JOLIET, Ill. — When Matt Hagan won his Funny Car world championship title in 2011, he did it with the three P’s: perseverance, performance when it counted, and most of all, patience.
Like a Major League Baseball team that excels with a “small ball” approach, Hagan only won two races in four final rounds that season. He was the No. 1 qualifier four times. Yet, with the proper strategy and getting hot at the right time, Hagan made his championship dreams come true.
In 2013, he’s prepping for the sequel. And he loves his new supporting cast. He says he and new crew chief Dickie Venables have hit it off right away. His young team is also hitting its stride at the right time.
That’s why Hagan isn’t letting a couple of recent early round exits at Bristol and Epping, N.H. diminish his enthusiasm as he pursues championship No. 2. He says during the course of a long season, you have to be prepared for the ebb and flow of things. He learned that in 2011.
Hagan, who has held the series points lead since winning his second race of the season at Englishtown, N.J. in early June, will try to grab his third victory of the year and get back on the winning track at the O’Reilly Auto Parts Route 66 Nationals, June 27-30 at Route 66 Raceway near Chicago.
Antron Brown (Top Fuel), Jeff Arend (Funny Car) Erica Enders-Stevens (Pro Stock) and Andrew Hines (Pro Stock Motorcycle) are the defending winners of the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series event, which will be televised nationally on ESPN2HD.
He says all it takes to get a hot streak going is a well-placed bunt, a single to left or a well-timed stolen base. In racing terms, that translates to making a few solid runs to get the team’s confidence back up to the desired level.
“We have a lot of racing to look forward to,” Hagan said. “We’re not trying to hit home runs out here, we’re just trying to get on base. We’re just going to keep working towards that.
“(First round losses) doesn’t really mean anything in the grand scheme of things. Everyone is going to have a few along the way and that’s just one of them for us.”
After a terrible 2012 season where Hagan was shut out of the winner’s circle and failed to qualify for the Countdown to the Championship playoffs, the Virginia cattle rancher is more determined than ever to be a part of the championship mix.
He’s done that this season by posting wins at Charlotte’s Four-Wide Nationals and in New Jersey. He’s also scored runner-up finishes at Phoenix and Atlanta. His Magneti Marelli/Mopar/Rocky Boots Dodge Charger has earned two No. 1 qualifying positions as well. However a mid-season mini-slump which started at Bristol, where he lost in the second round, and continued at Epping, N.H., where he lost in the first round, has given the team a wake-up call just as the regular season is making the turn at third and heading for home plate.
“When you get knocked down, you gotta get back up,” Hagan said. “That’s what I’ve learned from the farm, that’s what I’ve learned from life. We knew there would be a point in the season where you struggle a little bit and I think we’re in it right now. But it’s about how we rebound from it.”
And Hagan knows all about rebounding from setbacks. In 2010 when he battled Funny Car legend John Force down to the wire for the championship at the last race of the season but ultimately came up short, he responded the next season with a title of his own.
He feels confident his new team has what it takes to make the win lights start turning on at Route 66 Raceway and finish out this four-races in four weeks stretch on a high note.
“It’s important to me to make sure the confidence in our pit stays high, that our morale stays high because you can’t get down out here,” Hagan said. “We’ve had a lot of success already this season, so it’s easy to get down when you’re not going rounds and when you’re not picking up the trophy.”
As a past winner at Route 66 Raceway, Hagan can gain confidence from that experience when he defeated Robert Hight in the final round at the state-of-the-art dragstrip in 2010. He also still holds the elapsed time track record at 4.022 seconds, a performance he set during eliminations in 2010.
With those positive vibes and a freshened race car, Hagan says he and his team will be ready.
“The guys are back in the shop for a couple days this week to check everything over and get ready for the next two races,” Hagan said. “Dickie (Venables, crew chief) has done such a great job already this year, and he and I are keeping our heads held high for the guys and we’ll see what we can do this weekend.”
Hagan will have plenty of tough challengers in Chicago as he pursues another victory, including recent New England Nationals winner Courtney Force, who defeated her father John Force en route to winning her second race of the season and with that she moved up to fourth in the standings. Two-time world champ Cruz Pedregon and three-time season winner Johnny Gray are nipping at Hagan’s heels in second and third place in points. A group of past Route 66 Raceway winners in Ron Capps, John Force., Del Worsham, Tony Pedregon, Arend and Tim Wilkerson are also among the pre-race favorites.
