Built like an NFL linebacker, Matt Hagan moves faster than a superhero.
Those qualities have helped the kind rancher from Christiansburg, Virginia, win three NHRA Funny Car Championships since 2011.
Hagan is competing in the Thunder Valley Nationals at Bristol Dragway this weekend and is once again at the top of Funny Car’s standings.
Not bad for former NASCAR champion Tony Stewart’s new team.
“Tony’s a good cheerleader,” Hagan said. “He sits in the pits with us and makes sure that everything is in order with the car. The guy is just very practical and always trying to pump us up.
“As a former driver, Tony knows the pressure in the car and the mentality it takes to win.”
Hagan, who lives just 115 miles from Bristol, said the Bristol event has special significance for his entire team.
“If I can win here this weekend, you’ll see a grown man cry,” Hagan said. “I have companies in this area. And racing with this new team, it’s another big emotional weekend for me.
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“But you have to put your mouthpiece in and have that savage mentality to go off at the start and drive the wheels off the car. We will save the emotions for Sunday.”
Hagan holds a 41-point lead in Funny Car points over veteran Robert Hight of the mighty John Force Racing team. According to Hagan, the matchups against Hight provide motivational fuel.
“Robert and those guys are strong. You gotta give them respect, man,” said Hagan, who drives the TruHarvest Farms Dodge.
Both Hagan and Hight rely on mechanical wizards to tune their cars. The leader for Hagan is Dickie Venables, while Hight looks to Jimmy Prock for speed.
“Dickie and Prock have the same mentality that they like to throw with. They’re either going to set records or they’re not going anywhere,” Hagan said. “Dickie is a better racer on Sunday and I feel we have been more consistent because of that.”
Hagan enters Bristol as the most recent Funny Car winner. He scored his 42nd career win on June 5 at the NHRA New England Nationals in Epping, New Hampshire.
One of the hottest topics in Bristol this weekend concerns track surface repair work by NHRA officials to reduce bumps. Hagan is the current track record holder in Bristol for speed with a run of 330.34 mph, a milestone he set on October 16, 2021.
“This can be a tricky track with the bumps over the tunnel, but the NHRA has spent some money and buffed the surface,” Hagan said. “From what we’ve seen in our charts, it looks a lot better. I hope it won’t be a problem and we did a great side-by-side race for all these fans.”
Hagan had one career win at Bristol in 2015 when he defeated Ron Capps. Hagan also advanced to the final in 2016.
“Drive into Bristol is always a special weekend for me because it’s usually Father’s Day weekend,” said Hagan. “A lot of family and friends come to the track. The last time I was here was probably one of my most emotional races.
“I had my kids and my dad here for Father’s Day. I wish I could do that again. Bristol is close to home so I grew up with many of the same people watching local drag strips. You want to be able to put on a show for everyone.”
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