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Matt Hagan heads into this weekend’s 24th annual NHRA Spring Nationals at Royal Purple Raceway hoping recapture the magic of last year when he won his first NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series national event here.

The 28-year-old cattle farmer from Christiansburg, Va., who drove the DieHard Dodge Charger R/T Funny Car to victory over Jeff Arend, is excited about returning to the Houston-area track.

“I’m thrilled to be going back to Houston,” said the Don Schumacher Racing driver. “This is a great track for us, obviously a memorable one for me.”

Hagan won a pedal fest in the final round last year, his 4.390-second/247.57-mile-per-hour pass topping Arend’s 4.714/231.20 (and beat him off the start line, with a reaction time edge of .039 seconds versus .074).

A successful Southwestern weekend is important for Hagan who comes into the race holding fifth place in the NHRA Full Throttle Funny Car championship standings.

“We’ve had a rough go compared to last year,” said the runner up in the 2010 Funny Car championship.  “Even if we don’t win the race, if we can go a few rounds it will help us pick up some momentum.

“The biggest thing is to remain positive, which I am because Tommy (DeLago) is a great crew chief and has a great crew working with him. We’ve got some bugs to work out and we’re doing just that.”

Regardless of the previous-race outcome, Hagan works to maintain the same approach.

“We’re all professionals, with a job to do, but we still should have fun out there,” he said. “I’m coming to Houston, will get to throw out the first pitch of the Astros game Thursday night, bring some of my DieHard team with me to Minute Maid Park, and maybe this will lighten up everything.”

A frustrating weekend here ended today for Matt Hagan in the first round of the 2nd annual VisitMyrtleBeach.com NHRA 4-Wide Nationals when his DieHard Dodge Charger R/T Funny Car lost traction, then blew up.

According to the Don Schumacher Racing driver the four-wide configuration influenced his decision to stay on the throttle rather than shutting off to save the engine.

“I started to smoke the tires, but since I didn’t see any of the other three cars clearly ahead, I stayed on the gas, trying to get the car to the finish and at least a runner-up spot, which would have put the DieHard Dodge into the second round,” he explained. “Obviously, it didn’t work out for us.”

He was off the start before his three opponents, but ran into trouble about a third of the way down the 1,000-foot track. The round ended with a 6.217-second/111.15-mile-per-hour pass, well behind the top two finishes of Tim Wilkerson, 4.422/246.75, and John Smith, 4.475/227.96.

The team had battled issues throughout qualifying, but the Christiansburg, Va., native entered today’s eliminations confident despite his 14th starting position. His best run, 4.155-seconds at 305.91 miles per hour, which had followed an earlier 4.170/296.89mph, failed to move him up as qualifying progressed.

“We had had some problems, but you just have to dig deeper when things aren’t going exactly right,” said the 28-year-old who runs a cattle farm when not driving the 8,000-horsepower Funny Car. “I have such great confidence in my crew chief, Tommy DeLago; I always think we have a chance on race day, no matter what we had done in qualifying.

“Times like this make you really appreciate the good times,” added the 2010 NHRA Full Throttle Funny Car runner up. “You just have to get back out there and move onto the next one.”

Hagan will head to Texas with 241 points and fifth place in the championship hunt as the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series moves to Royal Purple Raceway in Baytown for the April 29-May 124th annual O’Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Spring Nationals.

Matt Hagan will take his DieHard Dodge Charger R/T Funny Car out of the 14th starting position here Sunday in the 2nd annual VisitMyrtleBeach.com 4-Wide Nationals at zMAX Dragway.

Hagan’s 4.155-second run at 292.08 miles per hour was good enough for a spot in the 16-car field at what has been labeled the Bellagio of drag strips.

“I feel good about tomorrow,” said the cattle farmer from Christiansburg, Va. “We have a good race car. We’ve had a few gremlins, but we’re working through them.

“I have a lot of confidence in Tommy Delago (his crew chief). He took us to the top last year and will do it again. I know he will give me a good race car; I just have to do my job as the driver.”

