Matt Hagan’s fellow Funny Car rivals know it’s going to be a long and bloody season when they line up next to his Mopar® Express Lane Dodge Charger R/T. At the NHRA Winternationals in Pomona, California, the two-time Funny Car champion was dominant all weekend at Auto Club Raceway, and when the clutch dust and tire smoke cleared, Hagan drove to victory.
Let’s face it, when you take down Robert Hight, the 2017 NHRA Funny Car champ, in the final round, the rest of the field knows Hagan and the crew of the Mopar Express Lane Dodge Charger R/T did their homework and their off-season testing had paid off.
Hagan’s march to the winner’s circle began during qualifying by grabbing the number-one position with a thundering 3.822-second run. With the tune-up set on the 11,000 horsepower supercharged HEMI®, Hagan was ready for Sunday’s eliminations, putting his opponents on the trailer round after round. Hagan was in the zone with great reaction times; he was stout on the tree that also helped in winning the fabled NHRA “Wally” Dodge and Mopar.
This was Hagan’s second straight victory at the NHRA Winternationals and the 27th of his career in 48 final rounds.
“To watch my guys come together and work, everything is clicking so nice – you can tell the extra prep they put in during the off-season. It’s not so much just the parts and pieces; it’s looking at those parts and pieces, and putting your hands on them. I’m really just proud of them, but I’m proud to crawl in that race car that Don Schumacher owns. It’s a car that these guys have put together, that I know I can win on any given Sunday. That’s a crazy feeling. It’s a cool feeling. Everything on this car goes back to Dickie Venables (crew chief); and at the end of the day, he and Mike Knudsen have a game plan. It just shows you how smart they are,” said Matt Hagan.
In the Top Fuel class, Tony Schumacher raced his Mopar HEMI-powered U.S. Army dragster to his first final round since the 2017 Atlanta event. Schumacher outran Terry McMillen, Terry Haddock and Antron Brown before falling to Doug Kalitta in the money round.
Mopar Dodge NHRA Top Fuel dragster driver Leah Pritchett will look to rebound from an unfortunate early first-round exit at Pomona. Starting from the No. 4 spot in the first round against Scott Palmer, Pritchett’s parachute popped out inadvertently during the burnout, ending the defense of her 2017 Winternationals Top Fuel winner title.
In the Sportsman classes, it was Larry Gilley and his strong running 1969 Dodge Dart GTS 340 that battled through six rounds of intense competition to face off in a heads-up duel to claim the Stock Eliminator crown at the Winternationals.
“It’s a dream come true. I’ve always wanted to win the Winternationals my whole life, since I was a kid and came here with my father,” said Gilley, 54, who also earned the $500 Dodge Top Finisher award with his victory. Winner of the prestigious NHRA U.S. Nationals event last year, Gilley has been competing for more than 15 years in nothing but Mopar-powered Dodge and Plymouth muscle cars.
The next stop for the Dodge/Mopar Top Fuel and Funny Car drag teams, along with some of the Sportsman racers, will be the NHRA Arizona Nationals, set for February 23-25 at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park in Chandler, Arizona. Hagan and Pritchett will look to defend their 2017 event titles at the “duel in the desert.”
So hang on, race fans, it’s a long season for drag strip supremacy amongst the teams and manufacturers. And with the first race just barely in the rearview mirror, things are just heating up.