Hagan A Mile High After Win Near Denver

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, July 21 2021

Matt Hagan drove his Funny Car to victory in the foothills of the Colorado Rockies. (Photo courtesy of the NHRA)

Matt Hagan’s career-long quest to scale “Thunder Mountain” was completed Sunday, when the three-time/reigning NHRA Funny Car world champion won the Dodge/SRT Mile-High NHRA Nationals at Bandimere Speedway.

Hagan’s victory in the 41st annual event in Morrison, Colo., in the foothills west of Denver, came at the expense of Alexis DeJoria in the opener of NHRA’s “Western Swing.” Steve Torrence (Top Fuel) and Matt Smith (Pro Stock Motorcycle) also won their categories at the eighth race of the 2021 NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series season, as all three reigning world champs kicked off the famed three-race tour with victories.

The unique thin-air conditions at Bandimere saw none of the three professional classes compete with full 16-vehicle ladders. Torrence prevailed over a 13-car Top Fuel lineup while Hagan worked through a 14-car Funny Car field. Smith dealt with 15 Pro Stock Bike entries.

After qualifying No. 1, Hagan beat Chris King and DSR teammate Ron Capps to reach the final. Hagan never trailed against DeJoria, covering the 1,000-foot distance in 4.105-seconds at 305.70 mph in his Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat Redeye for his first win of 2021 and 37th of his career.

“This mountain has chewed me up and spit me out several years in a row,” said Hagan, who has been competing fulltime in Funny Car since 2009. “I’m just so glad to pull this win out. I’ve been trying to get this trophy for so long. It’s an important race and it’s one of those things where we finally got it done. I just cannot say enough about my team _ Dickie Venables, Mike Knudsen, Alex Conaway _ the whole group, man. I’m so proud of each one of them and those guys love doing what they do. To watch them up here in the altitude wrenching and sweating. Those guys love doing what they do and they bust their ass for me.

“My heart was beating out of my chest there in the finals. It felt like I was running for a championship. I had to remind myself to calm down, take a deep breath and just do what I do. It’s so cool when you do a burnout and see all of these fans in the stands; it genuinely gives me chill bumps. It feels amazing being back in the winner’s circle like we’re used to. Every win you can get, you’re grateful for and I’m just blessed here.”

Hagan’s wire-to-wire weekend enabled him to advance three positions in the point standings to third. Hagan now is staring at his first opportunity to “Sweep the Swing,” which continues in California over consecutive weekends at the Sonoma and Pomona dragstrips.

“I’m not even thinking about ‘Sweeping the Swing’ at this point,” Hagan said. “I just want to take it one race at a time, qualify well and take it round-by-round. Fuel Funny Cars are so unpredictable and that’s why this sport is so humbling.”

There was no stopping Torrence in Top Fuel, as the three-time/reigning world champ ended Joey Haas’ upset bid by covering the 1,000-foot distance in 3.860-seconds at 320.36 mph in the final. Torrence’s consistency in his dragster ruled the day, as the Texan earned his fourth win in the past five races, fifth this season and 45th in his career.

Haas, meanwhile, was racing in a final for the first time after victories over Texan Alex Laughlin _ making his Top Fuel debut _ Leah Pruett and Clay Millican.

“This is one of the most difficult places to race because everything is so much different than everywhere else we go,” Torrence said. “To have the consistency, that’s just a testament to the experience and the way (crew chiefs) Richard Hogan and Bobby Lagana race. They race really smart. Hats off to Joey Haas and that team, they did an unbelievable job. To have the success we’ve had, it’s just a blessing. This car goes A to B, and it gives you call the confidence in the world and it goes back to all the work these guys put in at the shop.”

In Pro Stock Motorcycle, Smith capped a dominant weekend by covering the quarter-mile in 7.118-seconds at 189.04 mph aboard his Matt Smith Racing EBR to beat Eddie Krawiec and his Buell in the final. Smith qualified No. 1 and made one stellar run after another, rolling to his second straight win, third in 2021 and 29th in his career. The reigning world champ knocked off Cory Reed and Andrew Hines en route to the final to strengthen his point lead.

“This place is hard to run at, but I love this racetrack and I was successful here in the early part of my career,” said Smith, who made the quickest run in all three qualifying sessions and three of the four rounds of eliminations. “What an awesome facility and I’m so glad to get to come out here. My bike was fast all weekend and it was just super-impressive. We’ve got a tough field, so it’s always going to be tough, but this bike is on ‘kill’ right now.”

