By Don Schumacher Racing Monday, April 12 2010 09:19
He outran Jeff Arend by pedaling the DieHard Dodge Charger in the final round of eliminations, defeating him with a less-than-perfect 4.390-second pass at 247.57 mph to Arend's 4.714/231.20.
This marked Hagan's first victory in three career final rounds in his two full seasons on the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series circuit, and moved him into second in the class point standings. He's now 70 points behind leader John Force, who was eliminated in the first round.
En route to the final round, Hagan defeated Melanie Troxel with a 4.217/302.48 then Cruz Pedregon with a 4.18/303.78. In his semifinal win over Tony Pedregon he pedaled the DieHard car to triumph, posting a 4.632/20.29.
"Other than [being with] my wife and kids, this is the best feeling in the world. It's just really cool," said Hagan, a 27-year-old Angus Cattle farmer from Christiansburg, Va. "The DieHard guys worked so hard. It was such a big weekend for us because everybody that was in front of us in points went out first round (John Force, Ron Capps and Jack Beckman).
"I've known all along we had a great race car. I even thought last year we'd get a win. It's just a matter of putting four solid runs together on Sunday and you have to have a little bit of luck. We have a winning car and a championship car, everything just had to fall into place for us.
"You don't understand how frustrating it was coming into the final round and you're ready to have that first win. You can taste it, you can feel it, it's there and you're ready to just grab it. And thank goodness we did that today because that's the first little hurdle that you have to jump over before you go hunting the championship. I think with (crew chiefs) John Medlen and Tommy DeLago working well together and all the crew doing such a great job, it's going to happen for us.
"I'm just extremely excited to have the crew we have on our race car because we didn't have any bad problems...and I couldn't ask for a better crew and crew chiefs. They get a game plan together up there, and John and Tommy and Glenn (Huzar), our assistant crew chief, all put their heads together and go out and do it and they kind of pat me on the back and say, 'Go do your job, Kid.’ Hopefully I did that today. I felt like my lights were spot-on today.
"It's just kind of a tough race track out there a little bit. We had to pedal in the semifinals and the finals and when you get that far out especially after having that big boom in Charlotte like that, you draw up a little bit not knowing if that thing's going to blow up or not that far out. But when you look over and the guy's not beside you you have to keep your foot in it and do whatever it takes to get that win.
"I felt that we've always been capable of winning and I think Don (Schumacher, team owner) has seen that in me and Tommy and everybody he puts around us. I think if Don doesn't think you're the best fit, whether you're Tony Schumacher or not, he's not going to put you in that race car. He wants to win, he's a very motivated, very driven person and he's going to put whoever he feels like is a winner in that car. Hopefully we can stack a few more of these for him before the year is over."
Said team owner Don Schumacher: "I think it's fantastic for Matt to win his first NHRA national race. I wish his mom and dad had been here, but I know Matt is thrilled. I'm thrilled for him. I'm thrilled for Tommy DeLago, John Medlen and that whole DieHard team. They've had their challenges with the explosion they had in Concord, but he did a great job to come back and win this race."
Added DeLago: "The first race is always special, but I think it's more special for the guys on this DieHard team who have been close and worked for all year last year and then this year. It's really special for him because it's really showing how good a driver he's becoming and I've seen him get better and better. But I’ve never seen him drive the way he drove today. He drove like a man possessed. He's the biggest reason that we won this race today."
Next up is the 11th annual NHRA Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, April 16-18.
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