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The crowds at this weekend’s 14th annual Route 66 NHRA Nationals here at Route 66 Raceway will see a unique sight when track-elapsed-time record-holder Matt Hagan comes to the starting line – he will be at the wheel of the Sears Auto Center Home of the DieHard Dodge Charger R/T Funny Car.

The unique-graphics design pays homage to DieHard’s primary customer – Sears Auto Center – and is featured at this, the (Hoffman Estates (Ill.) –based) company’s “home race.”

Hagan set the E.T. mark at 4.022 seconds (a national record until he broke it with a 4.011 later in the season) en route to winning the race.

Matt Hagan, aboard the DieHard Dodge Charger R/T Funny Car, hopes to replay last year’s outcome at this weekend’s 14th annual Route 66 NHRA Nationals and thus secure his first win of the 2011 NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series.

The Don Schumacher Racing driver overcame lengthy rain delays and ever-changing and challenging weather conditions at last year’s event to not only gain the victory, his second career and second seasonal one, but also set a national elapsed-time record of 4.022 seconds (which he broke and reset, at 4.011, later in the year at Maple Grove, Penn.).

“We had a fairy tale ending here last year,” said the Christiansburg, Va. native who has struggled through an uneven 2011 NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series season. “We should have had our first win in Pomona and I let it slip through my fingers. We just have to get the DieHard car secured and get that win.

“That first win will go a long way to relieving the pressure the DieHard team is putting on itself. Once that win comes, we’ll be able to breathe easier.”

One antidote for the pressure, according to Hagan, is to take a different approach to the racing.

“We have to maintain our focus, no doubt, but we still need to have fun,” he said. “If we do that, the wins will come and things will right themselves.

“After last season (which ended with Hagan runner up in the Funny Car championship), people thought we would dominate. But this is nitro drag racing and it’s never as easy or as predictable as many think.  We have a good car, a great team and a great crew chief – we’ll get there!”

Hagan goes into the weekend race here at Route 66 Raceway holding fifth place in the 2011 NHRA Full Throttle Funny Car standings behind leader Mike Neff, DSR teammate Jack Beckman, Robert Hight and Cruz Pedregon.

“I’m just excited about going back to Chicago,” he said. “I’m looking forward to spending some time with the DieHard folks, who are based in the area, having fun and having a great weekend!”

Matt Hagan piloted the DieHard Dodge Charger R/T Funny Car into the second round of today’s fifth annual Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals here, thus maintaining his hold on fifth place in the NHRA Full Throttle Funny Car standings.

The Don Schumacher Racing driver qualified a strong fourth in a rain-abbreviated preliminary program, and then bested Bob Bode in the first round of today’s eliminations at Summit Racing Equipment Motorsports Park before dropping a tire-smoking run to Mike Neff, Funny Car points’ leader and eventual race winner, in the quarterfinals.

Saturday featured two qualifying rounds, with Hagan posting a first-session pass of 4.106 seconds at 304.32 miles per hour to secure his starting position. Today, he beat Bode with a 4.170 lap at 300.66 mph before losing traction in the second round of eliminations en route to producing a run of 9.557 at 69.20.

“We’ve got to get out of fifth place and begin to make our move,” said the 28-year-old Christiansburg, Va. native. “It’s great to see the guys continue to work hard, with their chins up, but we are all ready to begin winning.

“We’ve got to get our ‘mojo’ working for Chicago, where we had a great win last season,” added the runner up in the 2010 NHRA Full Throttle Funny Car championship. “That win is coming soon and Joliet sounds like the right place for it to happen.”

Including the July 7-10 Route 66 NHRA Nationals at the Chicago-area Route 66 Raceway, the 11th stop on the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series schedule, six races remain in the regular season. The Countdown to 1 playoffs begin after the U.S. Nationals Labor Day weekend in Indianapolis.

“We want win some races and get on a roll going into the Countdown,” Hagan said. “We did that last year, winning in Chicago, and then made a good run for the championship. We want to put the DieHard car back into that position as this season moves into its later stages.

