Event Recap 54th NHRA Gatornationals

Matt Hagan, Driver of the Dodge Direct Connection Charger SRT Hellcat Funny Car

“It’s super special to win the Gatornationals again. I tried my whole career to win here, and we just got the first one last year. Can’t say enough about Dickie Venables (crew chief) and the crew today. It’s Dickie’s birthday and this win is a present for him. We had the entire crew come back this year which is rare in motorsports. We have a new chassis which I had to get accustomed to with a different steering setup and clutch position in the new car, but testing helped me get used to it. We thought we had a good car after testing and it says a lot with Dickie’s experience and the crew’s effort. I knew J.R. (Todd) was going to be tough in the final, and he poked his nose out ahead a bit early and then we drove around him for the win. I can’t thank Dodge and Mopar for their assistance with our TSR squad. The Direct Connection Dodge SRT Charger Hellcat ran awesome today. It was great to win Tony’s first Wally here last year and this one is very special too. It’s different to start the whole season at Gainesville after decades at Pomona. The crowd here was just spectacular. It took me two hours to get into the track on Saturday. It was a sellout. Winning my 44th NHRA national event is very special when you have legends like John Force, Ron Capps and Robert Hight in front of me. I’m younger than those guys but it feels great to have that many wins. For the past several years, it’s been those guys and several others for the title at the end of the year. Now, with this win, it a super way to start the 2023 season. We hope to continue it next race at Phoenix.”

Tony Stewart, Team Owner

“This was an awesome weekend for us in Gainesville at the Gatornationals. Matt’s win is the anniversary of our very first team win in the nitro division, so what an awesome weekend. We couldn’t ask for more. Dickie Venables’ birthday is today, so what an awesome way to celebrate. We have two other team members with birthdays this week. We’re really big on birthdays and we’re one team, all team. You can’t win them all if you don’t win the first one, so we got the first one in the books. Leah and her team did an awesome job making it to the Semifinals. What a transformation from a year ago when we missed the show. What a difference a year makes. I’m really proud of everyone at TSR.”

Dickie Venables, Crew Chief

“Every winter we look at what we can do better. So, we looked at the equipment and we had a new chassis that was a different design. Plus, we had a few new engine parts too. We came down to Gainesville to test and we made 14 test runs. It showed a lot of promise, and it finally came together at the end of testing. We thought we had something better than last year. Sometimes it doesn’t work out that way. We know Matt (Hagan) will drive the wheels off the car and it’s a great way to start the season. Matt had to get used to a new chassis and so do we on the crew side. The timing into the final round was a little tight. They had a TV window they needed to get to and we had about 50 minutes before the final. Our guys just knocked it out of the park preparing for the final.”

Matt Hagan, driver of the Dodge Direct Connection Charger SRT Hellcat Funny Car: 

  • Earned No. 4 provisional qualifying position in Q1 on Friday (3.908 ET at 329.99 mph).
  • Friday’s second qualifying session was canceled due to rain.
  • Maintained No. 4 provisional qualifying position based off Friday’s Q1 run. In Q3 on Saturday, Hagan ran 4.475 ET at 192.22 mph.
  • Secured No. 5 qualifying position in Q4 on Saturday (3.890 ET at 333.08 mph).
  • Advanced to Finals on Sunday:
  • Round 1: 3.879 ET at 335.82 mph, defeated Tim Wilkerson (4.233 ET at 221.63 mph)
  • Round 2: 3.882 ET at 329.67 mph, defeated Bob Tasca III (3.922 ET at 328.14 mph)
  • Semifinal: 3.896 ET at 330.39 mph, defeated Alexis DeJoria (3.912 ET at 327.19 mph)
  • Final: 3.926 ET at 329.34 mph, defeated J.R. Todd (4.141 ET at 239.95 mph.
  • Currently leads the Funny Car championship standings with a 41-point advantage over Chad Green.

Notes of Interest

  • Hagan’s Funny Car win delivered Tony Stewart Racing (TSR) its first victory of 2023 in the season-opener. It marks the second consecutive year Hagan has won the NHRA Gatornationals.
  • This was Hagan’s milestone 44th career Funny Car win, which puts him fourth all-time in Funny Car wins behind John Force, Ron Capps and Robert Hight.
  • Hagan will have a rematch against Alexis DeJoria at the NHRA Arizona Nationals as part of the NHRA’s #2Fast2Tasty Mission NHRA Challenge. The semifinalists from Gainesville will rematch during qualifying on Saturday, with bonus money and points on the line as part of the special new program for 2023.