Matt Hagan Will Compete in his 250th NHRA Funny Car Event in Topeka
This weekend’s NHRA Heartland Nationals marks event No. 250 for Funny Car driver Matt Hagan. At 36-years-old, Hagan is considered one of the young guns in the world of professional drag racing, but with 11 years behind the wheel of a nitro-burning flopper, the two-time world champion’s racing resume reads like that of a seasoned veteran.
It’s only fitting Hagan reach this incredible milestone in America’s Heartland. When not wrestling his 11,000-horsepower Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat, Hagan spends his days manning his 2,100-acre cattle farm in Christiansburg, Va. where he raises more than 700 “momma” cows that produce calves for the market. The father of four who says he loves racing in Kansas because he ‘gets to talk farming at the ropes’ is hands-on in every aspect from growing feed to being able to handle every chore on the spread.
As he prepares for the 31st running of the Heartland Motorsports Park event, the “world’s fastest farmer” reflects on the years and the races leading up to his landmark weekend and provides a glimpse into where he sees himself in the future.
What would you consider to be the pit and the peak of your career thus far?
“One of the best moments was getting my first race win. Championships are unbelievable, obviously, but when you hit that very first milestone of qualifying the car and then winning that first round, and then winning the race, it’s amazing. Getting my very first NHRA Funny Car trophy in Houston (2010) really stands out to me. I got in the show on a pedal job. We qualified 14th, and I pedaled my ass off all weekend long and then ended up winning the race on a pedal job, too. It was extra special because I felt like I really had to earn it.
“My lowest moment, well, there are two. My first fire when I was competing in another series, it was one of my first fires ever, that always stands out. It was so hot and so intense and I definitely kind of freaked out a bit. It was a scary feeling; you can’t see where you are at on the track, your legs are getting blistered because of the heat, and I just panicked. I wanted to just jump right out of the car, but it was still going probably 200-mph. People try and prepare you for those moments and tell you what to do, but until you’re in it and going through it yourself, it’s a whole different story. And then once you go through it, you look back and think ‘oh I should’ve done this,’ but at the time, you’re just reacting. I got the car safely stopped. It ended up burning to the ground, and we lost the race car. Something like that really puts everything in perspective.
“My other low was runnering-up on a championship. It was my second year here at DSR (2010), and I had a 38-point lead over John Force going into race day. I just had to go two rounds further than him, and I would’ve won the championship in my second year of driving a Funny Car. We went out first round, and John Force ended up winning the race and winning the championship. It was devastating, but we ended up going back the following year and winning the championship.”
You have two NHRA Funny Car world championships under your belt (2011 and 2014), you notched 30 event wins earlier this season. What’s something on your bucket list that you’d still like to achieve?
“I really don’t know. I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to accomplish a lot of goals that I had set. Racing has opened up so many doors for me. I don’t know that I really have a bucket list, but I’m open to new ideas and new ventures. Drag racing has allowed me to have the capital to grow my farm while being able to support my family from racing. And now farming has grown to support itself and the next thing you know, I have more than 2,000 acres and 700 momma cows, and it’s all paid for because I’ve been able to race. The racing stuff has allowed me to be able to do a lot of different things, and I hope that it continues to do so.”
Think ahead to ten years from now. Are you driving a Funny Car, a tractor, or both?
“I don’t know if I’ll fit in a Funny Car ten years from now, I’ve got to slow down on my eating (laughs). But yeah, I want to race for as long as I can, it’s what I’m passionate about. I feel like I’m good at it. There are some things that just click and fall into place, and you just know you’re supposed to be doing it, and that’s what drag racing is for me. I’ll be here as long as the sponsorship is here. MOPAR has been with me nearly my entire career here at DSR, which is really great.
“To now have nearly 250 races under my belt is pretty incredible to me. It takes so much time and money and energy to be out here. I’ve seen a lot of people come and go over the course of my career. Drag racing is a fix you can’t get anywhere else; once it’s in your blood, you just crave it. Everything comes to an end, and I’m not sure when that will be, but I’ve been blessed so far. And my crew, we’re ten guys with one goal, and when it all comes together, that’s an incredible deal. To be 36 and still be at the pinnacle of your sport and be able to compete like this on the weekends, in other industries if you’re a football player or a baseball player, you’re pretty much used up by the time you get to be my age. It’s one of those things where the sport itself is growing, and I’m excited to be a part of it. It’s come a long way in the past ten years, and I hope to see it grow further.”
Who would you consider to be your toughest competitor, and who do you most enjoy beating?
My teammates – that’s the answer to both questions. Not only are they (Jack Beckman, Ron Capps, Tommy Johnson Jr.) good drivers, but I know they also have all of the best parts and pieces and people behind them. You want to beat everybody, but when you lose to your teammate, you feel like you didn’t do your job because you’re working with the same quality of stuff. That’s also why they’re my fiercest competitors.”
Who do you consider to be your drag racing mentor?
“I’m a first generation drag racer, and I didn’t grow up following the sport, so it’s not like I had that one person that I really looked up to. When I signed on with DSR, (Ed) “Ace” McCulloch was in the shop and was giving me the lowdown on everything, and I was like ‘who is this dude?’ I don’t know the history of the sport like Jack (Beckman) or other people, but really, I just look to my peers and my crew guys. Trust me; my guys have no problem telling me when I screw up (laughs). They put their blood, sweat, and tears into this race car and they’re my family away from my family, so as long as I keep them happy, that’s what makes me happy. It’s the worst feeling in the world to disappoint them; they drive me to dig deep, get up on the wheel, cut a good light and keep it in the groove because I don’t want to let them down.”
What would you say the biggest difference is in how you drive the car now from when you first started?
“My confidence. The first couple hundred runs in one of these things, you’re thinking ‘what’s it going to do to me?’ You never lose respect for the car because you realize it could hurt you in the blink of an eye, but over time, your mindset changes to ‘what have you got for me now?’ These Funny Cars man, they keep you on your toes, but you grow to feel more comfortable in the car. You’re not thinking ‘well what if it puts a hole out, what am I going to do?’ or ‘when should I pedal it?’ It all just becomes more natural. It’s like putting on an old shoe. That to me has been the biggest change from when I first started to where I am now, and you can only get that with seat time and laps and knowing what the car is doing and knowing how to make those quick decisions in the car. There’s a lot of times when it can blow up in your face, literally, and that’s on you because you made the wrong decision out there. You learn really quick to listen to the motor and what it’s doing.”
And now, a very crucial question. At 6’1” and clocking in at 250 pounds, you’ve rightfully earned the nickname ‘Hulk Hagan’ from your fans. So, how in the world do you even fit in your car?
“I squeeze in there. I don’t have a whole lot of padding around me because I kind of plug that hole (jokes). If I keep on eating, they may have to Crisco me in there. I always tell people, I’m traction control. I sit over the rear end, so the car plants the tire harder.”
About Matt Hagan
Made his professional NHRA debut behind the wheel of a Funny Car at the 2008 Reading race
Joined Don Schumacher Racing full-time in 2009
By the Numbers:
Two world championships (2011, 2014)
30 national event wins (Earned his 30th Funny Car victory at the 2019 NHRA Arizona Nationals)
56 final rounds
34 No. 1 qualifiers
E.T.: 3.799 seconds, Indianapolis 2017
Speed: 338.85 mph, Topeka 2017