BRISTOL — Matt Hagan simply enjoys racing.
Whether it’s the Dodge Funny Car he blasts down Bristol Dragway at 320 mph or if it’s a kayak going down Beaver Creek, the NHRA racer, who looks more like an NFL linebacker, makes the most of every opportunity.
It was the latter which Hagan tried to keep in a straight line Wednesday, winning the majority of his passes down the creek. For Hagan, the media event to promote next weekend’s NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals at Bristol Dragway was a great way to unwind from the pressure of his every day job.
“It was real cool to get out and splash around a little bit,” said Hagan, the 2011 Funny Car champion. “It’s fun to be able to cut up. It brings you back down to earth. You have so much stuff going on between all the sponsor commitments, the fans and interacting. To come out here and break a sweat paddling away, it was a neat experience.”
Of course, there is nothing in this world like the experience of taking off in his 8,000-horsepower Funny Car. The only way he could describe the jolt was like sitting still at a red light and getting hit from behind by a dump truck.
While Hagan never takes his job for granted, there is the competitor who always wants more. The 31-year-old from Christiansburg, Virginia, is a 10-time winner on the NHRA circuit and has 25 final-round appearances.
It included last season when he had a category-best five wins including the season finale at Pomona. However, this year has been a struggle, currently 10th in the Mello Yello driver standings and “We ended up having to take some of our races and test some new combinations,” he said. “We figured out it wasn’t the best thing to try right now, not to say we won’t go back to it in the future. But for now, we’re back to what we know with the old car and old combo. The confidence is growing every weekend and the car is going down the race track. I feel great about coming to Bristol.”
Hagan considers Bristol his home track on the NHRA tour since it’s just a couple of hours away from his Virginia ranch where he farms over 1,000 acres and raises over 400 head of cattle.
Like the kayaking, work on the farm gives him an outlet from the stress of performing on a such a high intensity stage.
“Running the cow-calf operation, that’s my sanity,” Hagan said. “It’s my yin and yang. What we do out here is such an adrenaline-driven sport. There are no do-overs. We don’t get an extra lap to go around the track and do better. You have one chance at it and if you don’t get it right, you go home. There is no way to get that back. It’s such an intense environment, you have to have a way to release that. My tractor only runs maybe 20 mph, so farming is my way to get out there at my own pace. It’s nice to get out there, bale some hay, plant crops or do whatever needs to be done.”
The fact that Hagan drives for multi-car owner Don Schumacher, himself a former champion, adds to the pressure. Hagan went to the final round in the season-opening race at Pomona, but his best effort since then is a semifinal appearance at Atlanta.
He would love to have a breakthrough at Bristol, as much for himself and the crew as his team owner.
“Don puts piles of pressure on you because he knows you can rise to the occasion,” Hagan said. “He will never ask you to do something he doesn’t think you are capable of doing. But the pressure you put on yourself, that is huge in itself.
“Being a drag racer is like being a manic depressive, it’s the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. There is no a lot of in-betweens. It really is tough to internalize that pressure and make sure you put a positive spin on it. Even though you get beat more often than not, you’re setting yourself up to do better the next time. It’s tough those seeing those guys on the crew. They’re my brothers out here and I see them more than I see my family. We want to win together and you don’t want to let them down.”comments powered by Disqus