In Top Fuel, the resurgence of the Al-Anabi Racing team with Shawn Langdon leading the points and Khalid alBalooshi in sixth place has been a dominant headline this season. Chicago resident and seven-time world champ Tony Schumacher, New England Nationals winner Spencer Massey and four-time No. 1 qualifier this season, Doug Kalitta, will look to take home wins at the controls of their 8,000-horsepower machines.
In Pro Stock, Enders-Stevens made NHRA history last season in Chicago as the first woman to win in the category and seeks continued success in the ultra-competitive class; she is fifth in the points standings. Her biggest rivals include points leader and 2009 world champ Mike Edwards, who is having another dream season with nine No. 1 qualifying positions and three wins in his Interstate Batteries/I Am Second Chevy Camaro and is a two-time champ at Route 66 Raceway; and the Mopar/J&J Racing Dodge Avenger tandem of defending world champ Allen Johnson and four-time Chicago winner Jeg Coughlin; as well as Winternationals champ Vincent Nobile and past event champions Greg Anderson and Jason Line.
In Pro Stock Motorcycle, Hector Arana Jr. has won three races aboard his Lucas Oil Buell and has been battling a large contingent of challengers in the two-wheel category, including defending world champ Eddie Krawiec on one of the Screamin’ Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidsons, veteran Suzuki rider Steve Johnson, two-time Chicago champion Hines, Viper Motorcycle Co. Buell rider John Hall, Englishtown winner Michael Ray and many others.
Fans will have the opportunity to get up close and personal with their favorite drivers because every ticket is a pit pass that grants full access to the professional pit area. The whole weekend will be a true sensory-overload experience: Fans will be treated to the special Two Nights of Nitro (Friday and Saturday) and what promises to be an exciting championship Sunday in addition to jet-car exhibition runs Friday night and the popular JEGS Allstars special bonus race Saturday, exclusively for qualified competitors in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series.
Qualifying for the O’Reilly Auto Parts Route 66 NHRA Nationals will begin Friday, June 28, with sessions at 4:30 and 7:15 p.m. The final two qualifying sessions will take place Saturday, June 29, at 4:15 and 7:15 p.m. Final eliminations will begin at 11 a.m. Sunday, June 30.
To purchase tickets, visit Route 66 Raceway at www.route66raceway.com or call 888-629-RACE (7223). For more information about NHRA, please visit www.NHRA.com.
* * *
O’REILLY AUTO PARTS ROUTE 66 NHRA NATIONALS FACT SHEET
WHAT: The 16th annual O'Reilly Auto Parts Route 66 NHRA Nationals presented by Super Start Batteries, the 12th of 24 events in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series. Drivers in four categories - Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle - earn points leading to 2013 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series world championships.
WHERE: Route 66 Raceway, Joliet, Ill. The track is located 30 miles southwest of Chicago on Route 53 (historic Route 66), approximately three miles south of the I-80 in Joliet. Take I-80 to exit #132A (Route 53 south) to the track.
WHEN: Thursday through Sunday, June 27-30
THURSDAY, June 27 - LUCAS OIL SERIES qualifying
FRIDAY, June 28 - LUCAS OIL SERIES eliminations
MELLO YELLO SERIES qualifying at 4:30 and 7:15 p.m.
SATURDAY, June 29 - LUCAS OIL SERIES eliminations
MELLO YELLO SERIES qualifying at 4:15 and 7:15 p.m.
JEGS ALL-STARS ELIMINATION ROUNDS at 1, 3:15, and 6:30 p.m.
SUNDAY, June 30 - Pre-race ceremonies, 10 a.m.
MELLO YELLO SERIES eliminations begin at 11 a.m.
Saturday, June 29, ESPN2 and ESPN2HD will televise two hours of qualifying highlights at 5 p.m. (ET).
Saturday, June 29, ESPN2 and ESPN2HD will televise one hour of qualifying highlights at 11 p.m. (ET).
Sunday, June 30, ESPN2 and ESPN2HD will televise three hours of coverage starting at 9 p.m. (ET).
