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A few years ago, Darrell Gwynn asked a media member if the drivers appreciate what they bring to the mix. It was a remarkably thoughtful question – and the answer is a matter for another day.

However, it raised the notion that the media and the fans often take for granted all the processes and the feelings behind them that the drivers experience. We see them with “that look” in their eyes. We see them make thrilling runs. We see them make disappointing ones. We see them win. We see them lose. We see their cars run into tire shake or explode. We see how they react when they get out of the car. And we only can imagine what they’re thinking and why they’re reacting in whatever way they do. We might not understand all of it or even misinterpret it.

Three-time and current NHRA Funny Car champion Matt Hagan took time to walk Dragzine through some of the emotions and impulses of a driver’s day at the racetrack – and some of it just might be surprising.

It’s no surprise that racecar drivers are wired a little differently than the rest of us. But the notion of competition is a logical place to start figuring out why.

Hagan likened it to the “fight or flight syndrome” – “as a competitor, I’ve really tried over the years to learn how to take a pressure situation and turn it into something that’s positive. Some people are like, ‘Man, I don’t want to mess this up.’ For me, I look at it like ‘Give me the ball. I want that opportunity.’

“I think that that aggression, that adrenaline and that everything-that-it-takes-to-get-there puts you in, almost an old-school gladiator kind of feel. It’s just the last of what we do, of our primal instincts, to just be adrenaline-filled. That’s why people used to come and watch people fight tigers in an arena,” he said.

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Matt Hagan Spring Nationals

Driver of the Pennzoil Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat Redeye
Qualified: No. 6 (3.961 E.T. at 324.12 MPH)
The Results:
E1: 3.946 E.T. at 312.78 MPH defeated Chad Green 3.969 E.T. at 320.38 MPH
E2: 3.964 E.T. at 317.87 MPH defeated by Ron Capps 3.929 E.T. at 325.30 MPH
Race Recap:
Despite launching to the third-quickest pass of Q1, reigning Funny Car world champ Matt Hagan started Monday’s elimination rounds from the No. 6 seed after rain washed out his opportunity to make a second qualifying pass. Hagan was first out of the gate against E1 opponent Chad Green and took his Pennzoil Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat Redeye on a winning 3.946-second ride to set up a meeting with teammate Ron Capps in E2. Against Capps, crew chief Dickie Venables tuned Hagan to a solid 3.964 E.T., but Capps started to pull away early into the run, ending Venables’ shot at finishing race day in the winner’s circle with Hagan and the team at his hometown track.
“It was a wild weekend here at Houston. I’ve been here since Wednesday and we only got three runs in. I’m glad we were able to get the race in here at the Pennzoil Proving Grounds, but we’d have liked to gone more rounds for our friends at Pennzoil at their home track. It was a challenging weekend for us and all the teams. We’re on the right track to turn on more win lights. These Funny Cars are a handful to run. We had a boomer in E1 and then it was a mad dash and a quick turnaround for E2. I  was really happy with the guys and how they put everything together safely and properly, and we made the turnaround in 35-40 minutes. The guys are meshing really well and we’re going to do big things in the future.”

Driver of the Mopar Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat Redeye
No. 11 (4.058 E.T. at 260.71 MPH)
The Results:
E1: 3.936 E.T. at 325.06 MPH defeated Ron Capps 3.991 E.T. at 273.88 MPH, Cory Lee 4.392 E.T. at 251.58 MPH
E2: 4.036 E.T. at 307.51 MPH defeated by Alexis DeJoria 3.929 E.T. at 320.13 MPH, Cruz Pedregon 3.971 E.T. at 319.52 MPH
Race Recap:
Matt Hagan found himself in the unfavorable No. 11 qualifying position after struggling to make a solid pass during qualifying for the NHRA Four-Wide Nationals. It was unusual territory for the reigning world champ and his Dickie Venables-led Mopar team who are used to top-seeded qualifying positions and record-setting runs. Never ones to shy away from adversity, the Mopar team overcame the setback and Venables tuned Hagan to an impressive 3.936 right out of the gate on Sunday morning. The run was the quickest of his quad, and third-quickest of the first round. Hagan’s round two quad featured a showdown with Alexis DeJoria, Cruz Pedregon, and Bob Tasca III. Against his three opponents, Hagan had the holeshot advantage but his lead was quickly cut short after a parts failure caused his machine to slow to a 4.036, and he was outpaced by two of his competitors, ending his day after the second round.