Beginning at noon EDT, Hagan’s first round opponents in the unique four-wide format will be Cruz Pedregon, Tim Wilkerson and John Smith. The top two advance to the second round of final eliminations.

“You’ve got to dig deep,” said Hagan. “We’re having some issues, but we are sorting them out. If I can pick up a few hundredths on the tree and Tommy can pick some up, then we’ll be just fine.”

Hagan arrived in North Carolina clinging to fourth-place in the NHRA Full Throttle Funny Car standings, 79 points removed from leader Robert Hight.

Television coverage of eliminations begins at 7 p.m. EDT on ESPN2/ESPN2HD.

The positives of friends and family being able to attend this week’s 2nd annual VisitMyrtleBeach.com NHRA 4-Wide Nationals here this weekend at zMAX Dragway are diminished – slightly – for Matt Hagan by competing in the unique four-lane race, not his favorite form of drag racing.

“I’m excited about everyone who’ll be here since it is the closest thing to a hometown race for me,” said the 28-year-old cattle farmer from Christiansburg, Va., about 175 miles from here. “It’ll get hectic, seeing everyone and spending time with them, but it’s worth it.

“They’ll hang out, come to the track, which is a great one, and see what I do on the weekends.”

What he has done so far in the 2011 NHRA Full Throttle Drag Race Series is reach the final round in the opening race of the season and accumulate 210 total points, enough for fourth place in the Funny Car championship; 28 out of third and 79 from the lead.

“We obviously have a competitive car,” said the driver of the DieHard Dodge Charger R/T Funny Car.  “We’re doing well, but still have a few things to iron out.”

The Don Schumacher Racing driver did well in last year’s initial four-wide race, making it to the third – and final – round, but he did not like the setup, despite his relative success.

“We have a good baseline of data for this track and event,” he said.  “Tommy (DeLago, crew chief) has a good handle on it, but I just don’t like racing when I can’t see [all] the other cars.

“I think it can be dangerous. If you have a problem in a regular race, you might shut off if you see you can’t beat the guy in the other lane. On race day in the four-wide, you have to take it to the end just in case the drivers you can’t see [beyond the wall in the center of the four lanes] are in worse shape than you; you can’t shut it off, you have to take it to the finish. 

Hagan’s major concern, like many of his colleagues, is not simply running four-wide, but doing so for championship points.

“It’s tough to race like this, in such an unnatural setting, for points,” he said.  “At least it is early in the season.”

Matt Hagan shook the tires a third of the way down the track in his DieHard Dodge Charger R/T Funny Car and lost to rival Jeff Arend in the first round of eliminations today at 12th annual SummitRacing.com NHRA Nationals here on The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Hagan posted a 4.324-second/292.77-mile-per-hour pass, while Arend turned in a 4.233/294.50 run.

“We had the car to win today, but we just missed the mark,” said the cattle farmer from Christiansburg, Va. “The combination of getting beaten at the start line and tire shake sealed our fate today on a track that should have been faster than Friday’s surface, when we turned in a 4.180-second pass at 298.73 mph.

“We are really disappointed – our DieHard crew worked hard to get this car to this point, but we just couldn’t cash in today. You can’t win every race, but you do everything you can to do so.”

His fifth-place-starting position earned him the first-round match with Arend – the third time in as many races in the 2011 NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series season he had raced the Kalitta Motorsports Driver. Hagan is now 2-1 against Arend this year, with second-round victories in both the Winternationals and the Gatornationals.

The 28-year-old Don Schumacher Racing driver travels east for the VisitMyrtleBeach.com NHRA Nationals at zMAX Dragway in Charlotte, N.C., April 14-17, fourth in the NHRA Full Throttle Funny Car championship race with 210 points. Hagan trails points leader Robert Hight, winner today, by 79 points.

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Mello Yello Points

Funny Car (Unofficial)

1. Matt Hagan (400)
2. Ron Capps (398)
3. John Force (371)
4. Tommy Johnson Jr. (357)
5. Robert Hight (301)
5. Courtney Force (301)
7. Jack Beckman (282)
8. Jonnie Lindberg (235)
9. J.R. Todd (222)
10. Jim Campbell (211)