SATELLITE (Digital HD feed):
Friday, June 28, 10:30 - 11 p.m. (ET), SES 2 / Transponder 06C
Sunday, June 30, Midnight - 12:30 a.m. (ET), SES 2 / Transponder 06C
Sunday, June 30, 7 - 7:30 p.m. (ET), SES 2 / Transponder 06C
(3820 MHz, vertical; Data Rate: 40.46147055 Mbp; Symbol Rate: 29.27 Ms; FEC: ¾; Bandwidth: 36 Mhz)
Video news release contains race action highlights each day and winners’ interviews on Sunday.
2012 EVENT WINNERS: Antron Brown, Top Fuel; Jeff Arend, Funny Car; Erica Enders-Stevens, Pro Stock; Andrew Hines, Pro Stock Motorcycle.
MOST VICTORIES: Kenny Bernstein, 4, TF; Tony Pedregon, 4, FC; Jeg Coughlin, 4, PS; Larry Dixon, 3, TF; Doug Kalitta, 3, TF; Tony Schumacher 3, TF; Whit Bazemore, 3, FC; John Force, 3, FC; Del Worsham, 3, FC; Kurt Johnson, 3, PS; Jason Line, 3, PS.
Top Fuel - 3.763 seconds by Tony Schumacher, June '12; 326.79 mph by Spencer Massey, June '12.
Funny Car - 4.022 seconds by Matt Hagan, June '10; 314.61 mph by Jack Beckman, June '10.
Pro Stock - 6.586 seconds by Greg Anderson, July '11; 210.08 mph by Mike Edwards, June '09.
PS Motorcycle - 6.884 seconds by Hector Arana Sr., June '12; 195.68 mph by Michael Phillips, June '10.
Top Fuel - 3.701 sec. by Antron Brown, Oct. '12, Reading, Pa.; 332.18 mph by Spencer Massey, April '12, Charlotte, N.C.
Funny Car - 3.986 sec. by Jack Beckman, Oct. '12, Reading, Pa.; 320.58 mph by Beckman, Oct. '12, Reading, Pa.
Pro Stock - 6.471 sec. by Mike Edwards, April '13, Charlotte, N.C.; 214.35 mph by Jason Line, Oct. '12, Reading, Pa.
PS Motorcycle - 6.728 sec. by Andrew Hines, Oct. '12, Reading, Pa.; 199.26 mph by Eddie Krawiec, March '11, Gainesville, Fla.
TICKETS: For tickets, call (888) 629-RACE (7223) or purchase online at www.route66raceway.com.
NHRA MELLO YELLO DRAG RACING SERIES WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP POINTS STANDINGS
GLENDORA, Calif. -- Point standings (top 10) following the 11th of 24 events in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series:
Top Fuel: 1. Shawn Langdon, 903; 2. Tony Schumacher, 860; 3. Spencer Massey, 833; 4. Antron Brown, 693; 5. Doug Kalitta, 644; 6. Khalid alBalooshi, 610; 7. Morgan Lucas, 567; 8. Clay Millican, 525; 9. Bob Vandergriff, 502; 10. Steve Torrence, 496.
Funny Car: 1. Matt Hagan, 788; 2. Cruz Pedregon, 767; 3. Johnny Gray, 711; 4. Courtney Force, 677; 5. John Force, 662; 6. Jack Beckman, 659; 7. Ron Capps, 654; 8. Tim Wilkerson, 624; 9. Del Worsham, 609; 10. Robert Hight, 549.
Pro Stock: 1. Mike Edwards, 1,003; 2. Allen Johnson, 879; 3. Jeg Coughlin, 843; 4. Jason Line, 711; 5. Erica Enders-Stevens, 687; 6. Shane Gray, 674; 7. Vincent Nobile, 623; 8. Greg Anderson, 584; 9. Rodger Brogdon, 533; 10. V. Gaines, 500.
Pro Stock Motorcycle: 1. Hector Arana Jr, 451; 2. John Hall, 359; 3. Michael Ray, 345; 4. Hector Arana, 327; 5. Scotty Pollacheck, 304; 6. Matt Smith, 271; 7. Eddie Krawiec, 257; 8. Steve Johnson, 251; 9. Adam Arana, 249; 10. Jim Underdahl, 226.