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Traction issues led to Matt Hagan, driving the Sears Auto Center Home of the DieHard Dodge Charger R/T Funny Car, losing his first-round match today during the 14th-annual Route 66 NHRA Nationals here at Route 66 Raceway.

An excess of power on a hot race track produced tire spin, loss of traction and a loss to number-15 qualifier Dale Creasy Jr. Hagan, coming out of the second-starting position, pedaled his Funny Car, but could not catch Creasy. The Don Schumacher Racing machine posted a 4.620 run at 259.91, not quick enough to catch Creasy’s 4.396 at 268.06.

“This car didn’t react the way a number-two qualifier should,” he said. “We should be getting out of the first round. I’m not happy, the crew and Tommy (DeLago, crew chief) are not happy and Don (Schumacher) is not happy.”

Hagan believes a test session Monday should go a long way to helping the team resolve some of its issues.

“We have to focus on one thing – going out and going rounds,” he said. “We’ll test here tomorrow and the weather will be hot and the track will be slippery, which are conditions we need to work on as the season moves into the summer months.”

Remaining positive, despite passing the half-way point of the 22-race 2011 NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series season without a victory, is key to improving, Hagan believes.

“We can’t walk around with our heads down; we have to keep our confidence. We need to get results out of this test session and apply it to the next few races, which could offer similar, tough conditions.

“I feel Tommy can turn this thing around. He’ll find and pick a setup combination and ‘rub on it.’ I trust him, he trusts me and I’ll stay with him to the bitter end. This is the guy who makes the decisions and we go with them.

“And we have eight wonderful guys working on the DieHard car – the best of the best!”

Hagan heads to the Western Swing, consecutive weekends, beginning July 22, in Denver, Sonoma and Seattle, sitting in fifth place of the Funny Car standings. He trails Mike Neff (today’s winner), DSR teammate Jack Beckman, Robert Hight and Cruz Pedregon (respectively).

Aboard the Sears Auto Center Home of the DieHard Dodge Charger R/T Funny Car, Matt Hagan grabbed the second-starting position for Sunday’s 14th annual Route 66 NHRA Nationals here at Route 66 Raceway.

The 28-year-old Don Schumacher Racing driver’s 4.114-second, 296.18-mile-per-hour lap in Friday’s second-qualifying session propelled him into a first-round match Sunday against 15th-qualifier Dale Creasy Jr.

Weather – midday heat – could introduce a new factor for Sunday’s eliminations, which begin at 11 a.m. CT, but Hagan’s concerns are tempered by success during qualifying.

“Tommy DeLago (crew chief) got this hot rod down the track three times, including in the heat of Friday and Saturday afternoons,” said the defending event champion. “It may be a bit hotter tomorrow then it was Friday, but it was very hot (track temperatures exceeded 130 degrees) and we put up some good numbers (4.320 at 243.19 and 4.225 at 284.03, second-best of the first and third rounds).

“Remember, everyone has to deal with the same conditions, with the same limited data.”

Hagan, who came into the weekend fifth in the 2011 NHRA Full Throttle Funny Car standings, is excited about both the qualifying results and final-eliminations prospects due to a change in his ride.

“We brought out last-year’s car for this race and we made three solid runs during qualifying,” said the Christiansburg, Va. native. “We still need more runs with this race car, but we are definitely going in the right direction.

“We won three races and finished second in the championship last year with this car, so I’m really excited about driving it again – and making our first appearance of 2011 in the winner’s circle with it.”

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.

Next NHRA Event

FC Mello Yello Points

Unofficial NHRA Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship Standings:

Funny Car

1 Jack Beckman 278
2 Tommy Johnson Jr 276
3 Matt Hagan 238
4 Tim Wilkerson 179
5 John Force 173
6 Ron Capps 159
7 Alexis DeJoria 154
8 Bob Tasca III 149
9 J.R. Todd 141
10 Robert Hight 100