With an impressive blast of 3.841 seconds at 333.25 mph behind the wheel of his Mopar Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat, Matt Hagan rocketed to the top of the NHRA Winternationals Funny Car leaderboard on Saturday evening at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona.
Hagan began day two of qualifying for the season-opener from the No. 1 spot on the strength of his Friday afternoon Q1 pass of 3.867 seconds, which held firm throughout the third qualifying session. With track conditions steadily improving throughout the field-setting fourth round, Hagan and his Dickie Venables-led Mopar team watched as reigning Funny Car champion Robert Hight laid down a solid run of 3.862 seconds to knock them from the top spot. Not to be outdone, Hagan immediately reclaimed the No. 1 position with his 3.84. In the opposite lane, his teammate Jack Beckman charged his Infinite Hero Foundation Dodge to a 3.856 E.T. to also eclipse Hight and move into the No. 2 position.
Both Beckman and Hagan have been on a roll since late in the 2019 season. Beckman solidified himself as a serious title threat with his strong showing at the NHRA U.S. Nationals, the final event of the ‘regular’ season, which saw him earn the Indy pole and a runner-up finish. At the very next race, the first event of the Countdown, Beckman raced to victory and bookended his playoff run with another win at the season-closer. Hagan’s momentum began when he captured back-to-back Countdown victories and the No. 1 qualifier at the 2019 season-closer. Both drivers remained in the title hunt through the final day of the season, with Beckman finishing as the runner-up and Hagan taking third.
For Hagan, a two-time Funny Car world champion and six-time Pomona winner, he attributes much of his recent success to the strong relationship he enjoys with Venables and his crew saying, “This is (Dickie and my) eighth year together, and when you can keep your core team together for that long, it says a lot. We just click, and it’s an amazing feeling to have to know your crew chief is capable of stepping up to the plate, and you’re not just one of those cars that are just trying to make it down the race track. We were just in the lounge today, talking about how long we’ve been together, and it’s just one of those things where we have chemistry, and we mesh. He’s a guy I know I can win a championship with.
“This Mopar Funny Car is just flying out there right now,” added Hagan, who clocked low E.T. of round one and four, and second-low of round two to earn a total of eight bonus points. “When your team puts a hot rod underneath you like that, it’s always fun. We had a great test session, and then came out here and laid down some great numbers. Robert (Hight) took that No. 1 from us, and then we took it back from him, so how can you complain about that?”
Starting from the No. 1 position, Hagan and the Mopar Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat Funny Car team will take on Mello Yello series newcomer Alex Miladinovich in round one.
Hagan’s No. 1 qualifier is his 37th overall, and fifth at Pomona. The last two times he started the Winternationals from the pole (2017 and 2018), he was successful in finishing the weekend with the Funny Car Wally trophy in hand. He hopes history will repeat itself on Sunday.
“Going into race day tomorrow, my lights are good, the car is running great, the guys are doing a phenomenal job, and we came off of a really strong season last year, so we’re just focused on keeping the ball rolling.”
Qualified: No. 1 (lane choice)
The Competition: No. 16 Alex Miladinovich
Q1: 3.867 E.T. at 331.20 MPH (Three bonus points for quickest run of the session)
Q2: 9.371 E.T. at 76.54 MPH
Q3: 3.894 E.T. at 329.18 MPH (Two bonus points for second-quickest run of the session)
Q4: 3.841 E.T. at 333.25 MPH (Three bonus points for quickest run of the session)
Bonus Points: Eight