Matt Hagan already has faced off against Funny Car phenom Courtney Force three times.
He lost to her in the quarterfinals at Englishtown, then paid her back in the opening round at Sonoma before finishing as runner-up to her at Seattle. So she has the 2-1 edge in head-to-head NHRA competition. But now they have to battle it out for the fan vote to grab that eighth and final berth in the $100,000-to-win Traxxas Shootout that will run during the Labor Day weekend classic Mac Tools U.S. Nationals.
The Don Schumacher Racing driver of the Aaron’s Dodge Challenger has had a vigorous campaign under way for three weeks now — complete with broadcast-quality You Tube video, his own www.vote4hagan website, oversized “I Like Matt” buttons and stickers handed out at the races, and the legend Shirley Muldowney as his honorary campaign manager.
The campaign he’s really immersed in, though, is the one against “that other Force” and Bob Tasca III. Once again, just like in 2010, Hagan is battling the two who tag-teamed to him at the final race of that year to give Force his 15th Funny Car championship. Hagan won the title the next year but has had a miserable reign in 2012 — until the middle of the Western Swing.
With a tune-up tweak that crew chief Tommy DeLago got from a cadre of DSR counterparts from other teams, Hagan powered to runner-up finishes at Sonoma (against DSR colleague Johnny Gray) and at Seattle. With next week’s Lucas Oil Nationals at Brainerd, Minn., the penultimate event before the Countdown to the Championship field is set, Hagan is desperate to maintain his momentum.
He’s 62 points behind No. 10 Bob Tasca and 69 behind Force, who traded places in the standings with Tasca at Seattle.
Hagan moved up one spot to 11th in points and trails No. 10 Bob Tasca III by 42 points and No. 9 John Force by 49. Hagan had started race day at Seattle 91 points out of the 10th position.
“We still have to a lot to make up,” Hagan said. “We’re getting there. We’re doing what we need to do. We have to keeping winning rounds and the momentum is there. I’m just tickled to death to go some rounds and have some fun doing it. That’s the biggest thing you have to look at. We’re having fun again. It’s been a very humbling season so far, and we have a lot of making up to do.
His faith in his team remained intact all season, even when he admitted he was running out of way to stay positive.
“We have great guys and we are still a championship team. It was just a matter of time until Tommy got a handle on it again. We’re all human and sometime we question ourselves,” Hagan said.
“When you’re winning a lot it’s easy to stick together,” he said, “but we’ve stuck together through some tough times and we’re going to be together for a long time. And we’re going to start winning again real soon.”
He said two consecutive runner-up finishes at just the opportune time is something he can live with. Although every racer wants to win every time and doesn’t settle for second-best usually, Hagan said, “I’m not disappointed in this weekend or last weekend.
“I feel for my guys, because they did the same amount of work the last two races as the guys on the winning teams, and we haven’t gotten there,” he said. “But that’s just racing. We have to keep a positive attitude and keep this rolling.”
On one hand, a longer layoff can slow down a sizzling-hot team. In this case, the time off from the brutal travel, heat, and constantly changing conditions that characterize the Western Swing likely will energize all of the racers and crews.
Muldowney, the most successful woman in motorsports history and arguably the most famous drag racer of all time, jumped at the chance to help get Hagan into the Traxxas Shootout. She said, “If it’s for Matt Hagan, I will crawl on my hands and knees over broken glass. He is just a special, special man.”
While that might not be how his Aaron’s Dodge Charger crew would express themselves aloud, they seem to feel the same way. And with loyalty and devotion like that, how can Matt Hagan go wrong?