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Hagan tugs on Superman's cape in record-setting weekend

Tommy Delago is no mime, for sure. Funny Car driver Matt Hagan's crew chief can get animated when he wants to. But he doesn't always want to. And he didn't want to Friday night during qualifying for the O'Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Nationals.

He had better things to do than chit-chat.

Besides, Hagan said, "Nothing really needed to be said. We knew we had a fast race car. We usually chat it up, but he said nothing to me. I looked at him, and he looked at me. And he gave me a look as if to say, 'You had better get a hold of this thing.'

"I know I keep talking about Tommy as the mad scientist, but . . . whenever you strap into a car tuned by Tommy, you have to pull your straps tight," he said., "because you know you're going for a ride."

The Don Schumacher Racing-owned DieHard Dodge Charger proved its power Friday night, cranking out the first sub-four-second pass in Funny Car history -- 3.955 seconds at 316.23 mph on the zMAX Dragway 1,000-foot course at Concord, N.C.

Said Hagan of his crew chief, "I hope he never says anything to me anymore."

He added, "It's a cool deal to be part of this – first one in the threes – and they can never take that away from us." All the rest of his class could say was "Uncle!"

Hagan, 28, who called himself "just an old country boy from Virginia," went on to put an old-fashioned whuppin' on points leader and race finalist Mike Neff and the rest of the field.

He helped DSR flex its muscles. He secured the No. 1 qualifying spot. He backed up his 3.995-second elapsed time with a 4.018 in the first round of eliminations Sunday to rewrite his own national E.T. record and gain 20 precious bonus points. (He and Delago put the car on overkill in Saturday's third overall qualifying session, and the Dodge caught fire. "The car pushed me hard at 900 feet and then I saw orange," Hagan said. "We were going for the record on the run to get those points." That's how much it mattered.)

Most importantly, Hagan won the race, defeating Neff handily, moving into second place in the standings, and slicing the John Force Racing rival's advantage to just 22 points.

Hagan respectfully referred all weekend to Neff as "Superman." But it was Hagan who seemed to leap tall marching orders in a single bound, go faster than a speeding bullet, and produce a performance more powerful than a locomotive.


About the best thing driver-tuner Neff could say for his own weekend in the Castrol GTX that has carried him to five victories in nine final rounds was that he "got to the final and I feel like we did some damage control."

Hagan said Delago and his tuning magic was impressive but his steely resolve might have been more so. "I really cant believe what happened today [Sunday] really happened," he said. "[Delago] didn't want to let anyone step in his way. He believes we are at war, and today was as close as we could [come to being] gladiators."

Beating a John Force racing entry was simply extra reward.

"When you race one of those Force drivers, you're racing them all" Hagan said. "They are a team, and it's all underneath one umbrella. When you beat one of them, you beat them all."

Said Neff, "I give Matt Hagan a lot of credit. His car ran great. Guys are going to have those kinds of weekends when they are just on and pretty much unbeatable. You can't be the best car every weekend. He had a great weekend, and we also made it to the final without being the best car. Honestly, we let one get away from us this weekend. He had some problems and I smoked the tires. I could have walked out of here with the win really easily."

But he didn't.

Perhaps this victory was sweeter because he had led the standings going into the final race of last season. He was almost inconsolably devastated that he lost in the first round that day to Bob Tasca, who messed with his starting-line psyche and suckered him into a mistake that cost him the championship. John Force, who appreciated the gamesmanship from Ford ally Tasca, took his 15th championship, leaving Hagan to long for another year for his first.

"This is huge," Hagan said, thinking back about what slipped through his hands. "I know in the public light we always say we aren't supposed to dwell on it in our heart. But when you lose like we did last year, it's a burning deal inside. It gets you to the point you want to jump up and down on the car to the point it breaks in half.

"We put a lot of heart, sweat, blood into this. These boys wrench on this car every day and they put that same kind of emotion into it," he said. "To come out here and run like we did was phenomenal."

From the minute Hagan became the first Funny Car driver in the three-second range, the weekend was his.

Hagan described his milestone run, saying " I knew it was a fast lap. I never felt the car leave like that before. It got up on the tire really quick and the next thing I know, it gets out there and it is just digging. Then it tried to make a move, and I was afraid it was going to get out of the groove. I was trying to finesse it back, because it can be like it is on glass when you get out that far in a run. It was moving around and just digging.

"It was one of those runs where you really don't know what is going to happen," he said. "The finish line got there in a hurry. I knew it was a good one. Things were vibrating and it was dark. My vision was blurred. One of the guys came over and told me I had run a 3.99. I didn’t believe him. But when I realized it was for real, I said some words on ESPN, some choice words, that I ought to apologize for."

In racing terms, though, Matt Hagan had nothing at all for which he needed to apologize.


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