Reigning champion Hagan experiences it all with Mopar/Rocky team en route to winning the Funny Car title in NHRA Mello Yello opener

POMONA, Calif. RIS-(Feb. 8, 2015) -From feeling like a roasted marshmallow on Friday to taking the cake on Sunday, Matt Hagan experienced it all during this weekend's NHRA Circle K Winternationals at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona, Calif.

During a qualifying session on Friday at the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season-opener Matt's 2015 Dodge Charger R/T Funny Car suffered a fiery explosion that severely damaged the Mopar Express Lane/Rocky Boots Funny Car body and components, forcing the team to bring out their back-up 2015 Dodge Charger R/T body branded in the Rocky Boots colors.

"Friday was unexpected. It caught me off guard," Matt said. "It went through the (finish line) lights and banged the blower, threw the rods out of it and the fire just got pretty big pretty quick. The guys put in the work, I think they finished up at 3:30 Saturday morning then got a few hours of sleep and came back Saturday ready to go."

When the final qualifying session was rained out on Saturday, the Mopar team rolled into Sunday's eliminations qualified 12th with a bit of unknown in the car they spent hours rebuilding just a day before.

But the team came out swinging on Sunday morning at Pomona earning the opening round win of eliminations with a 4.065-second effort at 318 mph. They followed that up with a 4.128 to win in the second round and a 4.068 in the semifinals before unleashing low elapsed time of eliminations, a 4.011 at 320 mph, to defeat Don Schumacher Racing teammate Ron Capps in the final round.

It was Matt's fourth straight Pomona final-round appearance but the first NHRA Winternationals event title for the reigning NHRA Funny Car world champion.

"It speaks volumes for Dickie Venables, Mike Knudsen and these guys that put our car together," he said of his team leaders. "They worked so hard to put a good car underneath me. It's cool for me to say that I'm the first to win with this new 2015 Dodge Charger.

"It's crazy how things change so quickly in a couple of days. I didn't know which sponsor to thank because we were running the Mopar scheme and then had to switch to Rocky Boots but I can't thank them all enough. Without their support we wouldn't be out here. That win right there was for Don (Schumacher). We really missed him out here this weekend."

Schumacher is resting at home this weekend while undergoing treatments following a successful surgery to treat Stage 1 Squamous cell carcinoma in November.

Matt was quick to credit crew chief Venables for staying calm throughout a chaotic weekend.

"As soon as Dickie felt comfortable, I felt comfortable," Matt said. "Dickie is our leader and a great guy. The confidence, the momentum, the mentality trickles down from him and for me I'm just the cheerleader of the group. I keep everybody positive and happy and even when we're down you have to keep everybody up. I look to Dickie, into his eyes and what he's doing. Every lap today it got better and better."

Event winner: Matt Hagan (Don Schumacher Racing)
No. 1 qualifier: Courtney Force (John Force Racing) 3.995 sec., 322.65 mph

MATT HAGAN, Mopar Express Lane/Rocky Boots 2015 Dodge Charger R/T
Qualifying position: No. 12
First round: HAGAN (4.065, 318.84) def. Tony Pedregon (4.381, 227.54)
Second round: HAGAN (4.128, 303.50) def. John Hale (Broke)
Semifinal: HAGAN (4.068, 316.75) def. Del Worsham (4.081, 314.90)
Final: HAGAN (4.011, 320.89) def. Ron Capps (4.078, 314.90)
FRIDAY: 4.191 sec., 296.24 mph, (Session 1); 4.090, 310.70, (Session 2)
SATURDAY: 4.174, 252.52 mph (Session 3); Session 4 canceled because of rain

2015 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Standings
(unofficial after Pomona)
1. Matt Hagan, 107
2. Ron Capps, 94
3. Del Worsham, 74
4. Robert Hight, 73
5. Courtney Force, 61
6. Tommy Johnson, Jr., 60
7. John Hale, 51
8. Bob Bode, 46
9. John Force, 40
10. Cruz Pedregon, 38

Dusty Brandel

President of the American Auto Racing Writers and Broadcasters Association, Inc. Worked with Mike Hollander since Tapsis, Compuserve, etc. and has posted to the website since the beginning. First Female photo-journalist to be given a garage and pit pass for the NASCAR garage, 1972 at Ontario Motor Speedway. One of first seven female writers, photographers given access to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway garage and pits in 1971. Past President of Greater Los Angeles Press Club, 1992-96, and first female editor of the 8-Ball publication for the Press Club

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Volume 2015, Issue 2, Posted 12:49 AM, 02.09.2015