Hagan Collects ‘Real Special’ Win In Pomona

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, February 13 2017

Funny Car driver Matt Hagan kicked off the 2017 NHRA drag racing season with a victory Sunday in the Winternationals.

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

Matt Hagan took care of family business on personal and professional levels Sunday, scoring an emotional Funny Car victory in the 2017 season-opening 57th annual Circle K NHRA Winternationals.

Hagan dedicated his final-round victory over Courtney Force to the memory of his younger brother, Kyle, who died of natural causes last month. The win at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona, Calif., also gave Hagan and the Don Schumacher Racing camp early shut-your-mouth rights over John Force Racing after the respective team namesakes exchanged verbal insults during qualifications on Saturday.

“It’s just a real special race for me,” said Hagan, a two-time world champion. “A lot of stuff happened over the offseason with losing my brother and I’m just coming out motivated. My lights have been great, the car is running great. We’ve just got a real powerhouse team right now.”

Native Californian Leah Pritchett, also of DSR, earned the second Top Fuel victory of her career by trailering Doug Kalitta in the final at her home racetrack. And three-time/reigning Pro Stock world champion Jason Line began defense of his latest title with a win over Ken Black Racing teammate Greg Anderson in the first of 24 events on the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series schedule.

Hagan tied both ends of his 1,000-foot national record en route to the No. 1 qualifying spot with a 3.822-second/335.57-mph pass Saturday evening. The team led by crew chief Dickie Venables and assistant Michael Knudsen punctuated that performance with round wins on Sunday against Jeff Diehl, DSR teammate/2012 world champion Jack Beckman, reigning world champion/DSR teammate Ron Capps and Courtney Force in the final.

Hagan’s final pass in 3.875-seconds at 330.07 mph in his Dodge Charger R/T defeated Force, who ran 3.901-seconds at 326.95 mph in her Chevrolet Camaro SS. Courtney had advanced via a semifinal victory over her father/16-time world champion John Force, who watched the final pairing launch from the staging lane opposite Schumacher.

On Saturday, “Brute” Force and Schumacher exchanged barbs over the mid-January exit of crew chief Jimmy Prock from DSR back to the Force camp. Prock, who tuned Force to the 2013 NHRA world title, has joined co-crew chief Chris Cunningham on Force’s Chevrolet Camaro SS. Prock worked at JFR for 14 years before joining Schumacher’s organization and serving as crew chief for “Fast” Jack Beckman and his Dodge Charger R/T during the last two seasons.

At one point, Schumacher said Force was “destroying the sport” by “overpaying for talent” _ a specific reference to Prock’s tuning expertise.

The verbal sparring was not lost on Hagan. “Anytime we can put those Forces on the trailer that’s what we need to do,” Hagan said.”We’re here to win and Don expects us to win.”

Still, JFR cars exited Pomona having won six rounds. “I’ve got no complaints,” John Force said. “(Courtney will) be second in the points, I’ll be third. We got there. That’s all you can do. You don’t get the money, you don’t get the Wally but you get the exposure because you’re right there with them. That’s our job _ to get impressions _ and we did that job today for Advance and for all our sponsors _ Mac Tools, Chevrolet, everybody. Not much more to say. They (DSR) won; congratulate them. Now let’s go to Phoenix (later this month).”

Hagan, who operates a 2,000-acre farm outside of Christiansburg, Va., with wife Rachel, continues to deal with the loss of his brother. Kyle Hagan, 33 and 14 months younger than Matt, died on Jan. 8 from an apparent brain aneurysm. Kyle’s passing occurred one month after the family’s 82-year-old paternal grandfather died.

“I’ve got to say ‘thank you’ to Don Schumacher,” said Hagan, who scored his 23rd career victory. “There’s a line of drivers that would sit in that car and take my job tomorrow. But he keeps me in the car and I just try to do a good job for him. We’ve got a great team around us right now. I’m just excited. This is the first race of the year and you chalk it up to, ‘OK, yeah that’s great,’ but there’s a long season ahead of us. We’ve just got to keep some of this momentum going.”

Courtney Force took consolation in the fact she ended a streak of eight consecutive losses against her father.  And Hagan’s margin of victory over Courtney was just 0.0316-seconds, approximately 15-feet. “Tough final-round against Matt Hagan,” said Force, the No. 3 qualifier. “We gave him a run for his money and had a close run. It tried to pull me toward the inside and I came close to the centerline, but I stayed in it, looking to get that win. Just wasn’t enough.”

Capps, meanwhile, was stunned after beginning defense of his first world championship with a red-light semifinal disqualification vs. Hagan. Capps, who qualified fourth, was slapped down by only the third red-light of a career spanning 556 events since 1995.

