Matt Hagan will compete in one of the year's most important races to him when he arrives at Bandimere Speedway near Denver for this weekend's 37th annual Mopar Mile-High NHRA Nationals.
For one, the race is sponsored by Mopar Express Lane, the primary supporter of his Don Schumacher Racing Dodge Charger R/T powered by Pennzoil.
It also is one of the tracks on the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series tour that he has yet to conquer.
It's appropriate that Bandimere is carved into the side of a mountain, one mile above sea level, so being in excellent physical condition, Hagan won't be affected much by the thin air.
The same, however, can't be said about his 10,000-horsepower engine that thrives on oxygen and nitromethane. That's when thin air gives crew chief Dickie Venables and assistant Michael Knudsen headaches.
"These crew chiefs have to change so much to make the cars run up there," said Hagan, who has won two of his 20 NHRA event titles this year and is ranked fourth in championship points. "Honestly, if the car sounded like that at any sea-level track you'd shut it off because it just sounds crazy."
A crazy sounding Hemi isn't something Hagan has heard often through the first 13 races on the 24-event Mello Yello tour.
After a sluggish start while Venables was adjusting to some new parts and a tune-up for his Dodge, Hagan was ranked 10th in points after fourth race and had not advanced past the second round.
But over the last nine races, Hagan and the Mopar/Rocky Boots team have moved up to fourth in points with two event wins and one runner-up finish. During that span, he set NHRA world records for elapsed time (3.862 seconds) and speed (335.57 mph).
At the last race on July 12 near Chicago, Hagan qualified No. 1 and advanced to the semifinals where he lost to points leader and teammate Ron Capps. His pole-winning time of 3.882 is the third track time record he has set this year along with four speed records.
"We've learned. What we thought we needed to do, we learned we need to do more. I feel good going into the Western Swing and I'm really looking forward to it."
The Mopar Mile-High Nationals officially kicks off from 6 to 10 p.m. Thursday on the streets of downtown Golden, Colo., with the 15th annual Mopar Block Party at which Hagan and other Mopar drivers will sign autographs.
The Denver race starts the three-race Western Swing and includes stops in Sonoma, Calif., and near Seattle.
JOLIET, Ill. (July 10, 2016) – Matt Hagan knows enough about horses from his wife and equestrian lover, Rachel, to know when to pull the reigns. And although Hagan and the Mopar Express Lane/Rocky Boots team tried to harness their 10,000-horsepower Dodge Charger R/T Funny Car they were unable to ride it to victory lane on Sunday at the 19th annual Route 66 NHRA Nationals.
The No. 1 qualifying team that set a track record at 3.882 seconds with Mopar power followed that performance up by setting low elapsed time of the opening round of eliminations with a 3.914 at 326 mph to eliminate Bob Bode.
Hagan then disposed of Don Schumacher Racing teammate Tommy Johnson Jr. in the second round of eliminations with a 3.952 effort before falling to red-hot DSR teammate Ron Capps in the semifinals where Hagan’s Mopar Express Lane/Rocky Boots Funny Car hazed the tires for the first time during the weekend.
But Hagan feels that the team led by crew chief Dickie Venables had a big learning experience on Sunday at Route 66 Raceway near Chicago.
“We put some rounds on some people there and picked up some points so that’s key,” Hagan said. “We learned a lot today. It was the first time we ran these new headers in the heat like this so it was a big day for us to learn more about this car. We were just trying to pull it back all day long and it was just trying to go fast and we were trying to pull it back and we just didn’t do enough.
“We’ve learned. What we thought we needed to do, we learned we need to do more. I feel good going into the Western Swing and I’m really looking forward to it.”
The NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series will take a weekend off before heading on its annual Western Swing that kicks off near Denver on July 22. Hagan will return to his home near Christiansburg, Va., and to his expanding cattle operation.
“I’m looking forward to this weekend off,” he said. “I have a lot of work to do on the farm. We have to get some stuff done on the farm. I need those few days we’re going to be home to get everything done.”
FUNNY CAR Event winner: Jack Beckman (Don Schumacher Racing) No. 1 qualifier: Matt Hagan (Don Schumacher Racing) 3.882 sec.-track record, 331.12 mph
MATT HAGAN, Rocky Boots /Mopar Express Lane Dodge Charger R/T
Qualifying position: No. 1
Hagan was able to grab the top spot away from teammate Jack Beckman, who momentarily held the position following a run of 3.885 at a track record speed of 333.25 in his Infinite Hero Foundation Dodge Charger.
“Dickie [Venables, crew chief] is very consistent and methodical and I am glad he’s my crew chief and that’s why we are number one,” said Hagan of his 23rd career No. 1 and first ever at Chicago. “It was a game-changer in this class from Sonoma on last year with the change to the headers and that’s why these Funny Cars are so competitive now. It all comes down to the parts and pieces that are in front of us and making small tweaks to them here and there.”
Hagan, a three-time Chicago winner, will try for his third victory of the season when he meets round one foe Bob Bode, who anchored the quickest 16-car Funny Car field in NHRA history with his time of 4.100 seconds in a Toyota Solara.
