Racing just a couple hours from his Christiansburg, Va. home, Matt Hagan relishes the opportunity to compete at picturesque Bristol Dragway, the site of this weekend’s 17th annual NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals.
After trying for years to win at his home track in Funny Car, Hagan came through for the first time in 2015, advancing to the final round again last year. Winning on Father’s Day weekend added an extra special touch for Hagan, making it such a memorable moment the two-time world champion hopes to repeat it again in his 10,000-horsepower Mopar Express Lane Dodge Charger R/T.
“It doesn’t get any better,” said Hagan, who is currently second in Funny Car points. “I’ll have my boy there this weekend, my family will be there and it’s just a blessing to have them all so close. At this race you have so many people you grew up with that come out and watch you. They saw you racing at a local level and they’ve been able to grow with you. For them to see you do well, I think it’s a pretty special thing. Some of those people really, really care about you and your career.”
Shawn Langdon (Top Fuel), Tommy Johnson Jr. (Funny Car) and Jason Line (Pro Stock) were last year’s winners of the event that will be televised on FOX Sports 1, including final eliminations coverage starting at 6:30 p.m. (ET) on Sunday, June 18. It is the 11th of 24 events during a 2017 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season that has been a massive success for Hagan.
He won the first two races of the season and followed with another two weekends ago in Epping, putting him only behind Don Schumacher Racing teammate and reigning world champion Ron Capps in the points standings. Counting Johnson’s win earlier this season and Jack Beckman’s win last weekend in Englishtown, and DSR drivers have won nine of the 10 races in Funny Car. It’s a dominating stat, but Hagan wants to continue to rack up as many victories as possible.
“Ever since I’ve been with (crew chief) Dickie (Venables) I’ve had a shot at winning a title,” said Hagan, who has 25 career wins, including 20 since 2013. “We’ve always been there and that says a lot about Dickie. The success we’ve had with the car and this team, we believe we’ll be in the hunt, but we want to go into the (Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship) with a full head of steam. We strive to be number one and we have a car capable of it.”
The NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals comes as the third event in a four-race stretch and last week gave drivers their first real look at scorching temperatures. While it may not be as hot this weekend at Bristol Dragway, Hagan knows it is imperative to show consistency on the warmer tracks. The team has put together eye-popping performances in 2017, including a run of 3.802 and a separate pass at 338.85 mph to hold both ends of the national record. But after falling in the second round at Englishtown, Hagan knows consistency in warm weather will be important.
“That is going to be the challenge with a really fast car, pulling it back in the heat,” Hagan said. “It’s going to be a challenge, but I think we can go some rounds (in Bristol). It’s just crazy how finicky these cars can get. But we all have confidence in Dickie. That’s something he’s pretty good at as far as reading the conditions and doing what we need to do to get down the track.”
Mello Yello Drag Racing Series qualifying will feature two rounds at 5 and 7:30 p.m. on Friday, June 16 and the final two rounds of qualifying on Saturday, June 17, at 1 and 3:30 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for noon on Sunday, June 18.
To purchase general-admission or reserved seats, call Bristol Dragway at (423) 989-6900. Tickets also are available online at www.bristoldragway.com. Kids 12 and under are free in general admission areas with a paid adult on Sunday.