Funny Car champion Hagan no longer picture of dejection

The image of Matt Hagan that's freeze-framed for most National Hot Rod Association fans is one of the burly Funny Car driver sitting on the ground at Auto Club Raceway, leaning against a hauler, wearing his fire suit and a pitifully dejected expression on his face.

A leaner, much happier Hagan replaced that picture Sunday, Nov. 13 at the Automobile Club of Southern California Finals with ones of joy and jubilation, of satisfaction, of redemption.

The DieHard Advanced Gold / Rimco Dodge Charger driver from the Don Schumacher Racing organization erased his 2010 final-day disappointment by winning both the season finale and the Full Throttle Drag Racing Series Funny Car championship. Instead of being remembered forever as the sophomore sensation snookered by wily 15-time champion John Force and Ford crony Bob Tasca III, he wrote his name in the record book alongside Force's as champion.

"It really is truly amazing this weekend to win the event and the race. We had some phenomenal things happen this year, and to win is amazing. I hate the phrase 'You have to lose one to win one,' but that really happened here," Hagan said. "And I'll admit I'm greedy, because I wanted the championship, and I wanted to win the race."

When he did, he discovered that the thrill of it was just as indescribable as losing it last season was. "I was so excited and happy," Hagan said. "I can't explain the feeling to anybody. I just wanted to crawl out of the race car while it was going 300 miles per hour."

Just five days before his 29th birthday, Hagan was the one giving. He handed Don Schumacher Racing its first Funny Car crown since 2005, when Gary Scelzi, with Mike Neff tuning, helped break up the Force domination.

Hagan gave the fans some of the season's best moments, beating upset-capable Jon Capps and tough-challenging DSR colleague Jack Beckman who finished second in the standings before mowing down a pair of Funny Car champions, Cruz Pedregon and Robert Hight.

He, along with Hight, contributed a stunning final round, with a 4.009-second blast on the 1,000-foot course that was the third-quickest in Funny Car history. (Hagan happens to own the quickest elapsed time, too. He set that in September at Charlotte's zMAX Dragway with the first sub-four-second pass, at 3.995.) His winning speed was 317.79 mph. Hight was close behind with a 4.031-second, 318.92-mph pass that was freakishly close to Beckman's national speed record of 318.99. That side-by-side tied for fourth-quickest run in class history.

That final round marked the fourth overall time that Hagan and Hight had raced in a final round, and it demonstrated the level of competition the fans got to see Sunday. The biggest margin of victory in the Hagan-Hight match-ups has been .044 seconds. This season Hight defeated Hagan by a margin of .013 seconds to win the Winternationals, also at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona, and Sunday Hagan edged Hight by .038 seconds. The slowest E.T. between these two headliners has been 4.103 seconds.

"I 'owed' Robert, because he beat me here on a holeshot in the first race of the season in February," Hagan said.

And Hagan gave plenty of compliments to his formidable opponents.

"One-two-three-four -- all rounds were big," he said, adding that "whether we're racing lawn mowers or fuel Funny Cars, I want to beat the guy beside me."

He did that four times Sunday, but he credited his opponents, as well as Neff and Force.

 

"That race against Jack (Beckman) was one of the biggest races of my life," Hagan said after earning his second victory of the year. "Jack has a strong car. That Mopar has been running strong, and our Dodge has been strong, as well. We've really had to step up. If we didn't get past Jack, we wouldn't have had to worry about Cruz. And Cruz, he raced me heads up."

Hagan paid tribute to John Force, although Force himself wasn't in the fight at all this time around.

"That's a guy that makes you dig deep," he said, adding that last year "we got the sour taste in our mouths" and this year that motivated him. "Sometimes you've got to have that burning, that desire. Last year put that in us. John made us go out there and earn it this year."

He also complimented Neff, who’s known at the racetrack as "Zippy" and to Hagan all year long s "Superman." Said Hagan, "Congratluatons to Zippy. Other than this Coundown, he earned this championship. It was his. If we weren't in the style of racing we're in now, he's the champion. That guy did a hell of a job driving and tuning, and he's got to be proud of himself and that whole [Castrol GTX Ford] team."

 

Ultimately, Hagan gave credit to God. On the eve eliminations, Hagan said ,"It's in God's hands." And when he bet Beckman Sunday, he said, "It's up to the good Lord above how this plays out." And when he beat Pedregon to clinch this hard-fought title, Hagan said, "The glory goes all to God."

And of course, Hagan saved some praise for his tem.

"Winning the championship is a testimony to [crew chief] Tommy DeLago,[assistant crew chief] Glenn Huszar, and all of my DieHard guys. I knew if I did my job, we'd have a great chance to win it all, because they do such a great job at theirs. I love them like brothers."

He said the DieHard team gained some wisdom this season.

"This Countdown, this whole team has had a different approach at it. We all realized that a lot of stuff is out of our control. You can't help who somebody lines up against or how many rounds they go," Hagan said. "All you can control is that small environment you have to deal with. This is how we've got to do this. If you try to control it all, it never works out."

The Angus cattle farmer from Christiansburg, Va., didn't try to control it all. It just appeared that he did. He was No. 1 qualifier with a 4.033-second time that held up as low E.T. of the meet. Hight's final-round speed was best of the event.

 

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