NHRA’s Hagan Hoping For A Happier Ending

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Thursday, October 6 2011

Matt Hagan's 2010 season ended on the sourest of notes. (File photos courtesy of the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series)

Matt Hagan didn’t really need to be interviewed in the moments after he lost the 2010 Funny Car championship to John Force at the season-ending race in Pomona. The nauseated look on Hagan’s face told the whole story.

There’s a new look on Hagan’s face these days, however. It’s the look of a driver who is just aching to do something that will relieve the most painful memories of his career.

And that something is to continue the NHRA playoffs hot streak which started with the victory he secured in the Countdown-openner at zMAX Dragway three races ago – a hot streak which has seen him move to the top of the Funny Car point standings.

“Obviously,” the Don Schumacher Racing driver said this week during a teleconference to talk about next weekend’s Arizona Nationals, “that’s the goal out here is to win. We’re trying very hard to make that happen. We tried very hard last year. I think things don’t always go your way. You have to learn from that and move forward.

“I’m just really glad to be back in this hunt. To have the opportunity to come out here and mix it up with these guys, phenomenal racecars, phenomenal drivers, to be able to say we’re still battling out with these guys is a pretty neat thing for me.”

Hagan battled with those guys week in and week out a year ago. And when he got to the Countdown, he took ownership.

When Hagan and his Don Schumacher Racing team got to Pomona in November, he had a huge lead

Matt Hagan's hot streak began with a victory at zMAX Dragway.

over Force and just needed to win a round or two in eliminations to win the championship. Hagan lost in the first round and then had to sit and watch, hoping that somebody would topple Force.

The TV cameras moved in on Hagan as he watched the championship-depriving run. It was tortuous to watch the look on his face.

Should have been on the other side of that look, Hagan said. He sarcastically calls it a character-building moment.

“I think that you learn from your lessons you’ve gone through in life,” Hagain said. “I got taught a lot of life lessons there along the way. For me, you know, you come in the points lead last year, you feel like all you have to do is go a couple rounds, you sew up a championship…”

The character-building project did not end when the 2010 season did. Hagan and his team got off to a slow start. There would be no victories and three first-round losses in the non-Countdown portion of the schedule.

And Hagan would begin the Countdown tied for sixth in points.

And Hagan will head to Arizona with a two-point lead over John Force Racing’s Mike Neff at the top of the standings and three races to go in the season.

“I think as far as the first three races have really helped us prepare for the next three races,” Hagan said. “We just came out of Dallas, which is hot. We’re going back into Phoenix. Redding was cool. We have Vegas that I think will be cool weather conditions, mediocre kind of thing. Pomona is always usually cool. You’re going to have some jackets on there.

“What you learned from the last three races with the setup and the combination you’re going to run in the Countdown I think will really play into hand for the last three. It’s been a learning experience. I know my crew chief has definitely taken a lot of notes on this hot weather stuff and some cool weather stuff. If you can take that and pull from it, obviously learn from it to better these next three races.

I think sometimes you might see some cooler conditions. When we started off in Pomona the beginning of this year, there was an inch of ice they were clearing off the track. Pomona gets the opportunity to get cool and it can get hot during the day. It’s pretty tricky. You’ll have to kind of pull from your notes and make things happen.

“I don’t know if it’s so much a wild card as it is you just take those three races, learn from them, apply them to the next three.”

And hope that when they are over, the TV cameras will capture a happier Matt Hagan.

– Jim Pedley can be reached at jpedley@racintoday.com

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Thursday, October 6 2011
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