HAGAN OBLITERATES VMP TRACK RECORD TO TAKE PROVISIONAL NO. 1 IN 300TH START
For a brief period of time Friday evening at Virginia Motorsports Park, longtime journeyman and perpetual underdog Dale Creasy Jr. looked like he might top the field in NHRA Funny Car for the first time ever.
Then along came Matt Hagan.
While Creasy held the provisional top spot for five pairings following a career-best pass, Hagan had his own motivation, powering to the top of the charts and obliterating both ends of the track record in the process in making his 300th career NHRA start at the Virginia NHRA Nationals.
“We are really happy with that run. It was kind of sketchy early, but when you have Dickie Venables you are never out of it,” Hagan said. “Dickie, he is the man and we are so proud to have him in our camp. Mike Knudsen and Alex Conaway, they all do a great job putting together a combination that just seems to work everywhere we go. Whether it is hot or cold, it doesn’t matter.”
Friday’s run was all the more impressive following a day filled with delays brought about by off-and-on rain showers.
Those delays, combined with a fresh race track, created challenges for many of the Funny Car teams, with only a handful of drivers making full, representative passes. But that was not the case for Hagan, who drove his Tony Stewart Racing/Smithfield Dodge to a 3.914-second pass at 335.82 mph, besting the previous track speed record by almost 10 mph.
“We watched (Ron) Capps go out there and knock the tires off. Dickie came running back to the box and started slowing some stuff down and it went out there and did pretty much the same thing Capps was going to do,” Hagan said. “It rattled fast and I thought it was going to go up in smoke, but then you could feel the timing come out of it, relaxing the tires and it made it through there. After that it was running really well.
“335 mph is a real representation of nothing but horsepower. You could definitely tell Dickie has a good tuneup in the car right now and it is making lots of power. Obviously we all look at e.t., but miles per hour is a flex of how much power Dickie is making. For a first pull out here, we are pretty happy with that.”
Creasy slotted in just behind Hagan in his Tek-Pak machine with a career-best 3.974 at 319.07 mph, making that pass in only the second pairing of the day. Blake Alexander was third with a 4.007 at 304.05 mph.
John Force (4.099) and J.R. Todd (4.201) rounded out the top five and were among the only cars in the class to make a full pull.
Rain showers pushed the first round of qualifying back more than four hours, creating a number of unique scenarios for tuners and drivers. And the first class to get to experiment on that green track was Funny Car.
“There are 15 cars here, so it is one of those things where if it does anything stupid click it off,” Hagan said. “With Cruz (Pedregon) not making a run, we were trying to figure out the ladder and how things might look. Obviously there were not a lot of cars going down and laying rubber down. Looking down through there there is not a whole lot of groove. It is narrow right now. Just getting it down through there, it was digging pretty hard and made a pretty good move and started dancing around. I was like, ‘come on baby, hang tight just a little bit longer.’
“I am happy with the run. It could have gone so far the other way. It is such a fine line these crew chiefs walk. Everything has to line up sometimes and we just did it right, got lucky and we got down through there.”
For Hagan, any success this weekend comes with an extra dose of pride as the Virginia native makes his 300th career start at a track located just a few hours from his home.
“It is a big milestone for me, but it kind of makes me feel old,” Hagan said with a laugh. “That is a lot of races. We’ve won 42 of them so far, which is pretty good.”
Hagan also made note of a special look to his machine this weekend as he carries the colors of Virginia company and longtime Tony Stewart Racing marketing partner Smithfield. “It is nice to be able to stick this thing on the provisional pole for them. We have the car red, white and blue for military appreciation month, so it is nice to be able to do that,” Hagan said.
With one pass down and sitting safely at the top, Hagan shifts his focus to an unpredictable Saturday as he looks for his second top qualifier award of the season and 45th of his career.
“When you say provisional, you definitely mean provisional with Funny Car,” Hagan said. “Anything can happen. You never know what tomorrow is going to bring.”