Hagan looks for another strong performance at home track

Jeff Birchfield • Jun 14, 2018 at 3:12 PM

BRISTOL — Matt Hagan makes it clear how he feels about this weekend's NHRA Fitzgerald USA Thunder Valley Nationals at Bristol Dragway.

To the driver of the Shell Rotella Dodge Charger Funny Car, it's the biggest race of the entire tour, even bigger than the U.S. Nationals. Part of it is the fact Hagan lives just two hours away outside of Christiansburg, Va., on a nearly 1,000-acre ranch where he works in his spare time as a cattle farmer.

"I won three years ago and then got beat the next year on a holeshot," Hagan said. "It still kills me. The thing is we didn't get it done for a second year in a row. Bristol is such a cool race for me. It's more important to me to win at Bristol than to win Indy. I'm two hours up the road, and my family and everybody I grew up with comes out to support me.

"When you turn on four win lights, they can't take that away from you, it's special. With my dad and my kids there and it's Father's Day weekend, it's what it's made for. Everybody wants to win Indy, but at the end of the day, I was more choked up about winning Bristol than I was any other race."

His record at Bristol over the past three years includes the aforementioned win and runner-up finish, as well as a semifinal loss to Don Schumacher Racing teammate and eventual race winner Ron Capps last season. Along the way, he qualified third and eliminated 16-time world champion John Force in the quarterfinals.

Hagan has 27 career wins, 50 final-round appearances, 32 No. 1 qualifying efforts and a career-best speed of 338.85 miles per hour in 226 races. He is coming off a down performance last weekend in Richmond, where he qualified 11th and was defeated by Jonnie Lindberg in the first round of eliminations.

He wasn't able to make a clean pass with a 4.251-second elapsed time at 245.72 mph, but felt the problems went back a couple of days earlier.

"I think what put us behind the eight-ball was not getting down the race track Friday morning," he said. "Q1 (the first qualifying session) is so important to set us up and basically we were chasing it from there, and we ended up getting behind. We're making a conscious effort to go down the track on Friday and put the runs together that we need to for Sunday."

So far this season, Hagan has 14 round wins, which including an event win at the season-opening NHRA Winternationals in Pomona, Calif. He's also an entrepreneur, founding the Matt Hagan Outdoors brand in 2013 and recently opening up a store in Blacksburg, Va.

However, his focus at the moment is getting to the winners' circle and back to the top of the NHRA Funny Car standings. He recently talked about how crew chief Dickie Venables has made massive changes to get his Dodge out front at the end of Sunday’s race.

"We've changed everything. To start the year off we had a whole different track prep than we do now, so we had to regroup and make big changes to this Funny Car," he said. "Obviously, it's taken a few races to get there — but I feel we've closed the gap on (points leader) Courtney (Force) now. Just give Dickie enough time and he'll figure it out. I like him being in our corner and knowing that we're going to get there."

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