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Matt Hagan reached the quarterfinal round in Sunday’s NHRA Summer Nationals here at Heartland Park Topeka.

Hagan came out of the gate strong with an impressive run by his DieHard Dodge Charger R/T Funny Car in the first round of eliminations, recording the second best elapsed time of the session –  4.112 seconds at 304.12 miles per hour.

“We were feeling pretty good about the first run of the day, but also knew the conditions were changing,” stated Hagan. “The heat not only presented a tune-up challenge for our DieHard team, but based on all the tire smoke it was a universal issue here at Topeka.”

Entering the quarterfinal round, Hagan knew it was a roll of the dice.

“It was like throwing darts for the second round,” explained the 28-year-old cattle farmer from Christiansburg, Va. “We did not see any of these conditions the past two days and it was a difficult time for all crew chiefs.”

In Hagan’s quarterfinal match against Robert Hight, both drivers lost traction with Hight getting to the finish line first.

“It was one of those deals that didn’t go our way,” noted the Don Schumacher Racing driver, who is fifth in Funny Car points. “But we’re not disappointed, we know what to do, we’re confident and having fun in the process.”

The next race is the NHRA SuperNationals, June 2-5 at Old Bridge Township Raceway Park in Englishtown, N.J.

Matt Hagan, driving the DieHard Dodge Charger R/T Funny Car, qualified 11th for Sunday’s 23rd annual NHRA Summer Nationals here at Heartland Park Topeka.

Hagan’s best run came in the first qualifying session Friday – a 4.102-second elapsed time at 306.95 miles per hour.

“I know we’re better than 11th, we just had some things happen to us which are not typical,” said Hagan. “I know that Tommy (DeLago, crew chief) will work his magic with our DieHard Dodge Charger.”

Hagan’s first-round opponent will be No. 6 qualifier Tim Wilkerson, who qualified with a 4.081 at 305.15.

“We know that Tim (Wilkerson) will be tough and we need to be ready for him,” added Hagan. “We didn’t qualify where we thought we would, but hopefully we can change things around tomorrow.”

The top-five Funny Car qualifiers in order were: Jack Beckman (4.054), Johnny Gray (4.058), Robert Hight (4.067), Mike Neff (4.070) and Cruz Pedregon (4.072).

ESPN2 and ESPN2HD will televise three hours of eliminations coverage Sunday beginning at 7 p.m. ET.

Matt Hagan foresees a turnaround in the fortunes of the DieHard Dodge Charger R/T Funny Car, which he hopes begins this weekend by going deep into the 23rd annual NHRA Summer Nationals here at Heartland Park Topeka.

According to the 28-year-old Don Schumacher Racing driver, the Tommy DeLago-led team has reverted to previous setups to capture the magic which propelled the then-sophomore racer into the runner-up spot for the 2010 NHRA Full Throttle Funny Car championship.

“We’re running the same combinations as we did last year,” Hagan explained. “Tommy has a good handle on it and this is especially important for the hot-weather tracks, like Topeka, which can be real tricky.”

The team, which finished last season strong, including setting, then breaking the sport’s elapsed-time record, has been frustrated by not repeating a final-round appearance like it attained in the first race of 2011 at Pomona.

Hagan said the recent changes made by DeLago and on-track performance, including a quarterfinals appearance last week at the NHRA Southern Nationals, has the team thinking positive thoughts. 

“It’s all about confidence,” said the cattle farmer from Christiansburg, Va. “We have to keep our heads up and our chins up and get back into it. We know what this DieHard Funny Car is capable of doing; it can win races – and we will.

“Tommy’s an animal crew chief – and I mean that he goes after it on the track. I like being aggressive and Tommy gives me that kind of race car.”

Hagan’s results after six races find him holding fifth place in the Funny Car standings. He trails Mike Neff, DSR teammate Jack Beckman, Robert Hight and Cruz Pedregon (respectively) in the quest to be first by the end of the 16-race “regular” season in preparation for the six-race Countdown to 1 playoffs.

“We’ll be there when it counts,” he said. “And good things will start this weekend.”

Matt Hagan drove the Autolite/DieHard Dodge Charger R/T Funny Car into the quarterfinals of the 31st NHRA Southern Nationals here today at Atlanta Dragway.

The 28-year-old Don Schumacher Racing driver cited a major positive accomplishment after the weekend in Georgia, despite the second-round departure from the race.

 “It looks like Tommy DeLago (crew chief) has a handle on the Autolite/DieHard Funny Car,” he said. “We ran two 4.10s this weekend and the car felt good.

 “Tommy’s going with the setup which was so successful last year (when the then sophomore driver finished runner-up in the Funny Car championship) and this is really important as we get into the hot weather, when tracks get trickier.

 “I’m happy with how this Funny Car is running now.”

 Hagan, a cattle farmer from Christiansburg, Va., opened the race with a first-round victory over Paul Lee, using his quickest pass of the weekend (4.107 seconds at 301.81 miles per hour) to secure lane choice in the second round against Mike Neff, who eventually lost in the finals to Hagan’s DSR teammate Jack Beckman.

According to Hagan – whose 4.484-at-212.39-mph pass was not enough to catch Neff’s 4.126 at 301.13 – his driving was at fault in the loss.

“I let it get out of the groove,” he explained. “And when the track is as hot as it was today, it’s tough to bring it back in quickly enough against a driver like Mike. I kind of lost us the round.

“But the way things are beginning to turn around for the Autolite/DieHard car, I’m looking forward to next week’s race in Topeka.”

Hagan heads to Heartland Park for the May 20-22 23rd annual NHRA Summer Nationals holding fifth place in the 2011 NHRA Full Throttle Funny Car standings, trailing Neff, Beckman, Robert Hight and Cruz Pedregon (respectively).

A combination of new things – a new body, a new sponsor and a new approach – being rolled out this weekend for the 31st annual NHRA Southern Nationals here at Atlanta Dragway provides Matt Hagan with optimism for both the race and the remainder of the season.

Hagan will drive a unique black-and-orange Autolite/DieHard Dodge Charger R/T Funny Car for the Atlanta race. In addition, DirtRoadNation.com, one of the largest Oakley distributors/retailers in the South, comes on board as an associate sponsor for the remainder of the season.

According to the 28-year-old Don Schumacher Racing driver, his team is returning to the methods and approach which brought him to within a couple of rounds of winning the 2010 NHRA Full Throttle Funny Car championship.

“I’m excited to get to this race,” said the working cattle farmer from Christiansburg, Va. “Tommy DeLago (crew chief) has us getting back to what we know, what worked for us last year.

“We’ve been in sort of test mode most of this season, trying new things and we might have sacrificed some races along the way. It’s now time to get down to business, down to racing.

“And I’m excited doing it in a new body, with some great new sponsors, as well as our primary one, DieHard, which has been just a terrific supporter for us.”

Hagan opened the 2011 NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series season with a final-round appearance, then a semifinal one, followed by two first-round ousters before reaching the quarterfinals in the last race. He comes to Atlanta Dragway holding sixth place in the Funny Car championship standings.

“It’s now time to go rounds, get deeper into each race and I believe we will,” he said. “Tommy’s been working really hard and I know he can knock one out of the park; he’s proven it!”

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FC Mello Yello Points

Funny Car (Unofficial)

1. Courtney Force (546)
2. Jack Beckman (538)
3. Matt Hagan (487)
4. Tommy Johnson Jr. (436)
5. J.R. Todd (428)
6. Robert Hight (421)
7. Ron Capps (404)
8. Cruz Pedregon (357)
9. Shawn Langdon (301)
10. Tim Wilkerson (293)