After an early-season victory during the 2019 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season and a string of solid runs last weekend in Las Vegas, Matt Hagan sees the confidence level in his team continuing to build. It’s an ideal place to be for the two-time Funny Car champion, especially as he heads to an important early-season race this weekend.
Racing at his sponsor’s track, Houston Raceway Park powered by Pennzoil, for his sponsor’s race, the 32nd annual Mopar Express Lane NHRA SpringNationals presented by Pennzoil, makes this a massive weekend for Hagan and his 10,000-horsepower Pennzoil Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat. Hagan knows that brings a bigger spotlight and extra pressure, but he’s ready to embrace it as he seeks to win his second race of 2019 and second overall in Houston.
“It’s a great opportunity and definitely an honor for me,” Hagan said. “You realize what type of companies you represent and you try to put your best foot forward. It’s phenomenal to have a global company invested in the sport. As far as pressure, you have to try to minimize it and try to focus on the things I’m in control of. The pressure is everywhere in this sport, but it’s a good feeling knowing you have a global company backing you. You just try to learn to let things come to you.”
Brittany Force (Top Fuel) and J.R. Todd (Funny Car) were last year’s winners of the event, which will include live finals coverage on the FOX national broadcast network starting at 3:00 p.m. (ET) on Sunday, April 14. It marks the NHRA’s 2019 season debut on FOX and also the fifth of 24 races during a season that’s already been a strong one for Hagan, who is currently fifth in points.
Hagan and his team, led by standout crew chief Dickie Venables, won in Phoenix and advanced to the second quad at the most recent event, the four-wide race in Las Vegas. There, Hagan made a number of consistent runs, which is what he’s looking for at this point in the season. He’s just over a round out of second place, which indicates the talent level in the class, and Hagan feels like the team is in a good spot heading to Houston Raceway Park powered by Pennzoil.
“I feel like we’ve got a great car and it’s doing what it needs to do,” said Hagan, who has 30 career Funny Car wins. “I feel really confident in my crew chief and you can just see his confidence growing as well. The car is doing what we want it do and we just want to keep moving forward. The car is driving phenomenal and it’s just a nice working race car right now. We went down every lap at the four-wide race and I feel like we’re going to have a lot of success.”
Hagan believes his car will thrive as temperatures continue to rise, which means he may be set for another trip to the winner’s circle this weekend. To do so, he’ll have to get past the likes of Vegas winner and defending world champion J.R. Todd, points leader Robert Hight, who has two wins this year, John Force, and Don Schumacher Racing teammates Ron Capps, Tommy Johnson Jr. and Jack Beckman. But Hagan has been through the championship gauntlet before and knows what it takes, and he likes what he sees out of his talented group early in the 2019 season.
“The biggest thing is we’re meshing and getting along really well,” Hagan said. “We’re coming up on a lot of races in a row, so it’s all about making sure guys are clicking. We’re about to be on the road for a while, but the guys are doing a phenomenal job. My thing is just trying to keep the confidence going and just having consistency. We’re going to make some good calls and bad calls, but when you see the team gelling this early, you know the flow is going to be good.”
Mello Yello Drag Racing Series qualifying will feature two rounds at 4:30 and 7:15 p.m. on Friday, April 12 and the final two rounds of qualifying on Saturday, April 13, at 2:30 and 5 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sunday, April 14.
To purchase general-admission or reserved seats, call (281) 383-RACE (7923) or visit www.houstonraceway.com. Kids 13 and under are free on the spectator side with a paid adult. To honor the Salute to First Responders, military and first responders can save 20 percent on general admission tickets at the gate.