“I wasn’t trying to push it,” said Capps, driver of the NAPA Auto Parts Dodge Charger R/T. “We always discuss at Pomona before the semis and final the disadvantage of being in the left lane because the sun is lower in the sky and there can be a glare. We didn’t have lane-choice because Matt was quicker than us in the second round, so we had no say on our lane choice.

“But that’s not an excuse. I’ve raced here at least twice a year since I got my Top Alcohol Dragster license in 1994. I’ve been in that lane for a final round before with the sun right in my face and I never red-lit. I have no excuse. I just made a mistake and I’m devastated. I told our NAPA AutoCare crew that I was sorry and they did exactly what was needed to make the car quick enough to get to the final round.”

Pritchett, a native of Redlands, Calif., capped a weekend that saw her qualify No. 1 at the track where she completed her first lap in a Jr. Dragster as an 8-year-old 20 years ago. Pritchett’s pole was the first by a female in Top Fuel at the Winternationals since the legendary Shirley Muldowney accomplished the feat in 1977.

Pritchett’s 1,000-foot pass in 3.711-seconds at 324.98 mph easily knocked off Kalitta and his Mac Tools dragster, which ran 7.630/103.85 after smoking the tires off the line.

“What just happened is the best thing that has ever happened for me professionally in my career,” said Pritchett, who is in her first full season with DSR after competing in 15 national events last year. “In my opinion, right now, we have the perfect group of people, partners, sponsors, a car that is reacting. This thing is A-plus, Grade A, perfect-kid-in-school type of situation and we’re taking advantage of it right now.”

Pritchett, whose car is tuned by crew chief Todd Okuhara and assistant Joe Barlam, defeated Steve Torrence and eight-time world champion Tony Schumacher of DSR en route to the final. Kalitta, competing in his third consecutive final at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona, bettered Terry McMillen and three-time/reigning world champion Antron Brown of DSR in earlier rounds.

“Every time I turn off onto Fairplex Drive and go up this road I’m in a different car and it kind of represents where I’m at in my life,” said Pritchett, 28, a graduate of Cal State San Bernardino. “So today I’m driving here from Chino, a different direction than I’ve ever had, in a (Dodge Challenger SRT) Hellcat. In my opinion it doesn’t get any better than that, which is a representation of my current situation. I’m looking off at the mountains and I’m like, ‘Those are my mountains, these are my streets, that’s my taco stand, this is my house,’ and that’s how I talk to myself.

“You’ve got to have confidence if you’re going to run one of these beasts and confidence is contagious. Todd and Joe have confidence in the car and that’s contagious to me as a driver and our whole team. That’s how we’re jelling so well.”

In Pro Stock, Line covered the quarter-mile in 6.568-seconds and 211.10 in his blue Summit Racing Equipment Chevy Camaro for his 46th career victory and 14th consecutive season with at least one win. Anderson, a four-time world champion, ran 6.579-seconds at 211.56 mph in his red Summit Camaro.

“It’s a good way to start the season,” Line said. “Anytime you come to Pomona and win it’s great. I’m very excited, very happy and a little bit relieved. Just a great day for KB Racing and the Summit cars. To be able to come here and qualify one and two and finish one and two and have three cars in the semis. that’s just a big deal.”

Line, who has five Winternationals victories, earlier defeated rookie Tanner Gray and KB Racing teammate Bo Butner while Anderson faced five-time world champion Jeg Coughlin Jr. and two-time world champion Erica Enders.

Line posted low elapsed time of every round of Sunday eliminations, and Anderson had the fastest speed in two of four rounds. Butner claimed top speed of the second round, and Line recorded top speed of the meet with a 211.69 mph pass in the opening act. Still, Line assumed nothing.

“No matter what, I always feel like we’re behind,” Line said. “But I think it’s a good way to stay motivated. The rest of this season is going to be more like it was in the carburetor days. The package has tightened up considerably, and these are naturally aspirated engines so the devil is in the details. Whoever does the best job of tuning the chassis and engine is going to be the winner or have the fastest car.”

While the all-Summit Racing final round was a solid statement for the team, Anderson noted this year is not a carbon copy of last season.  You’re going to have to win with all three of the major ingredients this year,” Anderson said. “The engine is going to have to run better than the other guys, the driver is going to have to drive better and the chassis is going to have to work better _ or you’re going to lose. It’s going to be a dog fight in Pro Stock this year, but we’ll take Round 1.”

Round 2 of the schedule is Feb. 24-26 for the 33rd annual NHRA Arizona Nationals at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park in Chandler, Ariz.


