Hagan’s Job Is To Take Down The People’s Choice
By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
Matt Hagan’s pursuit of a second NHRA Funny Car world championship has cast him in the role of villain, the fate of any number of drivers chasing drag racing icon John Force.
“Well, if you read Facebook there ain’t no Matt Hagan fans out there. That drives you,” said Hagan, who trails Force by 65 points heading into the first two rounds of qualifications Friday for the 13th annual NHRA Toyota Nationals in Las Vegas. “People either love you or they hate you. I don’t want anything in between. Yeah, I feel like we’ve got the cards stacked against us, but if we can come out here and pull this thing off, it’ll make everything that much sweeter for us.”
Force’s point advantage translates into a little over three rounds of racing, with only eight rounds remaining beginning with Race 5 of the six-event Countdown to the Championship at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. A 15-time world champion, Force needs to increase his lead by 86 points over Hagan in order to clinch at the end of Sunday’s eliminations. All 10 Countdown drivers in Funny Car remain mathematically alive for the championship.
Force and his counterparts in Top Fuel, Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle will need a lead of 151 points or more at the conclusion of racing Sunday to lock-up their respective NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series world championships in Vegas. A maximum of 150 points is available at the event to one racer in each professional category.
In Top Fuel, Shawn Langdon holds an 83-point advantage over Doug Kalitta and an 86-point lead over Spencer Massey. In order to clinch in Vegas, Langdon needs to increase his lead by 68 points (more than three rounds) over second place. There are still nine drivers mathematically in contention for the
championship title in Top Fuel.
Jeg Coughlin Jr. leads Mike Edwards by 45 points in Pro Stock, with Jason Line 50 points back and reigning world champion Allen Johnson 73 points behind. Coughlin, a four-time world champion, needs to add 106 points over second place (more than five rounds) to secure the championship in Vegas. There are nine Factory Hot Rod drivers in contention.
Matt Smith has a 125-point lead over Hector Arana Jr. in Pro Stock Motorcycle, while Michael Ray, Hector Arana Sr. and Eddie Krawiec all are within striking distance. Smith needs to increase his lead by 26 points (more than one round) over second place to secure the championship in Vegas. Eight riders are mathematically in contention.
Force and Hagan have been involved in similar championship battles recently, with Force prevailing in 2010 and Hagan claiming his title in 2011. Hagan, of Don Schumacher Racing, has rebounded from a lackluster 2012 season during which he failed to qualify among the top-10 drivers for the Countdown.
Force, 64, has added to his popularity during a tumultuous season marked by summertime announcements from Ford Racing and long-time sponsor Castrol that they would be ending their corporate associations with John Force Racing after the 2014 campaign.
Hagan, 30, has led the standings for most of the season, relinquishing the top spot after the most recent Countdown event at Maple Grove Raceway in Reading, Pa., on Oct. 6.
“Yeah, it’s tough,” said Hagan, a four-time winner this season in his Magneti Marelli/Rocky Boots Dodge Charger. “John Force has been out here 30-some years doing this. He’s built a humongous fan base. This is my fifth season out here doing this. I don’t expect everybody to cheer for me. I’m not asking you to.
“John is a legend, but I think some of that stuff gets in people’s heads. Nothing but respect for that man. He built fuel Funny Car racing. Without John Force it’s hard to say that there’s NHRA. I mean, you can’t help but like the guy. I like the guy and I’m racing him. He’s always been very kind to me. He’s a stand-up guy. He’s the same off -camera as he is on-camera, and just a good all-around guy. So yeah, I understand why people like him. But when it comes to racing, I want to beat him so bad I can’t stand it. I think about it at night, I think about it in the morning, I think about it when we’re out here doing this (testing) deal. And I try not to think about it because sometimes I feel like it consumes me.”
Hagan clicked early this season with a new but proven crew chief in Dickie Venables and a young team. Force, meanwhile, has rallied to win the last two Countdown events in his Jimmy Prock-tuned Castrol GTX Ford Mustang. Force paired-up with Prock near midseason in a crew chief swap involving son-in-law Robert Hight’s team. Brut’s latest winning streak has raised his total to a record 137.
“We got past him (Hagan) three years ago,” Force said. “But at the end of the day, he could do the same thing to us this time. He’s got a fast hot rod over there with Dickie and Schumacher. He’s a great young driver and he’s motivated. That’s a dangerous combination. But Prock has given me a good hot rod and I’m ready for a fight to the finish and I know it’ll be tough over these next two races.”
