Reigning NHRA Funny Car champion Matt Hagan certainly intended to get off to a hot start at the season-opening Winternationals in Pomona in his defense of his title, but he got more “heat” than he bargained for during Friday’s second session or professional qualifying when his Mopar Ddoge Charger erupted into an old-school Funny Car inferno at the close of a 4.09-second lap.
Hagan’s mount lit up right after the finish line, popping the burst panel and sending flames rolling into the cockpit. The fire only grew from there, and Hagan, whether just in a hurry to get away from the flames or unable to see through the flames — or both —got hard on the binders, hopping and skidding to a stop before quickly climbing from the scorched race car.
Like you’d expect of a champion team, the Mopar crew got right to work and had the car back good as new for qualifying on Saturday, and despite starting on raceday from the 12th qualifying position, Hagan wrnt on to win the whole shebang, defeating teammate Ron Capps with a stout 4.01 in the final.
“It says a lot for my team,” said Hagan of his Mopar Express Lane Dodge crew, who stayed at the track into the early Saturday morning hours to replace wiring on the car damaged by flames. “There are not too many jobs where you work all day long and then half the night. I come in late and leave early, and they come in early and leave late. It makes me have so much more respect for them because they have such a passion for this; it’s not just about a paycheck. They do it because they love it and to me that is special because they do whatever it takes to get the job done.
After his victory, Hagan commented, “You try to put it out of your mind and not think about it,” Hagan said. “These [race cars] are animals out there and you never know what you are going to get when you crawl in there to drive one. It’s always an experience. You have to respect it, but you can’t fear it.”