Final finishing order (1-16) at the 57th annual Circle K NHRA Winternationals at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona.  The race was the first of 24 events in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series:

Top Fuel _1.  Leah Pritchett; 2.  Doug Kalitta; 3.  Antron Brown; 4.  Tony Schumacher; 5.  Troy Coughlin Jr.; 6.  Steve Torrence; 7.  Terry McMillen; 8.  Brittany Force; 9.  Shawn Reed; 10.  Scott Palmer; 11.  Clay Millican; 12.  Steve Faria; 13.  Terry Haddock; 14.  Troy Buff; 15.  Steven Chrisman.

Funny Car _ 1.  Matt Hagan; 2.  Courtney Force; 3.  John Force; 4.  Ron Capps; 5.  Jack Beckman; 6.  J.R. Todd; 7.  Tommy Johnson Jr.; 8.  Del Worsham; 9.  Alexis DeJoria; 10.  Robert Hight; 11.  Tim Wilkerson; 12.  Bob Bode; 13.  Phil Burkart; 14.  Jeff Diehl; 15.  Cruz Pedregon; 16.  Jim Campbell.

Pro Stock _1.  Jason Line; 2.  Greg Anderson; 3.  Bo Butner; 4.  Erica Enders; 5.  Shane Gray; 6.  Jeg Coughlin Jr.; 7.  Tanner Gray; 8.  Vincent Nobile; 9.  Drew Skillman; 10.  Chris McGaha; 11.  Matt Hartford; 12.  Alan Prusiensky; 13.  Kenny Delco; 14.  Deric Kramer; 15.  Allen Johnson; 16.  Val Smeland.

Sunday’s final results from the Circle K NHRA Winternationals at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona:

Top Fuel _Leah Pritchett, 3.711-seconds, 324.98 mph  def. Doug Kalitta, 7.630 seconds, 103.85 mph

Funny Car _ Matt Hagan, Dodge Charger, 3.875, 330.07  def. Courtney Force, Chevy Camaro, 3.901, 326.95.

Pro Stock _ Jason Line, Chevy Camaro, 6.568, 211.10  def. Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.579, 211.56.

Top Alcohol Dragster _ Joey Severance, 5.214, 275.51  def. Garrett Bateman, 5.486, 263.10.

Top Alcohol Funny Car _ Shane Westerfield, Chevy Camaro, 6.652, 127.19  def. Jonnie Lindberg, Camaro, Foul/Red Light.

Competition Eliminator _ Doug Lambeck, Pontiac Sunfire, 8.351, 156.97  def. Clint Neff, Bantam Roadster, 7.655, 156.48.

Super Stock _ Justin Lamb, Chevy Cobalt, 8.638, 153.23  def. Timothy Fletcher, Chevy Camaro, 10.375, 120.43.

Stock Eliminator _ Jerry Emmons, Chevy Camaro, 10.170, 119.87  def. Justin Jerome, Plymouth Duster, 10.985, 119.38.

Super Comp _ Steve Williams, Dragster, 8.903, 185.38  def. Dave Alves, Dragster, 8.891, 184.77.

Super Gas _ Ed Olpin, Chevy Corvette, 9.886, 168.98  def. Robert Naber, Corvette, 9.882, 163.06.

Top Dragster presented by RacingRVs.com _ Mike Coughlin, Dragster, 6.093, 212.73  def. Andy Spiegel, Dragster, 6.662, 199.85.

Top Sportsman presented by RacingRVs.com _ Ed Olpin, Chevy Camaro, 6.978, 198.26  def. Jeff Gillette, Pontiac GTO, 6.939, 193.24.

Top Fuel Harley_ Jay Turner, Dixie, 6.276, 218.23  def. Rickey House, VTS, Foul/Red Light.

Final round-by-round results from the Circle K NHRA Winternationals at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona:


ROUND ONE _ Terry McMillen, 3.750, 324.51 def. Clay Millican, 4.037, 238.43; Steve Torrence, 3.751, 328.06 def. Troy Buff, 7.357, 85.92; Leah Pritchett, 3.707, 325.14 was unopposed; Doug Kalitta, 3.696, 329.91 def. Steve Faria, 4.246, 230.92; Antron Brown, 3.742, 321.35 def. Steven Chrisman, 16.117, 30.54; Brittany Force, 3.726, 322.19 def. Terry Haddock, 4.619, 169.55; Tony Schumacher, 3.709, 326.08 def. Scott Palmer, 3.896, 287.96; Troy Coughlin Jr., 3.728, 328.46 def. Shawn Reed, 3.854, 316.60;

QUARTERFINALS _ Brown, 3.733, 325.69 def. Coughlin Jr., 3.727, 327.35; Schumacher, 3.697, 325.53 def. Force, 9.544, 75.26; Pritchett, 3.707, 324.44 def. Torrence, 3.755, 328.22; Kalitta, 3.687, 330.55 def. McMillen, 4.335, 170.86;

SEMIFINALS _ Pritchett, 3.687, 327.43 def. Schumacher, 3.750, 322.11; Kalitta, 3.698, 331.85 def. Brown, 3.731, 324.90;

FINAL _ Pritchett, 3.711, 324.98 def. Kalitta, 7.630, 103.85.


