POMONA, Calif. — For the second time in his career, early-season excitement turned into something even more special for Matt Hagan last season.
Hagan won the first two events of the year for the second time in his career, and the two-time world champion is looking for another hot start to open the 2018 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series campaign.
The new year begins with NHRA’s annual iconic opener, the 58th annual Lucas Oil NHRA Winternationals presented by ProtectTheHarvest.com, Feb. 8-11 at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona.
Hagan, who has two wins at the season-opening event, knows what a third win in his 10,000-horsepower Mopar Express Lane Dodge Charger R/T at the race would mean when it comes to setting the tone for the new season.
“We won the first two races last year and that just puts you on such a high,” said Hagan, who has 26 career wins. “It’s a clean slate to start the year and you kick it off with all the opportunity in the world. You start fresh and everyone even, but getting that win, it’s a huge confidence-builder. We had a lot of changes last year and that win told us we’re going to be alright.”
Leah Pritchett (Top Fuel), Hagan (Funny Car) and Jason Line (Pro Stock) were last year’s winners of the season-opening race.
Pomona marks the first of 24 events during the NHRA season and after a number of personnel changes heading into 2017, things have been relatively quiet for Hagan on that front as the new year opens.
Veteran crew chief Dickie Venables is back, as is the bulk of Hagan’s standout team that finished fifth in the loaded Funny Car standings a year ago, and Hagan believes that is a good thing.
After winning four times in 2017, Hagan is confident his team can have another quick start, with the hope of that consistency continuing throughout the year.
“I’m happy with our team and our guys, I’ve got nothing but confidence with Dickie,” Hagan said. “I wouldn’t trade that guy for anybody. I believe in him when it comes to making great decisions and I’m excited to get going. Our goal is to be a little bit more consistent throughout the year. That’s going to be key. We’re going to roll into this year and keep whipping the horse we’ve been riding.”
Hagan has four final round appearances at the Winternationals and the usual ideal conditions often make for incredible performances. That’s the goal this year, though Hagan will once again be challenged by the top names in the class.
That list starts with defending Funny Car world champion Robert Hight and also includes the likes of Don Schumacher Racing teammates Ron Capps, Tommy Johnson Jr. and Jack Beckman; 16-time Pomona winner John Force; his daughter Courtney Force; J.R. Todd; Tim Wilkerson; Cruz Pedregon and class newcomer Shawn Langdon.
For Hagan, though, starting the season in Pomona is more than enough to get him excited.
“Pomona is a historical place and it’s where champions are crowned,” said Hagan, who has five career Pomona wins. “It’s just an awesome atmosphere racing there. There’s been so many great drivers and legends who have raced there, and there’s a lot of history with it. To get the ball rolling in Pomona, and you see the snow on the mountains when you’re there, it’s just cool.”
CREDIT: NHRA Communications