Hagan: We Can’t Make Mistakes

Matt Hagan (Rhonda McCole Photo)
Matt Hagan (Rhonda McCole Photo)

LAS VEGAS — NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series Countdown to the Championship titles will be on the line in all four classes as the 23-race tour nears its endpoint at this weekend’s 10th annual NHRA Las Vegas Nationals.

For several drivers, the season has reached critical mass and they will need to respond appropriately at the penultimate race at The Strip @ Las Vegas Motor Speedway if they are to have any chance of claiming world championship glory.

Close points battles exist in all of four professional categories where the point lead is less than 100 markers in each class. In Funny Car, Virginia cattle rancher Matt Hagan, 27, holds a 64-point lead over 14-time world champion John Force. Hagan powered his Don Schumacher-owned DieHard Dodge Charger to a strong performance earlier this month at Pennsylvania’s Maple Grove Raceway and moved ahead of the 61-year-old Force, who has led the series for most of the season in an emotional comeback effort after a winless season in 2009.

Hagan says his team, tuned by crew chief Tommy DeLago, will need to be focused to hang on to the title with two races to go in the season.

“We can’t make any mistakes,” Hagan said. “We have to go out there, do some good, solid racing, and go some rounds. I don’t feel like we have to set the world on fire but we need to go some rounds and keep kind of matching John round for round, and it will hopefully fall the way we want it to. This is drag racing; you never know how it’s going to end up.”

Force’s comeback has received major headlines all season long, and the significance of what Hagan could accomplish by beating him is not lost on the 27-year-old driver.

“It would be huge to be able to win this championship, and you know, to beat John Force,” Hagan said. “I grew up watching this guy, he’s a legend, and to be able to go out there and race the guy is something else. I look at what he’s done for the sport, and he’s obviously a fan favorite. So it’s just awesome to run him and we have a great race car with this DieHard car, and we are just going to line him up and let the cars do the talking. I like how Force is straight up, no games, and that’s how I race, too. The cars will finish it out and it will be what it will be.”

In Top Fuel, Larry Dixon has been impressive in his Al-Anabi Racing dragster all season by racing to 12 victories in 12 final rounds. Hot on his heels is Don Schumacher Racing’s Cory McClenathan, who is searching for his first world championship crown after finishing second four times during his distinguished career.

Dixon, who won world titles in 2002 and 2003 while driving for NHRA legend Don “The Snake” Prudhomme, is certainly ready to finish off the latest chapter of his career.

“I just try to keep my head down and just worry about the run in front of me,” Dixon said. “It’s great to read the stories that everybody is doing, but at the same time, I need to just pay attention to what we are doing with our car and our team and just try and make every run as great a run as we can and hope that’s enough. Keep it simple.”

McClenathan is optimistic that his experience and sheer determination will finally pay off in the form of an NHRA Full Throttle Series championship.