.84, (Session 3)
5.834, 121.78, (Session 4)
Hagan and the Mopar Express Lane/Rocky Boots team held the No. 1 spot through three of four qualifying sessions. The team led by crew chief Dickie Venables and assistant Michael Knudsen were quickest of each session on Friday to earn six bonus points.
“Points matter, and it all adds up at the end of the day,” Hagan said. “You've seen some of these championships come down to one or two points and a final or semifinals and different things like that. It is what it is, we've got a long ways to go and we're 80-something back. That's a lot of ground to make up when you're up against a car like Capps and Tobler. But we've got Dickie Venables in our corner, too. He’s great at what he does. He's proved it time and time again, every time we step on the fuel pedal out there.
“It's a battle. It's a dog fight. It's a hunt out there. I don't know where we're going to end up on this deal, but we're going to go out there and swing hard on every lap we've got.”
Hagan ran a track elapsed time record 3.872-second pass at 329.18 mph in his Mopar Express Lane / Rocky Boots Dodge Charger R/T for the qualifying lead at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Currently third in points, Hagan has raced to five No. 1 qualifiers this season.
“I think today was pretty cool because we had cloud cover,” Hagan said. “The track was tight, it was good out there. The groove is very narrow so you have to watch what you’re doing. All-in-all we had a good day and tomorrow is another day so we come back out tomorrow and fight hard again and just try to scoop up as much points as we can.”
Funny Car (Unofficial)
1. Matt Hagan (308)
2. John Force (238)
3. Ron Capps (235)
4. Tommy Johnson Jr (209)
5. Courtney Force (177)
6. Robert Hight (150)
7. Jim Campbell (148)
8. Jack Beckman (144)
9. J.R. Todd (138)
10. Robert Hight (117)
12. Alexis DeJoria (101)