Matt Hagan Captures First Brainerd Victory; Moves into Funny Car Point Lead

JERRY FOSS NHRA/NATIONAL DRAGSTE

Last month, reigning Funny Car world champion Matt Hagan was able to check ‘winning Denver’ off of his racing bucket list, and on Sunday afternoon at Brainerd International Raceway, Hagan was able to cross another item off the list when he won the NHRA Brainerd Nationals for the first time in 12 attempts. Hagan drove the Mopar Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat Redeye into the winner’s circle for the second time in 2021, and 38th time in his career when he clocked a stout .051 reaction time and 3.923 second E.T. to defeat Cruz Pedregon’s 3.935-second effort in the final Funny Car showdown. 

After officially clinching a Countdown berth during qualifying, Hagan began race day from the fourth seed and with a round-one matchup versus Dale Creasy Jr. where he posted the second-quickest E.T. of the session to advance to round two. Against Paul Lee, his quarterfinal opponent, it was Hagan’s right foot that sealed the victory when he took a starting line advantage all the way to a holeshot win. In the semifinals, Hagan once again used his machine-like reflexes coupled with a solid 3.932-second pass to propel him to victory over Bob Tasca III, and earn a bid to the finals for the fourth time this season. By winning the Brainerd hardware, Hagan moved into the Funny Car point lead with only one event remaining – the Dodge//SRT NHRA U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis – before playoff positions are set and the Countdown to the Championship chase begins.

“I’ve been racing for so long, and it’s great to knock this one off the list and add a Brainerd trophy to the shelf,” said Hagan, who, despite having a lot of success at Brainerd in the past, including being the first Funny Car pilot to clock a 3.8-second run during the 2015 event, had yet to seal the deal and hoist a Brainerd Wally trophy before Sunday. “We want to win every race, and at every race track, so I’m especially glad we got it done today.”

As Hagan and the Dickie Venables-led Mopar Dodge Funny Car team prepare to begin their 2020 title defense, they have one race left to continue to tweak their performance and put as many points on the leaderboard as possible. Hagan occupies the No. 1 spot heading into the final ‘regular season’ event which features a unique points-and-a-half format. With a mere 25 points separating the top five ranked drivers, Hagan knows his team has their work cut out in order to maintain their position at the top of the board.

“We’re trying to get where we should be,” explained the three-time Funny Car world champion. “After coming off of such a strong championship run last year, you come out and expect to set the world on fire, and we just haven’t been able to do that. But Dickie Venables, you give the guy enough shots at the race track, he’s a bad man. I just want to do my job up there. I really pride myself in leaving the starting line really well, and it’s going to take these tough packages to win. You’re going to have leave good, and you’re going to have to race good, and that’s what we’re doing with this Mopar Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat.

“The points lead has changed hands so many times this year. There’s less than one round that separates the top five ranked cars so it’s a true dogfight right now. We struggled a little bit in the beginning of the season, and it feels like things are really starting to click and come together for our team. The Countdown is the Countdown. I’ve won from all different starting positions, you’ve just got to be in it to win it. This team, we’re all starting to peak at the right time, so I’m excited about that.”

Qualified: No. 4 (3.891 E.T. at 328.06 MPH)

The Results:
E1: 3.911 E.T. at 328.30 MPH defeated Dale Creasy Jr. 4.031 E.T. at 311.85 MPH
E2: 3.928 E.T. at 323.27 MPH defeated Paul Lee 3.911 E.T. at 329.18 MPH
E3: 3.932 E.T. at 328.30 MPH defeated Bob Tasca 3.940 E.T. at 329.10 MPH
E4: 3.923 E.T. at 327.98 MPH defeated Cruz Pedregon 3.935 E.T. at 324.83 MPH

DSR PR