The season will end with the 49th annual Auto Club NHRA Finals at Pomona (Calif.) Raceway Nov. 7-10.
“We can’t control how he qualifies, we can’t control who he runs, we can’t control how many rounds he goes,” Hagan said of Force. “We’ve just got to go out there and try to go four rounds on Sunday and turn four win lights on and do it two more races. I believe we can do it.
“We’ve got to have two good races, he’s got to have one bad and it’s got to play out that way. It did for me in 2010, man. I came out of this in Reading 65 points ahead just like John did just now, and he come back and spanked me again, man. It’s very doable, it’s possible. You have to be confident. Confident, cocky, call it whatever you want. You have to be driven to win.”
Defending event winners are Bob Vandergriff Jr., Top Fuel; Ron Capps, Funny Car; Allen Johnson, Pro Stock and Eddie Krawiec, Pro Stock Motorcycle.
ESPN2 and ESPN2HD initially will televise 90 minutes of qualifying coverage Sunday at 2:30 a.m. (EDT). The networks will re-air that qualifying show at 3 p.m. (EDT) Sunday. Coverage of the finals will air Sunday starting at 8 p.m. (EDT).
NHRA TOYOTA NATIONALS FAST FACTS
MOST EVENT VICTORIES _ Greg Anderson, Pro Stock, four; Tony Schumacher, Top Fuel, four; Ron Capps, Funny Car, four; Andrew Hines, Pro Stock Motorcycle, three.
Top Fuel _ 3.773-seconds by Tony Schumacher, Oct. ’12; 327.11 mph by Doug Kalitta, Oct., ’12.
Funny Car _ 4.030-seconds by Matt Hagan, Oct. ’09; 317.27 mph by Robert Hight, Oct. ’12.
Pro Stock _ 6.590-seconds by Jason Line, Oct. ’12; 209.72 mph by Line, Oct. ’12.
Pro Stock Motorcycle _ 6.879-seconds by Hector Arana Jr., Oct. ’11; 196.56 mph by Eddie Krawiec, Oct. ’11.
Top Fuel _ 3.701-seconds by Antron Brown, Oct. ’12, Reading, Pa.; 332.18 mph by Spencer Massey, April ’12, Concord, N.C.
Funny Car _ 3.986-seconds by Jack Beckman, Oct. ’12, Reading, Pa.; 320.58 mph by Beckman, Oct. ’12, Reading, Pa.
Pro Stock _ 6.471-seconds by Mike Edwards, April ’13, Concord, N.C.; 214.35 mph by Jason Line, Oct. ’12, Reading, Pa.
Pro Stock Motorcycle _ 6.728-seconds by Andrew Hines, Oct. ’12, Reading, Pa.; 199.26 mph by Eddie Krawiec, March ’11, Gainesville, Fla.
Top Fuel _ 1. Shawn Langdon, 2,441; 2. Doug Kalitta, 2,358; 3. Spencer Massey, 2,355; 4. Morgan Lucas, 2,316; 5. Antron Brown, 2,312; 6. Tony Schumacher, 2,302; 7. Clay Millican, 2,232; 8. Khalid alBalooshi, 2,223; 9. Bob Vandergriff Jr., 2,187; 10. Steve Torrence, 2,125.
Funny Car _ 1. John Force, 2,457; 2. Matt Hagan, 2,392; 3. Jack Beckman, 2,331; 4. Robert Hight, 2,323; 5. Cruz Pedregon, 2,307; 6. Ron Capps, 2,297; 7. Courtney Force, 2,266; 8. Johnny Gray, 2,223; 9. Del Worsham, 2,214; 10. Tim Wilkerson, 2,175.
Pro Stock _ 1. Jeg Coughlin Jr., 2,433; 2. Mike Edwards, 2,388; 3. Jason Line, 2,383; 4. Allen Johnson, 2,360; 5. Erica Enders-Stevens, 2,319; 6. Shane Gray, 2,313; 7. Greg Anderson, 2,260; 8. V. Gaines, 2,219; 9. Vincent Nobile, 2,215; 10. Rodger Brogdon, 2,083.
Pro Stock Motorcycle _ 1. Matt Smith, 2,486; 2. Hector Arana Jr., 2,361; 3. Michael Ray, 2,359; 4. Hector Arana, 2,357; 5. Eddie Krawiec, 2,345; 6. LE Tonglet, 2,299; 7. Scotty Pollacheck, 2,256; 8. John Hall, 2,238; 9. Adam Arana, 2,157; 10. Shawn Gann, 2,125.One Comment