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Matt Hagan, last season’s runner up in the NHRA Full Throttle Funny Car championship, will debut the Autolite/DieHard Funny Car, with a unique paint scheme, during qualifying May 13 for the 31st annual NHRA Southern Nationals at Atlanta Dragway in Commerce, Ga.

Hagan, 28, will drive the distinctive black and orange Autolite Dodge Charger R/T throughout the weekend, the sixth event on the 2011 NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series schedule.

“I’m thrilled to add such a storied automotive brand like Autolite to my supporters,” said the Don Schumacher Racing driver. “Autolite spark plugs, FRAM filters and Prestone anti-freeze are great automotive names with great pedigrees – and as a full-time (cattle) farmer in addition to a lifetime around automobiles, I know something about pedigrees!”

Matt Hagan drove the DieHard Dodge Charger R/T Funny Car into the quarterfinals today at the 24th annual NHRA Spring Nationals here at Royal Purple Raceway.

After defeating 2011 NHRA Full Throttle Funny Car points leader Robert Hight in the first round at the track formerly known as Houston Raceway Park, the 28-year-old Don Schumacher Racing driver could not repeat that performance against Hight’s teammate Mike Neff in round two.

Neff, whose 4.122-second, 310.34-mile-per-hour lap was the quickest of the round, outdistanced Hagan, a cattle farmer from Christiansburg, Va., who posted a 4.211/300.73-mph pass. His first round pass was 4.261/297.02 mph versus Hight’s 4.952/163.35. 

Despite the natural disappointment at his premature departure, he still found reason for optimism moving forward.

“I am still excited about where our program is headed,” said an obviously frustrated Hagan, who had won this race last year. “We have a good race car, qualified in the top half of the field, and are just working things out.  It was a hot, humid, sticky day and the track was tricky, just like yesterday. Considering the conditions, we were still able to get a few good runs under our belt.

“Tommy DeLago (DieHard crew chief) did a great job this weekend, especially considering he was doing double duty, helping out on Ron’s (Capps, DSR teammate) car.

“He got both cars in the show and both made it into the quarterfinals on Sunday. That says a lot about Tommy and his ability, tuning two race cars in the same race under tough weather and track conditions.”

Heading to the next event on the 2011 NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series schedule, the May 13-15 31st annual Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Southern Nationals in Commerce, Ga., Hagan holds sixth place in the Funny Car standings. He trails points-leader Mike Neff, Robert Hight, DSR teammate Jack Beckman, Cruz Pedregon and Jeff Arend.

“We’ll go back to the shop, get everything serviced and ready, then head to Atlanta Dragway,” he said. “That race is pretty close to home, so I’ll have friends and family out to watch and hopefully we’ll turn it around there.”

Matt Hagan drove his DieHard Dodge Charger R/T Funny Car into the fifth starting position for Sunday’s 24th annual NHRA Spring Nationals as today’s qualifying rounds ended here at Royal Purple Raceway. 

The 28-year-old cattle farmer from Christiansburg, Va. will face Robert Hight, points leader in the 2011 NHRA Full Throttle Funny Car championship standings, in the first round of eliminations. Hagan expects a battle from the onset against both the elements and the driving competition.

“It’s going to be tough,” said the Don Schumacher Racing driver, who is the defending event champion. “The conditions will be like today, when we had trouble getting down the track, and Robert is always a tough competitor.

“I’m prepared to do what it takes. Last year, the track threw us a curve and I had to pedal the car to the finish in the finals. I’m prepared to do it again this year, if that is what is necessary.”

The runner-up for last year’s Funny Car championship remains optimistic in the face of these obstacles.

“We had trouble getting down the track today, but so did Hight; everyone is in the same boat here,” he said. “I am just looking forward to going rounds and getting myself back up in the points and building momentum for the future.”

Hagan entered this weekend holding fifth place in the standings, trailing Hight, Mike Neff, DSR teammate Jack Beckman and Cruz Pedregon.

“They’re all great drivers with great teams,” he said. “But I know Tommy DeLago (crew chief), just an animal tuner, and my DieHard guys are the equal to any of them and we are capable of winning on any given Sunday.

“I would like to begin that process tomorrow, here, the place where I got my first Funny Car win, which launched us on that great run last year.”

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.

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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)