A return to Summit Racing Equipment Motorsports Park here for this weekend’s fifth-annual Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals has DieHard Dodge Charger R/T Funny Car driver Matt Hagan excited.

The runner-up in last year’s NHRA Full Throttle Funny Car championship likes coming to the Ohio venue for the simple enjoyment of the racing.

“They get great crowds and it’s a great track,” said the 28-year-old Don Schumacher Racing driver. “The track’s about six hours from home, so it’s not a tough travel weekend and I can stay home a bit later and get more work done on the farm. I also enjoyed coming here in my Pro Mod days.

“And the way Tommy DeLago (crew chief) has my DieHard Funny Car running, driving this weekend should also be a lot of fun.”

The Christiansburg, Va. cattle farmer put together five solid runs during qualifying and final eliminations of last week’s Bristol race before losing traction and, subsequently, his second-round match with Jeff Arend.

“The car felt good in Bristol and we put on a good show for all my family and friends who came to that race (some two hours from his home),” he said. “I’m feeling really good about how things are going; we just need to take the next step and grab a Wally – and I think we’re really close!”

Hagan started the Bristol race from the second spot, getting down the track in each of the four qualifying sessions, never finishing one below the third position. DeLago overcame the challenges of changing weather and track conditions, as well as a four-hour rain delay, to tune the DieHard machine for a first-round win against Paul Lee.

“I can’t say enough about how Tommy goes after it,” Hagan said. “And I know he will this weekend, which will be great for us and for the fans.”

When qualifying begins, scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Friday, Hagan will be fifth in the NHRA Full Throttle Funny Car standings trailing Cruz Pedregon, Robert Hight, DSR teammate Jack Beckman and points leader Robert Hight.

Matt Hagan described the Bristol Dragway surface as being smooth as silk after blasting the DieHard Dodge Charger R/T Funny Car into the second starting spot for Sunday’s 11th annual NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals here.

The 28-year-old Don Schumacher Racing driver’s 4.082-second lap at 308.07 miles per hour in today’s final qualifying session temporarily put him at the top of the pack before Bob Tasca III’s 4.056-second run moved him down a rung on the eliminations ladder.  Even so, he was excited by his performance.

“Tommy DeLago (crew chief) is an animal and is getting this DieHard car dialed in,” Hagan said. “He has put an incredible race car underneath me and I just had to do my job in the cockpit.”

Hagan will take on Paul Lee in the first round of final eliminations, scheduled to begin at noon ET, in front of a large rooting section.

“This track is only a couple of hours from home,” said the Christiansburg, Va., native and resident.  “It’s been great doing so well in front of so many family and friends so far this weekend, to be able to put on a good show, but Sunday is when it counts.

“I love how well we did today and yesterday (where he never placed below third after any qualifying round), but anyone who qualifies can win, so we’ve just got to keep on getting the job done tomorrow like we have so far.”

Hagan opened qualifying on Friday with a first-round best 4.165 at 298.87 mph, followed by a night-session run of 4.112 at 303.50. Today, in the heat of the afternoon, the DieHard team turned a 4.228-second lap at 294.63 before the stout last run, which followed a long rain delay.

“The track and weather conditions changed drastically after the storm,” he explained. “And Tommy really figured it out. He will go for the throat – and that’s a great thing! Now we just have to go four rounds on Sunday and claim a Wally.”

The runner up in the 2010 NHRA Full Throttle Funny Car championship heads into the Bristol Dragway race holding fifth place in the standings and looking for his first victory of the season.



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FC Mello Yello Points

Unofficial NHRA Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship Standings:

Funny Car

1 Robert Hight 1397
2 Tommy Johnson Jr 1218
3 John Force 1199
4 Ron Capps 1171
5 Jack Beckman 1098
6 Matt Hagan 1047
7 Bob Tasca III 1038
8 J.R. Todd 981
9 Shawn Langdon 914
10 Tim Wilkerson 824