The Swing resumes this weekend with the NHRA Sonoma Nationals at Sonoma Raceway.

The 2022 NHRA SpringNationals will be the final national event contested at Houston Raceway Park in Baytown.

The Mopar Express Lane NHRA SpringNationals presented by Pennzoil is scheduled for April 22-24. Immediately following the event, the new property owners reportedly will “repurpose” the drag racing complex into an industrial business park. 

NHRA’s leadership team is continuing conversations with Tulsa Raceway Park, and other venues not currently on the circuit, to fill the Houston spot in future NHRA schedules.

“Drag racing has given us so many wonderful memories and created scores of friends for our family,” said Seth Angel, HRP track operator and son of the late Glen Angel. “It really is a close-knit group of people and you definitely connect with them on a personal level. The same could be said of tens of thousands of faithful fans who have spent time with us through the years.

“Our family is extremely proud to have showcased the top level of professional drag racing for 35 wonderful years.”

Renowned for its sea-level location at the top of Trinity Bay _ which creates an oxygen-rich environment for racing engines _ Houston Raceway Park hosted its first national event in 1988. HRP was billed as a “sister track” to Billy Meyer’s Texas Motorplex in Ennis, which opened in 1986 in the Dallas-Fort Worth market. At the time, the 500-acre HRP facility was co-owned by the Gay family of Dickenson, Texas, longtime friends of brothers Greg, Gary and Glen Angel. The Angel brothers bought-out the Gay family’s interest in 2004.

“I hate to see it go.  It’s one of the racetracks I learned to race on,” said Steve Torrence, the three-time/reigning NHRA Top Fuel world champion from Kilgore, Texas.  “I’m just thankful to finally have had the opportunity to win there (earlier this year) before it closed.”

Houston Raceway Park has been the site of many historic moments, none moreso than NHRA’s first 4-second run _ a 4.99 quarter-mile pass by Fort Worth’s Gene Snow during the 1988 race. Fellow-Texan Eddie Hill of Wichita Falls quickly topped “The Snowman” by running a staggering 4.93 in the final round of Top Fuel to win the race, igniting a worldwide frenzy of interest in the sport.

Other memorable moments at HRP include “The Burndown,” which saw bitter Pro Stock rivals Warren Johnson and Scott Geoffrion sit in the pre-stage beams for more than a minute trying to unnerve one another; first-time victories for future multi-time world champions Scott Kalitta and Jeg Coughlin Jr.; Michael Phillips becoming the first African-American driver to win in a pro category (Pro Stock) in 1997 and three inclusions into both the Pro Stock 200 mph Club and the Top Fuel 300 mph Club.

“We at the NHRA want to thank Houston Raceway Park and the Angel family for their commitment to the sport of drag racing,” NHRA President Glen Cromwell said in a news release. “Our race teams, partners and NHRA officials look forward to celebrating the track as we close out this chapter of NHRA history.”

Texas Motorplex management has announced a major expansion and rebranding of the 37th annual NHRA Texas FallNationals, one of seven NHRA playoff races on the 2021 schedule.

The “Stampede of Speed” in Ennis will begin with a special opening ceremony during the Fifth annual Night Lights sky-lantern festival on Saturday, Oct. 2, and conclude with the FallNationals from Oct. 7-10 at The Plex. A full week of events, conferences and activities will highlight the economic benefit of motorsports in Texas and provide a variety of entertainment options for fans.

“We have been working for the past two years to add more elements to the NHRA Texas FallNationals to make it more than just one of the largest motorsports events in the state,” said Christie Meyer Johnson, Motorplex co-owner and daughter of track founder and Hall of Famer Billy Meyer. “We have been studying other major events and the ‘Stampede of Speed’ will be a full week of events promoting Texas, racing and family entertainment. Our goal is to make this a premier destination sporting event for years to come.”

Plans are in development to host racing themed events throughout the week including a 5K run, BBQ contest and cook-off, a variety of concerts, business development conferences for track operators from across the country and additional racing events leading into the FallNats.

“We are working with our neighbors in Waxahachie to host a Wednesday night movie screening with pub crawls and our free FanFest event in downtown Waxahachie on Thursday night with all the stars of the NHRA,” Johnson said. “We feel this will be one of the largest multi-day events in the Metroplex with fans coming to Texas to stay for the duration of the week.”

