MORRISON, Colo. – There are still a few items on Matt Hagan’s bucket list he would like to check off, including sweeping the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series’ famed Western Swing.
Hagan’s quest to accomplish that mission begins during this weekend’s Dodge Mile-High NHRA Nationals presented by Pennzoil, and to do so, he’ll have to win at Colorado’s Bandimere Speedway for the first time.
Hagan and his team have never been able to solve Bandimere throughout his standout, championship-winning career, save for advancing to the final round there in 2011.
Since then, it’s been one frustrating result after another, something Hagan hopes to change this weekend in his 11,000-horsepower Mopar Express Lane/Pennzoil Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat.
Coming off his third straight win in Epping, N.H., this might be as good as time as any to change his fortune.
“Going to Denver, it can humble you, so you have to have a pretty good gameplan,” Hagan said. “You go in there knowing anything can happen. It’s a huge race for us because it’s a Mopar race. We’ve had a runner-up there, but we never could seal the deal, so hopefully we can do that. It’s all about trying to win championships and trying to make that goal happen. I feel good about our chances.
“We’ve got a good car, my lights have been good and confidence breeds confidence.”
Leah Pritchett (Top Fuel), John Force (Funny Car), Greg Anderson (Pro Stock) and Hector Arana Jr. (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were last year’s winners of the Bandimere event, which marks the 14th of 24 events this season and is the traditional starting point of the iconic three-race Western Swing.
But to have any chance of sweeping the Western Swing – something only the legendary John Force has done in Funny Car – a quick start and a Denver win is necessary.
After a stretch of just one round win in his previous six races, Hagan and his team – led by crew chief Dickie Venables – made a swift turnaround in Epping in the heat.
That victory was meaningful for Hagan, who picked up his 31st career win and moved to seventh in points, but it also had a huge impact on his team.
“Momentum comes just from the morale,” Hagan said. “The guys were pumped after the win and that’s what you take into Denver. You take that momentum of the guys feeling good and positive, and hopefully it translates to more success. It just shows you how fast things can change in this sport. The last couple years we started off strong and not done well in the back half.
“I’d like to finish strong this year, but you have to win two or three races in the Countdown to win a championship.”
Hagan believes the talent is there on the Don Schumacher Racing team to do that, but he knows consistency will be key. That is especially true in a talented class that includes points leader Robert High; his Don Schumacher Racing teammates Ron Capps, Tommy Johnson Jr. and Jack Beckman, Bob Tasca III, defending world champ J.R. Todd and Shawn Langdon.
But after his recent win, Hagan thinks his team is taking an entirely different mindset to Bandimere Speedway.
“I’m glad to see Dickie got his confidence back, but we still have a lot of work to do and there’s a lot ahead of us,” Hagan said. “It all goes into cycle, but I wouldn’t trade my crew chief for anybody. Friday will be make or break for us. If you don’t go down the first lap, you’re behind the eight-ball.
“Going down the track – even if it’s not as fast as usual – sets yourself up for the weekend.”