ROUND ONE _ Ron Capps, Dodge Charger, 3.880, 329.10 def. Bob Bode, Charger, 9.544, 67.95; Courtney Force, Chevy Camaro, 6.610, 105.68 def. Jim Campbell, Charger, 19.483, 108.10; Matt Hagan, Charger, 3.885, 331.77 def. Jeff Diehl, Toyota Solara, Foul/Red Light; John Force, Camaro, 3.897, 328.38 def. Phil Burkart Jr., Charger, 10.607, 73.10; Del Worsham, Toyota Camry, 4.008, 313.15 def. Robert Hight, Camaro, 4.313, 213.94; J.R. Todd, Camry, 3.902, 330.72 def. Tim Wilkerson, Ford Mustang, 6.970, 112.50; Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 3.938, 323.89 def. Alexis DeJoria, Camry, 4.148, 229.24; Jack Beckman, Charger, 3.867, 330.63 def. Cruz Pedregon, Camry, 13.004, 67.39;

QUARTERFINALS _ Capps, 3.898, 325.22 def. Worsham, 6.455, 117.75; J. Force, 3.884, 329.67 def. Johnson Jr., 3.939, 324.36; Hagan, 3.882, 329.18 def. Beckman, 3.893, 328.30; C. Force, 3.892, 326.08 def. Todd, 3.930, 329.02;

SEMIFINALS _ C. Force, 3.872, 326.24 def. J. Force, 3.886, 328.54; Hagan, 4.290, 207.50 def. Capps, Foul /Red Light;

FINAL _ Hagan, 3.875, 330.07 def. C. Force, 3.901, 326.95.


ROUND ONE _Tanner Gray, Chevy Camaro, 6.588, 210.73 def. Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.603, 209.88; Jeg Coughlin Jr., Camaro, 6.574, 210.24 def. Deric Kramer, Dodge Dart, 6.638, 205.41; Erica Enders, Camaro, 6.564, 210.77 def. Matt Hartford, Camaro, Foul/Red Light; Bo Butner, Camaro, 6.550, 211.43 def. Drew Skillman, Camaro, 6.579, 210.87; Shane Gray, Camaro, 6.575, 211.16 def. Allen Johnson, Dart, 8.845, 101.72; Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.549, 211.49 def. Kenny Delco, Camaro, 6.632, 208.94; Jason Line, Camaro, 6.533, 211.69 def. Val Smeland, Camaro, 11.376, 79.29; Vincent Nobile, Camaro, 6.556, 211.53 def. Alan Prusiensky, Dart, 6.624, 208.94;

QUARTERFINALS _ Enders, 6.582, 210.41 def. Nobile, 18.900, 45.22; Butner, 6.574, 211.06 def. S. Gray, 6.581, 210.64; Anderson, 6.567, 210.93 def. Coughlin Jr., 6.585, 209.85; Line, 6.558, 210.97 def. T. Gray, 6.604, 210.18;

SEMIFINALS _ Anderson, 6.574, 211.10 def. Enders, 6.599, 210.18; Line, 6.559, 210.97 def. Butner, 6.567, 210.90;

FINAL _ Line, 6.568, 211.10 def. Anderson, 6.579, 211.56.

Point standings (top-10) following the Circle K NHRA Winternationals at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona:

Top Fuel _1.  Leah Pritchett, 122; 2.  Doug Kalitta, 105; 3.  Antron Brown, 79; 4.  Tony Schumacher, 70; 5.  Brittany Force, 57; 6.  Troy Coughlin Jr., 54; 7.  Steve Torrence, 53; 8.  Terry McMillen, 48; 9.  (tie) Scott Palmer, 32; Shawn Reed, 32.

Funny Car _1.  Matt Hagan, 119; 2.  Courtney Force, 99; 3.  John Force, 80; 4.  Ron Capps, 77; 5.  Jack Beckman, 53; 6.  (tie) Tommy Johnson Jr., 52; J.R. Todd, 52; Del Worsham, 52; 9.  Robert Hight, 36; 10.  Alexis DeJoria, 35.

Pro Stock _1.  Jason Line, 126; 2.  Greg Anderson, 103; 3.  Bo Butner, 77; 4.  Erica Enders, 75; 5.  Vincent Nobile, 58; 6.  (tie) Jeg Coughlin Jr., 56; Shane Gray, 56; 8.  Tanner Gray, 52; 9.  Chris McGaha, 33; 10.  (tie) Matt Hartford, 32; Deric Kramer, 32; Drew Skillman, 32.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, February 13 2017