Tickets are now on sale for the NHRA Texas FallNationals. Plans for week-long “Stampede of Speed” ticket packages will be announced soon, as well as a comprehensive day-by-day schedule. For more information visit www.texasmotorplex.com.

Final results from the 41st annual Dodge/SRT Mile-High NHRA Nationals presented by Pennzoil at Bandimere Speedway in Morrison, Colo.: 

Top Fuel _ Steve Torrence, 3.860-seconds, 320.36 mph def. Joey Haas, 4.142-seconds, 262.08 mph. 

Funny Car _ Matt Hagan, Dodge Charger, 4.105, 305.70 def. Alexis DeJoria, Toyota Camry, 4.227, 297.68. 

Pro Stock Motorcycle _ Matt Smith, EBR, 7.118, 189.04 def. Eddie Krawiec, Buell, 7.175, 189.34. 

Pro Modified _ Jose Gonzalez, Chevy Camaro, 5.972, 236.51 def. Steve Jackson, Camaro, 6.050, 234.70. 

Factory Stock Showdown _ Stephen Bell, Chevy Camaro, 8.259, 164.79 def. Leah Pruett, Dodge Challenger, 8.265, 166.48. 

Competition Eliminator _ Joe Mozeris, Dragster, 7.342, 181.08 def. Jim Greenheck, Chevy Camaro, 7.678, 175.02. 

Super Stock _ Kayla Mozeris, Dodge Daytona, 10.832, 117.94 def. Scott Burton, Pontiac Firebird, 10.229, 122.69. 

Stock Eliminator _ Dwayne Scheitlin, Dodge Challenger, 10.920, 120.69 def. Craig Maddox, Challenger, 10.069, 131.10. 

Super Comp _ Shannon Nicoletti, Dragster, 9.557, 160.23 def. Mitch Mustard, Dragster, 9.579, 162.16. 

Super Gas _ Darin Dolezal, Roadster, 10.495, 148.90 def. Jeremy Siffring, Chevy Corvette, Foul/Red Light. 

Super Street _Tim Schell, Plymouth Duster, 11.461, 124.69 def. Dave Thompson, Chevrolet, Foul/Red Light.

Top Sportsman presented by Vortech Superchargers _ Jimmy Lewis, Pontiac GXP, 9.475, 98.86 def. Duane Doffing, Sedan, Foul/Red Light.

Top Dragster presented by Vortech Superchargers _ Kari Stark, Dragster, 7.391, 181.79 def. Betsy Peek, Dragster, Foul/Red Light.

Point standings (top-10) following the 41st annual Dodge/SRT Mile-High NHRA Nationals at Bandimere Speedway. Note: Pro Stock did not compete in the event.

Top Fuel _1. Steve Torrence, 858; 2. Antron Brown, 551; 3. Brittany Force, 505; 4. Billy Torrence, 448; 5. Shawn Langdon, 408; 6. Mike Salinas, 395; 7. Doug Kalitta, 367; 8. Leah Pruett, 362; 9. Justin Ashley, 337; 10. Clay Millican, 328.

Funny Car _1. Bob Tasca III, 643; 2. John Force, 593; 3. Matt Hagan, 558; 4. J.R. Todd, 532; 5. Ron Capps, 529; 6. Robert Hight, 517; 7. Alexis DeJoria, 498; 8. Tim Wilkerson, 477; 9. Cruz Pedregon, 450; 10. Terry Haddock, 274.

Pro Stock _1. Greg Anderson, 648; 2. Erica Enders, 506; 3. Aaron Stanfield, 479; 4. Matt Hartford, 450; 5. Mason McGaha, 433; 6. Deric Kramer, 423; 7. Dallas Glenn, 399; 8. Kyle Koretsky, 384; 9. Troy Coughlin Jr., 356; 10. Chris McGaha, 273.

Pro Stock Motorcycle _1. Matt Smith, 626; 2. Steve Johnson, 463; 3. Scotty Pollacheck, 381; 4. Ryan Oehler, 377; 5. Angelle Sampey, 318; 6. Angie Smith, 315; 7. Eddie Krawiec, 300; 8. Joey Gladstone, 288; 9. Karen Stoffer, 278; 10. Cory Reed, 270.


| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, July 21 2021
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