| It had been 140 days since teams of the NHRA’s Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season had fired up their engines for race day, but for E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Nationals Funny Car event champion Matt Hagan, it was well worth the lengthy wait. On Sunday at the first event back since the NHRA season was halted due to the global COVID-19 pandemic, Hagan hoisted the 34th Wally trophy of his career and earned victory No. 348 for Don Schumacher Racing, the winningest team in NHRA history. With Hagan securing DSR’s sixth consecutive Funny Car triumph (dating back to October 2019), the Brownsburg, Ind.-based organization is quickly approaching the coveted ‘350 wins’ milestone.|
Hagan began his march to the Indianapolis winner’s circle by qualifying his Mopar Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat sixth to lock-in lane choice over his first-round opponent, Dan Wilkerson. Hagan’s quick reaction time earned him the immediate starting line advantage and he never trailed for the win, clocking a 4.025 E.T. to secure lane choice over point leader and 2020 season-opener victor, Jack Beckman. It was a nail-biter of a race between the two former world champions, with Hagan crossing the finish line in 3.949-seconds, narrowly defeating Beckman’s 3.969-second effort.
In the semifinals, Hagan faced his first-round opponent’s father, Tim Wilkerson. The 2016 U.S. Nationals champ used his stout reaction time and solid 3.959-second pass to oust the elder Wilkerson and earn a bid to the finals, his first of the season, where he would face No. 1 qualifier and NHRA Arizona Nationals event winner Tommy Johnson Jr. Both Johnson and Hagan recorded 3.959-second E.T.s in the semifinals, but lane choice went to Hagan based on speed. Johnson appeared unstoppable all day, posting low E.T. in the first two sessions, before tying Hagan for low in the semis. In front of a live FOX TV audience, the DSR Dodges of Hagan and Johnson pulled up to the starting line for the final round. Hagan stood on the gas first for the early lead and despite an engine backfire near the finish line, was able to hold on for the win over Johnson who was shut off after dropping a cylinder.
“It was a big change going from super cool conditions, and being able to run really hard, and then watching (crew chief) Dickie Venables make the adjustments when it’s a 140-degree race track, and different things like that,” said Hagan of the differing weather conditions teams experienced throughout race day. “Really proud of Dickie, (assistant crew chief) Mike Knudsen, Alex Conway, and all my guys that are wrenching on the car to make these adjustments.
“My guys put a great race car underneath me,” added Hagan, who was the No. 1 qualifier at the first two events of the season. “We kept lane choice all day long and to be able to make those calls, and to go out there and run hard in this heat, is really telling. Tommy Johnson, he really had the car to beat this weekend. He rolled out of the box really strong. That whole team over there, they’re going to be tough for us all year long. I’m just really proud and excited to be a part of NHRA that’s bringing it out here with the fans. We’re back out here, and we’ve got this race underneath us to show people that we can do this, and do it right. People are taking the necessary precautions and making sure we’re staying safe. It’s just really nice to be back into drag racing and to be able to hold up the Wally again.”
|Qualified: No. 6 (4.090 E.T. at 289.07 MPH)|
E1: 4.025 E.T. at 315.27 MPH defeated Dan Wilkerson 4.238 E.T. at 249.44 MPH
E2: 3.949 E.T. at 321.19 MPH defeated Jack Beckman 3.969 E.T. at 316.90 MPH
E3: 3.959 E.T. at 322.34 MPH defeated Tim Wilkerson 4.349 E.T. at 211.43 MPH
E4: 4.328 E.T. at 215.00 MPH defeated Tommy Johnson Jr. 5.854 E.T. at 117.84 MPH