“It’s all about momentum out here,” said Hagan, a two-time world champ. “If being No. 1 qualifier doesn’t give you confidence then nothing will. That is a huge run for us, for me personally and for our team. You will sleep better tonight and feel like you have a really good race car going into tomorrow.”
Beckman will race John Hale, while No. 3 qualifier Alexis DeJoria, who moved into that spot with a 3.887 at 327.11 in her Tequila Patron Toyota Camry, will battle Brian Stewart. Friday qualifying leader and series points leader Ron Capps will start fourth in his NAPA Auto Parts Dodge Charger with a 3.888 at 328.78 and will meet 16-time world champ John Force in a highly anticipated opener.
BROWNSBURG, Ind. (July 6, 2016) – Matt Hagan understands there are times when you have to be a risk taker.
He likes calculated risks whither on his sprawling farm and cattle operation at home in Christiansburg, Va., or on an NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series track.
Hagan and crew chief Dickie Venables did that two weeks ago at the last Mello Yello event in Northern Ohio before losing to rival John Force in the opening round when his Mopar Express Lane/Rocky Boots Dodge Charger R/T and Force both lost traction and smoked the tires.
“I’m not concerned about that at all,” said Hagan, the 2011 and 2014 NHRA Funny Car world champion with Don Schumacher Racing.
“We just pushed it a little too hard. We were looking to run (3.91 seconds) but the track was hot and no one ended going quicker than a .94. The track wouldn’t hold what we threw at it. We had a tough draw and John Force makes you push it. He smoked his tire, unfortunately, we smoked ours earlier. Sometimes you have to take chances.”
Hagan, who has two wins along with four top-two qualifying performances in the past six events, ranked 10th in points after six races and will start racing Friday in the NHRA Route 66 Nationals near Chicago sixth in points and only 15 out of fourth.
“Dickie has our Mopar/Rocky Dodge doing what he wants right now,” Hagan said. “This is the time of year when you can try some things and work at getting hot at the right time. We’re starting the second half of our season and have six races left before we know who will be the top 10 for the Countdown (to the Championship six-race playoff).
“You just have to be in it to win it.”
His calculated approach also applies to his cattle operation.
He recently has purchased 650 “momma” cows to fill another 1,000 acres he added to his spread taking the acreage to over 2,000 for feed and breeding.
“The farm has just been nonstop. The market isn’t that good right now but you have to take advantage of good opportunities when they come up. You have to seize the day.”
Hagan would like his cattle expansion to be as successful as he’s been at Route 66 in Joliet, Ill., where he owns three trophies since 2010 including two of the last three. A year ago, he advanced to the final round for the third straight year before losing to DSR teammate Tommy Johnson Jr.
“This track treats me good,” Hagan said. “It’s even better because it’s in (Don Schumacher’s) hometown and it’s always good when you can put on a good show for the boss.
“We should hit the ground running when we get there.”
NORWALK, Ohio (June 26, 2016) – The Rocky Boots/Mopar Express Lane team entered this weekend’s 10th annual Summit Racing NHRA Nationals at Norwalk, Ohio, on a high note from their runner-up finish last weekend at Bristol, Tenn.
But the Rocky Boots team wasn’t able to continue their hot weather success Sunday when Matt Hagan was ousted in the opening round of eliminations by John Force.
“Obviously that was not what we wanted,” Hagan said. “We want to win every race we come to. We had so many great folks from Fin, Feather and Fur outdoors store here and we wanted to celebrate with them in the winner’s circle.”
Instead, Hagan’s 10,000-horsepower Dodge Charger R/T lost traction and slowed to a 5.042-second, 272-mph pass as Force got the win light with a subpar 4.25.
“At the end of the day, we’re not satisfied,” Hagan said. “We were just up there trying to press a little too hard. We were trying to run a 3.93 on a racetrack that probably wouldn’t hold that. We just overstepped it a little bit and were trying to run too hard. We’ll learn from it and and head to Chicago in two weeks and start over.”
The NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series has ended its most grueling stretch of four events in four weekends. The Rocky Boots team led by crew chief Dickie Venables had one final round appearance and two quarterfinal finishes during the Eastern Swing. Hagan qualified in the top-six at each of the four events.
“Overall, this stretch of races was good for our team. No doubt it was some of the toughest racing we’ve seen but we put this behind us now and turn our focus to Chicago in a couple weeks and then we’re off on the Western Swing after that.”
The Rocky Boots/Mopar team fell two spots to sixth in Mello Yello Funny Car standings.
FUNNY CAR Event winner: Ron Capps (Don Schumacher Racing) No. 1 qualifier: Del Worsham (Kalitta Motorsports) 3.875, 328.70 – track records
MATT HAGAN, Rocky Boots /Mopar Express Lane Dodge Charger R/T
Qualified: No. 6
First round: John Force (4.254 sec., 237.71 mph) def. HAGAN (5.042, 272.78)
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)