Matt Hagan has his sights set on joining the short list of drivers who have won four NHRA championships in Funny Car, and his most recent win at the Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals in Brainerd he’s in a perfect position to do just that. Hagan earned his second win of the season and the 38th of his career when he defeated two-time champion, Cruz Pedregon, in the Funny Car final. Hagan, the No. 4 qualifier, powered to a 3.923 at 327.98 mph in his Mopar Dodge Charger to overpower Pedregon’s 3.935, 324.83. To help seal the deal, Hagan also grabbed a lead of nearly five-hundredths at the start.
Hagan’s 2021 season began on an ominous note when he lost in the opening round in Gainesville, but he quickly bounced back and climbed to as high as No. 2 in the points following his victory in Denver and a runner-up finish the following week in Sonoma. He’s now run his record to 20-10 on the season with his win against Pedregon in the all-Dodge final round.
“We’re trying to get to where we need to be, where we should be coming off a championship run last year,” said Hagan. “You kind of expect to come out here and set the world on fire. We just haven’t been able to do that but [crew chief] Dickie Venables, you give that guy enough shots at the racetrack and he’s a bad man.”
Qualifying was tight, especially in the top half of the field and Hagan was in the thick of the battle with a 3.891 that was good for the No. 4 seed. Much to the delight of the Brainerd fans, eliminations produced a large number of great side-by-side runs and very little tire smoke, allowing crew chiefs to tune on the aggressive side. Hagan’s team took what the track would give them with consistent runs of 3.91, 3.92, and 3.92 in their first three wins against Dale Creasy Jr., Paul Lee, and low qualifier Bob Tasca III. Hagan’s reaction times also got progressively quicker with a best of .051 in the final.
“I just want to do my job up there,” Hagan said. “I really pride myself on leaving the starting line really well. I think most of our competitors understand that well but it’s just going to have to take these tough packages. You’re going to have to leave well, and you’re going to have to race well, and right now we’re doing that with this Mopar car.”
As for Pedregon, he obviously knew what he was doing last winter when he assembled a new crew for his Snap-on Dodge Charger. Pedregon hired crew chief John Collins, car chief Rip Reynolds, and the rest of the team that previously worked on Tommy Johnson’s car. That move has already paid off with a victory earlier this season in Norwalk. It’s also no surprise that Pedregon would do so well in Brainerd since Collins appeared in three-straight final rounds with Johnson between 2017-19.
Pedregon suffered a potentially big setback a week ago when he was involved in a two-car collision with Tim Wilkerson during qualifying for the Menards NHRA Nationals presented by PetArmor in Topeka. Pedregon ran a backup car during eliminations, but his Snap-on Tools team made a detour on their route from Topeka to Brainerd, returning to their shop in Brownsburg, Ind., in order to repair their damaged car. That moved paid off in spades as Pedregon made his quickest runs of the season in Brainerd including a 3.87 in qualifying accompanied by a string of low 3.9s in eliminations.