World Champion Matt Hagan Eager For NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals
BRISTOL, Tenn. — When it comes to drag racing, there are some things that defending NHRA Funny Car world champion Matt Hagan will always enjoy. Hearing the thunderous sounds of 10,000-horsepower and the roaring approval of the crowd at the track closest to his Christiansburg, Va. home is one of them.
That track, of course, is historic Bristol Dragway, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary and annually offers up some of the most memorable scenes and sounds on the NHRA Drag Racing Series circuit.
It's also a track near and dear to Hagan, but for it to truly feel like home the two-time world champion would like to grab his first career Funny Car win at the famed facility during the 15th annual NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals, June 19-21.
"It just an awesome atmosphere that looks like home and feels like home," Hagan said. "What makes it special is all your friends and family are there, and sometimes that can make you try too hard. I've not won at Bristol and I would love to because it's so close to home. A win there would make it that much more special."
Shawn Langdon (Top Fuel), Tommy Johnson Jr. (Funny Car) and Erica Enders (Pro Stock) are the defending winners of the event that will be televised by ESPN2 and ESPN, with a live eliminations show on Sunday on ESPN (3 p.m.). The race is the 11th of 24 events during the 2015 NHRA Drag Racing Series season and the event will take place on Father's Day weekend for the sixth straight year.
That's an added element for Hagan, who said handing the Wally to his father would be first on his to-do list should he finally conquer Thunder Valley in his 10,000-horsepower Mopar Express Lane/Rocky Boots Dodge Charger R/T. The 2015 NHRA season might represent his best chance to date to win in Bristol considering how his year has started.
Fresh off a dominant performance in the Countdown to the Championship a year ago, Hagan and his team, led by standout crew chief Dickie Venables, were impressive to start 2015, winning the first two races of the season.
Instead of standing pat, though, Venables went into the lab to try to stay ahead of the curve. That meant a host of changes to the clutch program and last weekend's win in Englishtown is what Hagan believes is just the first glimpse of what could be a dangerous combination later in the season.
"We had a great combo, but we took that out of the race car to find some new stuff," said Hagan, who has 17 career wins. "We were struggling a little bit but still keeping our head above water with the new stuff. But we came back at Englishtown, honed it all in and turned on four win lights. It's been a good start and there are still some things we're ironing out. We just couldn't get it all to come together for a few races, but Dickie is comfortable with what he's seen and he just continues to do a phenomenal job."
Even with the vast changes Hagan has never dropped lower than second in the points standings, posting back-to-back semifinal appearances in Atlanta and Topeka before breaking through for his third victory of the season in Englishtown.
He outran teammate Ron Capps in the semifinals to jump back into the points lead and then knocked off Alexis DeJoria in a thrilling final round to kick off a three-race East Coast stretch that finishes up in Bristol. Again, Hagan praised the performance of his car and thinks it is capable of even more.
"It looks very, very promising," Hagan said. "We've got two combinations that are going to run pretty well and this combination right now has shown so much promise. I think it's going to be a lot better in the future. I'm giddy about it and I am really excited about how the car has been reacting and responding to everything we've been doing."
Hagan hopes that leads to a breakthrough at Bristol and should that happen, he would become the fifth different driver to win in Thunder Valley since 2011. Johnson Jr. drove to the win last year and John Force, the 16-time world champ, is the winningest Funny Car driver in Bristol Dragway history with five wins. Capps has three wins at Bristol and other major contenders in the Funny Car category include two-time Bristol winner Del Worsham, Courtney Force, Robert Hight, Jack Beckman and Tim Wilkerson.
Hagan joked he "couldn't give my autograph away" in his early years at Bristol but that has clearly changed. He has become one of the star attractions of the weekend, one Hagan hopes this year will be capped off with a trip to the winner's circle.
"At Bristol I could stand out there all day and give autographs," Hagan said. "There are a lot of people who come out to see you and support you, and that makes you feel really good. I just love going there and hopefully we can end the weekend with a win."
As always, fans will have the opportunity to interact with their favorite drivers as they're granted an exclusive pit pass to the most powerful and sensory-filled motorsports attraction on the planet. This unique opportunity in motorsports gives fans direct access to the teams, allowing them to see firsthand the highly-skilled mechanics service their hot rods between rounds, and get autographs from their favorite NHRA drivers.
NHRA Drag Racing Series qualifying begins Friday, June 19, with sessions at 5 and 7:30 p.m. The final two qualifying sessions will take place Saturday, June 20, at 12:30 and 3 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for noon on Sunday, June 21.
To purchase tickets, call (866) 901-2679 or visit www.thundervalleytix.com. For more information about the Thunder Valley Nationals visit BristolDraway.com.