NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Funny Car driver Matt Hagan has already put together a banner season, winning four times, and he will enter the Countdown to the Championship as the top seed when the Carlyle Tools NHRA Carolina Nationals presented by NAPA Auto Parts takes place at zMAX Dragway Sept 13-15.
It’s an enviable position heading into the six-race playoffs, but don’t expect Hagan and his Magneti Marelli/Rocky Boots Dodge Charger team to alter an approach that has already led to immense success in their 8,000-horsepower Funny Car.
“It's the Countdown to the Championship, and it sure puts pressure on you, but you can't allow that to have an effect on you,” Hagan said. “You have to do what you've done all year long to get you to the position where we're sitting No. 1. So why change everything just because someone says it's the Countdown? I absolutely feel like we have the opportunity to go out and win another championship. I feel like as long as we continue to do or continue to be as consistent as we have been all year long, there is no reason we shouldn't win it.”
Hagan, the 2011 Funny Car world champion, is certainly confident heading into the most important stretch of the year, but he has every right to be during what has been a tremendous turnaround season.
A year after not even making the Countdown, vast changes were made to Hagan’s team, and seemingly every button that new crew chief Dickie Venables and his team have pushed this season has been the right one. In a class that has featured impressive balance and competitiveness, Hagan has been a step ahead for the first 18 races, sitting as the points leader for the past three months.
“Dickie Venables is probably one of the smartest guys I've worked with,” Hagan said. “Everybody that I've worked with has been top brass, but this guy is above and beyond. He’s just been awesome all year long and has been a great team leader. It pumps me up and drives me to put my helmet on, get focused, and get up on the wheel and make things happen.”
That leadership has fueled Hagan to reach new heights, and his work ethic has been infectious on a team that started its 2013 momentum in Charlotte. Hagan won the NHRA Four-Wide Nationals at zMAX Dragway in April and followed with victories in Englishtown, Chicago, and Seattle. He has advanced to seven final rounds in all, showing a strong knack to get the car down the track in any weather conditions. That fact has given him a boost heading into the Countdown as well.
“There is a reason our car has been No. 1 for the majority of the year, and it's because it's been consistent,” Hagan said. “You capitalize on the little things and make sure you're taking advantage of the small opportunities. Dickie runs a smart race car. He's not out here trying to do anything crazy or reinvent the wheel. He's just been rubbing on this combination, and he just wants to keep moving forward. I feel confident, cool, calm, and collected about everything and just super excited to be a part of it.”
Hagan is also ready for a grueling six-race stretch where everyone will be chasing him at the start. That group includes a bevy of talented drivers, such as Ron Capps, Johnny Gray, John Force, Cruz Pedregon, Courtney Force, defending world champion Jack Beckman, Tim Wilkerson, Robert Hight, and Del Worsham.
“We've got six races, and it's going to be a dogfight out there,” Hagan said. “These cars that we're competing with are the top in the world, and you have to remember that. You can't take anybody lightly. But you still have to continue to focus and not let that pressure get to you and just focus on what you can control."
Hagan was brilliant at zMAX Dragway in the spring and has a strong history at the track, but that only makes him more determined leading into the Carlyle Tools NHRA Carolina Nationals presented by NAPA Auto Parts.
“We won Charlotte in the spring, but that doesn't mean that you're going to win it in the fall,” Hagan said. “I think that we have some great notes to go off of coming into Charlotte. But that was spring, and this is fall. It's totally different conditions. We have to keep doing what we're doing and keep moving forward.”
The Carlyle Tools NHRA Carolina Nationals presented by NAPA Auto Parts is sure to be a crowd-pleaser. In addition to all of the Countdown drama and excitement, fans will enjoy a brilliant night qualifying show Friday, powerful exhibition runs by two jet dragsters, and an incredible fireworks display to close Friday’s racing.
As always, fans will have the opportunity to interact with their favorite drivers as they’re granted an exclusive pit pass to the most powerful and sensory-filled motorsports attraction on the planet. No other sport offers fans such an up-close-and personal experience.
Fans also will want to visit NHRA's popular Nitro Alley and Manufacturers Midway, where sponsors and race vendors create a carnival atmosphere with interactive displays, simulated competitions, merchandise, food, and fun for the entire family.
Be a part of the action all weekend with a 3-Day Pass to the Carlyle Tools NHRA Carolina Nationals presented by NAPA Auto Parts. Purchase a three-day package for just $99. Bring the kids along for an even better ticket offer: Children 13 and younger will receive free general admission with a paid adult all weekend.
Carlyle Tools NHRA Carolina Nationals presented by NAPA Auto Parts qualifying opens Friday, Sept. 13, with sessions at 4:15 and 6:45 p.m. The final two qualifying sessions will take place Saturday, Sept. 14, at 12:15 and 2:30 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. Sunday, Sept. 15.
The race will be televised on ESPN2HD with qualifying coverage Saturday and three hours of eliminations coverage Sunday beginning at 8:30 p.m. ET.
To purchase tickets, call zMAX Dragway, 800-455-FANS (3267), or log on to www.zmaxdragway.com.