“There’s a million things that can go wrong with a fuel Funny Car, and we had something bite us this weekend. My crew chief Dickie Venables and Mike Knudsen did a great job recovering after qualifying. We struggled in qualifying as far as getting a handle on the race track so we went into Sunday morning not really knowing what to expect, and they did an amazing job of reeling the clutch back in and not only getting the car to make a full pull down the race track, but we ran a really good 3.93. I felt like we were on pace to go back up there and do the same thing on that last lap but we had a parts failure and it cost us the run. Unfortunately, that’s part of racing; that’s what happens when you push things to the limit, it happens sometimes. That is the humble part of drag racing.”


Driver of the Mopar Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat Redeye

Qualified: No. 11The Competition: No. 3 Ron Capps, No. 6 Cruz Pedregon, No. 14 Cory Lee

The Results:
Q1: 7.584 E.T. at 87.52 MPH
Q2: 4.128 E.T. at 247.07 MPH
Q3: 4.058 E.T. at 260.71 MPH

“Charlotte always seems to be a tricky track for us, but we’re here at the Four-Wide Nationals and I’m just excited to be racing close to home, and have my friends and family out here this weekend supporting us. It’s going to be a big day tomorrow, and we’re going to put this Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat Funny Car in the winner’s circle tomorrow because that’s what we came here to do. Four-wide, two-wide, whatever; it’s our turn to turn the win lights on and I feel confident we’re going to do that. Qualifying is behind us and we’ve got a competitive quad tomorrow with Capps in there too. We’ll duke it out and hopefully, both DSR cars will advance.”


Qualified: No. 3 (4.001 E.T. at 314.02 MPH)

The Results:
E1: 3.991 E.T. at 307.65 MPH defeated Robert Hight 5.341 E.T. at 135.18 MPH
E2: 3.947 E.T. at 324.75 MPH defeated Tim Wilkerson 3.985 E.T. at 319.22 MPH
E3: 3.974 E.T. at 326.40 MPH defeated by Bob Tasca III 3.981 E.T. at 327.82 MPH

Race Recap:
Fresh off of a runner-up finish at the previous event, reigning world champion Matt Hagan was seeking his first win of 2021 on Sunday at the NHRA Southern Nationals and advanced to the semifinal round before his quest for one final Atlanta Dragway trophy came to an end.
Hagan and the Mopar Dodge Funny Car team battled through challenging track conditions during Saturday’s two qualifying sessions to earn the No. 3 spot on the strength of their 4.001-second Q2 run, which held up to be second-quickest of the round. Their solid performance allowed them to continue their streak of starting from the top half of the field for the 10th consecutive event. Despite the top-seeded qualifying effort, Hagan found himself in the unusual position of facing fellow three-time series champ Robert Hight in the first round, a showdown typically found in the later elimination rounds. In what can only be considered a monster match-up, Hagan rocketed the Mopar machine to the second-best run of the session (3.991 E.T.) to defeat Hight and extend his round-win record over the veteran driver to 19-16.
In the quarterfinals, Hagan gave up lane choice to Tim Wilkerson, the only driver to have made a quicker pass in E1. Once again, Hagan was quick and consistent, posting low E.T. of the round by speeding through the 1,000-foot timers in 3.947 seconds to set up a semifinal meeting with Bob Tasca III, who seems to be Hagan’s ‘kryptonite’ as of late, having beat Hagan in the final round at the previous event, and in the first round at the season-opener. Against Tasca, Hagan, who is considered one of the best leavers in the sport, powered to another stout sub-four second run (3.974 seconds) but suffered a rare holeshot loss to his opponent who clocked a 3.981 E.T.

“So, coming off of another tough race with Bob Tasca in the semifinals. He just seems to have our number right now but we’ve got a good car, we’re qualifying well and we have a lot of good racing ahead of us. I’m really proud of our team, everyone works well together. We’re running well, just losing really close races. It’s just one of those things where those close ones like that, yea they’re tough to swallow, but they make you dig deeper, make you work harder, and push yourself to get to the next level. Charlotte is our next event. I’m excited about that because it’s close to home. It’s another four-wide but we went to the final at the Vegas four-wide, so hopefully, we’ll take it one step further there. Looking forward to having some fun and keep pushing this Dodge Hellcat and put on a great show for everyone.”

Next NHRA Event

Lucas Winternats 18

FC Points

Camping World Funny Car Top Ten

1 Bob Tasca III 676
2 Matt Hagan 655
3 Robert Hight 636
4 John Force 624
5 Ron Capps 613
6 J.R. Todd 584
7 Alexis DeJoria 577
8 Tim Wilkerson 526
9 Cruz Pedregon 481
10 Terry Haddock 306

Hagan Cattle Co