MORRISON, Colo. — Matt Hagan isn’t the first standout driver to have his share of struggles at Bandimere Speedway, where the altitude and racing at an elevation of more than 5,800 feet can throw a monkey wrench into even the best laid plans.
But with one of Hagan’s main sponsors again the title name for this weekend’s 38th annual Mopar Mile-High NHRA Nationals at Bandimere Speedway, the two-time world champion would like nothing more than to claim his first win on the mountain.
A top performance at Bandimere has eluded Hagan thus far in his 10,000-horsepower Mopar Express Lane/Rocky Boots Dodge Charger R/T, but the 20-time national event winner hopes a strong string of performances during the 2016 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season will yield positive results at the first race of the famed Western Swing.
“To win at a sponsor’s race, that’s huge and it goes a long way,” said Hagan, who has two wins in 2016 and is currently fourth in points. “I’m blessed to do this and have Mopar on board. They want to win no matter what race it is, but to do it here would be that much sweeter.”
“You just never know (in Denver). It’s a combination you’re running only one time a year. I feel confident in our car running well, but you just never know. I think we’ll be fine but a lot of it just comes down to it being your day on Sunday.”
Sunday’s finals will be broadcast live on the FOX national broadcast network for the first time in NHRA history, giving Hagan even more incentive to perform at a high level at Bandimere Speedway.
The event also means a full slate of promotional activities, meaning Hagan must come prepared and stay that way throughout the weekend in the high altitude.
“It’s a huge race for me and the altitude can mess with you,” Hagan said. “The biggest thing for me is to stay hydrated. I’m doing a lot of things and you can forget to stay hydrated. You can easily lose your focus that way and that can really mess with you on Sunday.”
After early struggles that led to first-round losses in three of the first four races this season, Hagan and his team, led by crew chief Dickie Venables, have rounded into championship form. Hagan has picked up two wins and three final round appearances in this current nine-race stretch, falling just once in the opening round.
He was the No. 1 qualifier at the most recent race in Chicago with a blistering 3.882 at 331.12 mph, moving closer to a peak performance Hagan hopes is there during the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship. Only four events follow the Mopar Mile-High NHRA Nationals before the six-race playoffs and Hagan likes the direction his team is headed.
“The car is coming around and responding a lot better,” Hagan said. “We’ve been steady in qualifying in the upper part of the field and that’s big. We definitely feel great going into the second half of the season. We’re starting to hit our stride and I’m excited to see what we can do.”
“You want to roll into Indy with everything together and you have the next few races to do that. You’re not trying to change too much and you just want to hone things in. If we can run consistently, we’ve got a car that can win some races.”
Hagan hopes the next victory comes in Denver, but a host of stars await at Bandimere Speedway, including Don Schumacher Racing teammates Ron Capps, who has four wins and the points lead, defending event winner Beckman, who won in Chicago, and Tommy Johnson Jr.
Other class standouts include six-time Denver winner John Force, Robert Hight, a three-time event winner, Courtney Force, Alexis DeJoria, reigning world champion Del Worsham and Tim Wilkerson, who has two wins in 2016.
But Hagan, who made his only final-round appearance in Denver in 2011, is as confident as he has ever been heading to Bandimere Speedway. He qualified sixth and won a round at the race a year ago before falling to Beckman, and Hagan believes his team can build off of that heading into this year’s Western Swing kickoff.
“It’s the same conditions for everybody, it’s just a matter of who is going to figure it out,” Hagan said. “Do we have a good baseline off what we ran last year? Absolutely, and I think we have a great gameplan going into this weekend. We just have to go in there and execute.”
CREDIT: NHRA Communications