NHRA Funny Car driver Matt Hagan knows there’s only one drag racer in the Mello Yello Drag Racing Series who can relate to his experience.
Hagan, during a qualifying run at the NHRA Kansas Nationals in Topeka, Kansas, became the second fastest drag racer in series history when he thundered to a 335.57 mph pass in 3.862 seconds. His speed was the fastest in the 1000-foot era and tied him for the third fastest pass in drag racing history.
Only one drag racer, Top Fuel’s Tony Schumacher, has gone faster than Hagan, and it was on a quarter-mile race course.
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If there ever was a perfect storm of drag racing performance, the two-time NHRA champion Hagan believes it came Friday evening.
“The track conditions were just incredible,” Hagan said. “Going up there to the staging lanes, you’re talking to your crew chief and you’re kind of thinking what is he going to try and run? He kind of has a number in his head and obviously your adrenaline is going and your heart is pounding and you’re pulling your seat belts down and you have your mouthpiece in and your grinding on it. You just know if it hooks and goes, it’s going to be really fast.”
Even before he stomped the throttle in his Dodge Charger, Hagan knew crew chief Dickie Venables, and assistant Michael Knudsen, had his car set on kill.
“When I did my burnout, a lot of times on tracks when you step off the pedal it just rolls for a while, but this deal here I stepped off the pedal and it stuck and didn’t go very far,” Hagan said. “That’s when I thought ‘Wow it’s good out here.’ When I was staging the car, my heart was pounding and, when I left, it hopped up on the tire really quick and it had a little fast paddle. I was thinking ‘Oh no,’ I didn’t want to steer it too much because a lot of times when you’re on a really fast run if you steer it too much, it will come loose because it will upset the rear end. It got through that little pedal and it was sticking me back in the seat.
"The only thing that was holding my head forward was that chin clip there that we tie our helmets down with.
"After I got through the middle part and it was trucking, I was just trying to keep it in the groove and it kept digging and kept running and kept pulling. Then I found the finish line and put those parachutes out.”
According to Hagan, pulling the parachutes was a painful experience that made him forget for moment about his blistering lap.
“The buckle where my parachute is caught me on the side of my (right) leg and pinched me really hard, so I wasn’t so much concerned with how fast we ran as I was about getting the seatbelts undone so my leg would quit being on fire.”
In the midst of his pain, Hagan realized quickly his run was special.
“(My crew) was screaming and hollering, so I thought I must have run pretty good.” Hagan said. “When I came around the corner all my guys were jumping up and down and hollering. It was a killer run, but at the time I was thinking I don’t know if that will hold because there were a bunch of good cars behind us. A lot of guys went for it after us and Funny Car is just super competitive. It gets my blood pumping and that’s why we do it because you never know what you’re going to get. You never know how fast you can go and what these cars are going to throw at you. Every lap is a handful.”
Hagan ran alongside Alexis DeJoria and her time of 3.875 (332.18 mph) combined with Hagan’s produced the quickest side by side run in Funny Car history.
“Now that NHRA has put these rev limiters on these cars, we did that (3.862 seconds, 335.57 mph) with a cylinder out, and that’s crazy,” Hagan said. “There’s a real fine there with how we can limit these rev limiters on these cars without us blowing motors up and putting holes out. Nowadays, it’s really hard to keep eight cylinders lit towards the finish line because of the rev limiter.”
Hagan said, although his Funny Car was blazing down the track, he was calm behind the wheel.
“I absolutely was in a zone,” Hagan said. “Your mind slows it all down for you and you’re just processing all that information a lot quicker. You wouldn’t think your mind would slow things down when you’re going 335 mph, but it does. The first couple of times I drove a (nitro) Funny Car it was just a blur. I didn’t know how I got to the end, it was crazy. Then as you make more runs, things start to slow down for you and you get a feel for where you’re at.”
But to see the look on his crew chief Venables face after they had rewritten the NHRA record book, Hagan said, was priceless.
“It was incredible to see the smile on his face,” Hagan said. “Obviously the beginning of this year was a little tough start for us and not the way we wanted it to go. We’ve been pulling our hair out over here, trying to get things right and together. We’re are the only one in the DSR camp (of Funny Cars) running the 6-disc clutch and it has been all on Dickie to figure the thing out. So to be able to go out there and see a number like that and have the car do as well as it did, you could tell there was just a huge amount of pressure lifted off his shoulders.”
Bobby Bennett is the Publisher/Editor of CompetitionPlus.com, a leading independent online drag racing magazine, since 1999. For the latest in dragster news worldwide, visit www.competitionplus.com or follow on Twitter @competitionplus