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Hagan distances himself from the Funny Car field with third win of 2021

After returning from a bout with COVID, Matt Hagan survives a Funny Car slugfest to claim first St. Louis title and recapture the points lead.
26 Sep 2021
Kevin McKenna, NHRA National Dragster Senior Editor
Race coverage
Matt Hagan

Matt Hagan came into the NHRA Midwest Nationals just five points out of the lead in what is shaping up to be one of the most competitive Funny Car points battles in years. He’s leaving St. Louis with a somewhat generous 59 point advantage over the field thanks to an impressive performance that resulted in his third win of the season. It was also the fourth win for the Mopar Dodge team following substitute driver Tommy Johnson Jr’s victory in Reading.

This time, Hagan did the heavy lifting by himself with a clean sweep of the event that included the quickest run of qualifying with a 3.868, and a 3.933 in his final round victory against Bob Tasca III, who may have saved his season with a runner-up finish. Having to miss two races due to COVID-19 including the Dodge/SRT NHRA U.S. Nationals has given Hagan an entirely different perspective on the sport.  

“I’m just humbled and grateful to be out here to be honest with you,” said Hagan. “I dealt with COVID for a couple of weeks and there were a couple of times where you’re like ‘Man, I don’t know if I’m going to pull through this.’ It’s one of those things where it humbled me and I’m glad to be back out here with you guys having fun and winning trophies.
“This was a slugfest all weekend,” said Hagan. “Everyone was making great runs and it’s pretty incredible to be a part of it and hang on to it. I’ve never won at this race track. Denver, Sonoma, and this place. I won Denver earlier this year so we’re clicking them off. Big points day. Every round matters. I’ve won three world championships and been runner-up twice and you know how to deal with the pressure. I don’t care who you are, it’s still pressure.”

After qualifying Hagan, now a 39-time winner in his career got a chance to make a free pass with a bye run in the opening round, and then tacked on wins against fellow world champs J.R. Todd and Cruz Pedregon. Hagan’s race against Pedregon was typical of the current state of Funny Car racing with an even start, followed by a close 3.92 to 3.95 race that fell in Hagan’s favor. Hagan also made one of the best runs of Sunday’s eliminations with a 3.894 in his win against Gainesville champ Todd.

Despite the final-round loss, Tasca is still very much in the championship picture after driving his Mike Neff-tuned Motorcraft Quick Lane Ford to the final round for the fourth this season and first since Norwalk. Starting from the No. 6 spot, Tasca was solid in his wins over Alexis DeJoria, Bobby Bode, and John Force. Tasca began the day in eighth place, 93 points out of the lead, but passed managed to hang tough. Tasca trails by 120 points and is behind Hagan, Capps, John Force, Pedregon, and Todd.