NHRA: Hagan hopes to build on points lead at BIR

If the trend continues, Matt Hagan will win the Funny Car Class Sunday at Brainerd International Raceway. The defending season champion and current points leader has never won the Lucas Oil Nationals at BIR. But then he had never won at Bristol, ...


If the trend continues, Matt Hagan will win the Funny Car Class Sunday at Brainerd International Raceway.

The defending season champion and current points leader has never won the Lucas Oil Nationals at BIR. But then he had never won at Bristol, TN, before until this year.

It took a victory over teammate Ron Capps, but Hagan got the monkey off his back at his home track. Will it be a year of many firsts for Hagan and his Mopar/Rocky Boots Dodge Charger? He hopes so.

"Absolutely. Sometimes there are tracks that just don't throw you a bone," said Hagan. "It's no different than Bristol here. It's my home track and I haven't won Bristol before and my friends and family are there and sometimes you just want it so bad you kind of push it away. You try too hard.

"We were able to win Bristol this year and to me that was like winning Indy. It was such a special race for me. That's because it was a homecoming. You do have to dig a little deeper and when you get those opportunities you have to make sure you capitalize on them and not make mistakes.



Matt Hagan

Hometown: Christiansburg, Va.

Division: Funny Car

Car: Mopar. Rocky Boots Dodge Charger

Crew chief: Dickie Venables

Funny Car Driver Matt Hagan on visiting the Brainerd International Raceway campgrounds known as the Zoo: "I don't think you can be a driver and not take a lap out into the Zoo to see what's going on," Hagan said. "Are you going to see me spend three nights out there? Probably not. But we'll definitely get out there and check things out and see everybody. There are a bunch of folks that I know over the years that we've celebrated and stuff together. So absolutely. It's definitely a sight to see anyway."

"It's worth the time spent to get out there and stay up a little later. But when it comes to Saturday and Sunday it's time to get focused. We're not there to party. We're there to do a job. I have 10 guys that are depending on me to have my mind right and focused and do whatever I can to turn those win lights on Sunday."



"I think everybody from here on, this is when you start feeling pressure. The folks that deal with pressure will excel and the ones that don't you'll see them continue to fall back. It's going to get nothing but more pressure, more media, more drama and more adrenaline and you've got to learn to cope with that from Brainerd on. Some people do great with that and I've seen other drivers puking in the bathroom. That's what separates a lot of good drivers to the ones that are just average and getting by."

Hagan is feeling the pressure from his own teammate Jack Beckman, who after his two wins on the Western Swing and is now sitting five points behind Hagan.

On the Swing, Hagan fell in the second round to Beckman at Denver. He lost to another teammate Tommy Johnson Jr. in the second round at Sonoma and Capps clipped him in the first round at Seattle.

"We've been leading the points all year long and the last couple of races Jack Beckman closed the gap on me," Hagan said. "We've got to make some stuff happen, there's no doubt about it. We need to turn some more win lights on and win a few more races. The thing about it is consistency is key. You want to win every race that you show up for. In your mind you're ready to do that, but in reality that's really hard to do.

"I think coming off the Western Swing, we didn't have, what you would call a good Western Swing, but we never do well out West. It was one of those things. We went out to a Norwalk match race this weekend and made some great laps, learned a lot and hopefully carry some of that momentum into this Brainerd race.

"I've never won Brainerd so it would be pretty cool to do that. It's an awesome race track. The fans there are just fanatical about drag racing. We're there to put on a show and hopefully we can give them what they paid for."

And Hagan wants to win at Brainerd. Last year Alexis DeJoria tossed him from the bracket in the quarterfinals after he qualified third. But while he wants to win, if he doesn't, it won't be the end of the world for Hagan. In fact, the two-time season champ might prefer to get knocked off the No. 1 spot of the points standings.


"To be honest with you, as much as I'd like to tell you how super important it is to be No. 1, it's really not," Hagen said. "I want to be the one leading and have that extra 30 points over the No. 2 guy, but the two championships I've won, I've won from the No. 6 seed and the No. 7 seed. The years I've gone in leading in points into the Countdown I've had my rear end handed to me.

"Basically the Countdown changes everything. The more points you have the better advantage you're going to have, so absolutely do we want to be No. 1? For sure. But it's anyone's ballgame when you roll into the last six races of the year and they reset the points."

Hagan's defense of his title is going better than his 2012 season when his team didn't win a race and made a crew chief change after the season. This year, Hagan has four event wins in five championship rounds. He's also been on the pole three times. Hagan scored a win over Capps at Pomona, beat Del Worsham at Phoenix, topped DeJoria in Englishtown, N.J., and clipped Capps again at Bristol.

"We just have a solid team and a solid car. There is no reason that we can't go out and win back-to-back championships," he said. "I believe it. I know it can happen.

"There is a cool thing about my car and it's when I sit in my car every Sunday - there are a lot of guys who hope they can win or maybe think they can win - I know every Sunday, I crawl into that car, I can win that race. Not a lot of guys can say that about their team or their race car. They have their fingers crossed, but at the end of the day, my team has the tools and the equipment and the know how and basically the desire to get it done."
Can desire turn into a win at BIR? Fans will find out when pro qualifying begins 3 p.m. Friday.

JEREMY MILLSOP may be reached at 218-855-5856 or . Follow on Twitter at .


Covering the Brainerd lakes area sports scene for the past 23 years.
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