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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.

Matt Hagan, driver of the DieHard Dodge Charger R/T Funny Car for Don Schumacher Racing, is excited about this weekend’s 11th annual NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals because he considers it a “home race” as the Bristol Dragway sits some two hours from his Christiansburg, Va., home.

The excitement for the 28-year-old Don Schumacher Racing driver is twofold – competing on the 1,000-foot drag strip in front of family and friends and coming off a solid performance in the last race.

“I’ve got double duty this weekend,” he said. “I’ve got to drive and I’ve got to entertain family and friends, but that’s cool, I’ll be just fine.

“We’re going to have fun. It’s cool to be so close to home; it’s cool so many folks want to get my autograph.

“I’ll get to sleep in my own bed Thursday night, then get into my truck, drive to Bristol Friday and jump in the DieHard car for qualifying (two nitro rounds scheduled, beginning at 5:30 p.m. ET).”

Hagan went to the semifinals almost two weeks ago in Englishtown, N.J., his best finish since the second race of the 2011 NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series season, and heads into this weekend holding fifth place in the Funny Car standings.

“We made a strong showing in the last race, especially against John (Force) in the first round,” said Hagan, who edged the 2010 Funny Car champion by .035 seconds. “We are definitely headed in the right direction and I can’t wait to get back into the car Friday.

“Tommy DeLago (crew chief) and the DieHard team are getting a better handle on the race car and we are quite capable of winning this weekend.”

According to Hagan, the team has moved to a setup like last season’s which produced three national-event victories, the elapsed-time record (set twice by Hagan) and challenged Force through the final race of the season for the championship (he finished in second place).

“I’m confident we’ll get there,” he said. “Tommy’s an animal as a crew chief – and that’s a good thing.”

Matt Hagan directed the DieHard Dodge Charger R/T Funny Car to the semifinals here Sunday in the NHRA SuperNationals at Old Bridge Township Raceway Park.

The Christiansburg, Va. cattle farmer was beaten by Cruz Pedregon in the semis after his car began to lose traction right before half-track. Pedregon posted a 4.111-second pass at 284.62 mph to Hagan’s 4.314-second clocking at 257.43 mph.

“It’s tough to swallow that loss,” said the 2010 NHRA Full Throttle Funny Car championship runner-up. “Cruz had a hell of a race car and we tried to step it up, but our car got loose and I had to “pedal” it. You have to do that because it is race day and you just never know what can happen.  You have to go for the win.”

It was Hagan’s first semifinal round advancement since the March Gainesville, Fla. race. Ironically enough, it was Cruz Pedregon who disposed of Hagan at that time.

“This was a good outing for us, but we’d like to be running for the money,” said Hagan. “Getting to final rounds with the chance to win is what it’s all about. We’ll get there.”

Hagan’s trip to his meeting with Pedregon included wins over defending world champion, John Force, and Melanie Troxel.

“Getting by John Force was huge,” he offered. “He’s behind us in the standings and we wanted to maintain that advantage. Overall, it was a good weekend and the DieHard car made some improvements from where we’d been. We went some rounds, so we’re definitely making progress.”

Hagan, who is fifth in the points, will now have a weekend off before making trips to Bristol (Tenn.) Dragway (June 17-19) and Summit Racing Equipment Motorsports Park in Norwalk, Ohio (June 23-26), respectively.

“Obviously, I’m looking forward to Bristol since it’s near where I live,” he said. “I’m sure I’ll have plenty of family and friends there to cheer us on.”

Matt Hagan drove the DieHard Dodge Charger R/T Funny Car into the 12th starting position for Sunday’s final eliminations of the 42nd annual NHRA SuperNationals here at Old Bridge Township Raceway Park.

The 28-year-old Don Schumacher Racing driver used his third-round run of 4.142 seconds at 299.86 miles per hour to secure a first-round match with John Force, who needed a 4.107 lap in the final round to make the field.

“Obviously, you can’t take John or his team lightly,” said Hagan, who finished runner up last year to Force in the Funny Car championship. “I’ll bring my A game, Tommy (DeLago, crew chief) will bring his A game, as will their team, and we’ll have fun racing.”

The DieHard team, like many of the Funny Car teams, had issues getting down the track during Friday’s two qualifying runs. Hagan turned in laps of 6.979 and 4.300, ending the night in the 12th starting spot.

The third-round run moved him into ninth, but a 6.519 final lap allowed several drivers to go around him.

“It’s a bit frustrating,” said Hagan. “We need to put some wins on the board and they will come, I’m sure. Tommy hasn’t forgotten how to tune a car and I haven’t forgotten how to drive.

“We’ve been trying some new things, and just haven’t hit our stride, yet. We will.”

Hagan, who is a fulltime cattle farmer in his native Christiansburg, Va., when not racing, came into the weekend fifth in the 2011 NHRA Full Throttle Funny Car standings. He trails Mike Neff, DSR teammate Jack Beckman, Robert Hight and Cruz Pedregon (respectively).

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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