By Anthony Caruso III
Posted: August 12th, 2013 at 1:32 am EST
There were question marks going into the season for the Magnetti Marelli/Rocky Boots NHRA Funny Car driver Matt Hagan’s team before the season started.
At the end of last year, Hagan lost his crew chief as Tommy DeLago left to take over as the crew chief of Alexis DeJoria’s Tequila Patron Funny Car. After weeks of looking for a crew chief, Dickie Venables would be hired to lead Hagan’s tuning operation for this season.
It took some time for the chemistry to be there. But, as of late, Hagan has been the best Funny Car in the NHRA and the points leader.
“Dickie has come in and a lot of things are clicking that weren’t working out last year,” said Hagan. “We got a win early on (at Charlotte1), which gave the team momentum into the rest of the season. We also entered into the Traxxas Shootout with the first win. The car has been running really well.”
Last weekend, Hagan won his fourth race of the season, which is the most races he has won in a season. In the final round in Seattle, Hagan defeated Bob Tasca III in the NHRA Northwest Nationals.
With the win, it also clinched a Countdown to 1 position and marked the 9th win in his young NHRA career. It also marked his first win in Seattle.
With another win, he could tie his wins record with 5 that he had before the season in 96 races. And in 16 races this season, he already has 4 wins.
He has a 27-12 round record this season. But last year, he had a 24-22 record in rounds.
“What we went through last year to this year has been night and day,” said Hagan. “The car has been running great, and I’m excited about this year. Last year, I woke up every day and just wanted to get the season over with. It was such a struggle, as things weren’t going right. This year has been great, as Dickie Venables has been doing great tuning the car. He’s a great leader, and the team has come together this year.”
Hagan added that he felt like last year’s team did not have the right chemistry. He added that Tommy DeLago did not have the right tuning combination on the car, which is a part of the reason why he struggled.
“I think so,” said Hagan. “He was using combinations that weren’t really working. I’m always going to have love in my heart for that guy, as we won a world championship together [in 2011]. We set four world records, and won a handful of wins together, so I can’t say that he isn’t a tremendous crew chief, because he is. I’m just saying that we had a really tough year last year. A lot of decisions were coming from the top with Tommy [DeLago] and Don [Schumacher, team owner].”
Towards the end of last year, he went to back to back final rounds in Dallas and St. Louis. He lost both final rounds, as Tasca beat him in Dallas, then Jack Beckman beat him in St. Louis.
Then, he struggled to get out of the first and second rounds in the final three races. In Reading and Las Vegas, he was knocked out in the second round by teammate Johnny Gray. Then, he lost to Courtney Force in the season finale at Ponoma 2.
He finished in 11th place with 1,216 points last year. Now, he has 1,151 points through 16 races this year.
As the points show, he has been having a better season this year. Plus, he has flourished under Venables tuning.
“Dickie has been very hands on with the guys,” said Hagan. “He micro manages everything, and he makes sure everything is right where the guys put it. He also teaches the guys how he wants things to be done. It’s not that Tommy didn’t do that – it’s just that he expected our assistant crew chief to do that.”
Hagan has wins in Charlotte 1, Englishtown, Chicago, and Seattle this year. And he is presently tied with Gray, who also has four wins this season.
The only other competitor that has more than 2 wins this season in the Funny Car ranks is Cruz Pedregon. Pedregon has three wins this year.
Yet, with his success so far this year, he has a very good shot at winning his second NHRA Funny Car Championship if he keeps up the momentum through the final 8 races left in the season. In just two races, he will know the fellow drivers that will join him in the Countdown to 1 that starts at Charlotte 2 on September 13 through 15th at ZMax Dragway in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Hagan won his first NHRA Funny Car Championship in 2011 after falling short in 2010. And if Hagan wins it all, it would be the third NHRA Funny Car Championship for his crew chief for Venables.
Venables won an NHRA Funny Car Championship in 2007, as a crew chief at Pedregon Racing. He also won the championship, as an assistant crew chief, in 2003 for John Force Racing.
“I believe that we’re going to be in the championship hunt at the end of the year,” said Hagan. “And no disrespect to the other guys, but I plan on winning it. That’s how confident I am; because when I wake up every day, that’s what I’m working towards. I plan to win every race, but I know that’s physically not possible. Yet, I’m going to work and putting my helmet on to get after it. I’m not here for second, third, fourth, fifth, or last place; I want No. 1 and that’s the only reason why I’m here. The guys that are just happy to go rounds, shouldn’t be out here. They should be out here to win – and I think that’s why we’re all out here.”