MOHNTON, Pa. (Oct. 4, 2015) - A tough weekend at Maple Grove Raceway for the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series got even tougher on Sunday for Matt Hagan and the Rocky Boots/Mopar Express Lane team.
After rain plagued two days of NHRA Keystone Nationals qualifying, teams were only able to make one qualifying pass on Saturday with temperatures near 50 on a Maple Grove Raceway track surface that wasn't much warmer that resulted in conditions that baffled all but a few crew chiefs in the third of six races in the Countdown to the Championship.
Conditions on Sunday were slightly more favorable but crew chief Dickie Venables had limited data to go off for the first round match-up against John Bojec. In the opening round, many nitro-powered machines were unable to tame the tricky track and Matt's 10,000-horsepower Dodge Charger R/T was one of them.
"It was a very disappointing day and weekend for our Rocky Boots/Mopar team," Matt said. "This was not what we hoped for coming into Reading, a race we won last year. We just can't have these first-round loses and expect to win the championship. I know TJ (Tommy Johnson) probably went around us in the points and Del (Worsham), well we didn't lose any ground to him. That was helpful to our team."
The Rocky Boots team now sits third in points standings with three Countdown races remaining and trails points leader Del Worsham, who also lost in the opening round, by 90.
The series will take a weekend off before traveling outside Dallas in two weeks for the Fall Nationals at the Texas Motorplex.
"There's still a lot of points out there to grab, but there aren't any for us today," Matt said.
"We have 12 rounds of racing left starting at Dallas in a few weeks and we need to win rounds. We did well there last year and we need to repeat that result. It's time to get it done. We can't have any more first round exits if we want to challenge for this championship again."
Event winner: Jack Beckman (Don Schumacher Racing)
No. 1 Qualifier: Robert Hight (John Force Racing) 3.922 sec., 329.34 mph
MATT HAGAN, Rocky Boots/Mopar Express Lane 2015 Dodge Charger R/T
Qualified: No. 5
SUNDAY CHAMPIONSHIP ELIMINATIONS
First round: John Bojec (5.095, 230.61) def. HAGAN (5.891, 273.22)
Saturday: 8.170 sec., 103.23 mph, (Session 3); rained out, (Session 4)
Friday: both sessions rained out
BROWNSBURG, Ind. (Sept. 29, 2015) – To race on Sunday in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing series, you must first qualify for the 16-car field. Qualifying well is the number one goal on any weekend for Matt Hagan and the Rocky Boots/Mopar Express Lane team.
Last weekend was no exception when the team qualified No. 1 with the second quickest elapsed time in history and went on to runner-up at the NHRA Midwest Nationals near St. Louis. They’ll look to repeat their strong qualifying performance this weekend at Maple Grove Raceway in Reading, Pa.
“I think last weekend was the perfect example of how qualifying well effects race day,” Matt said. “We didn’t have an easy day by any means, but when you qualify well you set yourself up to have a better day. We had one lucky round last weekend and sometimes that’s what it takes.”
The Rocky/Mopar team led by crew chief Dickie Venables now has two 3.8-second Funny Car passes and were the first team to reach the 330-mph mark in their Dodge Charger R/T Funny Car.
“You have to keep working, you have to keep digging,” Matt said. “Now that we have some data from a couple 3.8-second runs to work off we can start running some low 3.9s on a consistent basis. But it all really depends on track conditions, the weather and what Dickie feels comfortable doing with this racecar. If you give Dickie enough time and enough data, he’ll figure it out. That’s what we’re seeing right now.”
The Keystone Nationals at Maple Grove is the third of six races in the Countdown to the Championship playoffs. With their performance last weekend, the team moved from fourth to second in Funny Car standings. Del Worsham holds the top spot, 90 points ahead of the Mopar team after Worsham won the first two Countdown races.
“One thing for sure about the Countdown is that nothing is for sure,” he said. “There’s a lot of racing left to do this season and it could go either direction. We just have to keep going down track and take it one lap at a time and the points will be what they’ll be. We’re just going to keep focusing on what we’re doing and not worry about anything else.”
MADISON, Ill. (Sept. 27, 2015) Photo Competitionplus.com – Momentum is important for NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series competitors. And Matt Hagan gained some during the NHRA Midwest Nationals at Gateway Motorsports Park near St. Louis.
The momentum started during Saturday qualifying when the Mopar Express Lane/Rocky Boots team led by crew chief Dickie Venables unleashed a monster run on Saturday evening to qualify No. 1 with a time of 3.883 seconds at 330.47 mph, a national record for speed and the first 330 mph run by a Funny Car.
The momentum propelled the team to the final round and a runner-up finish on Sunday marking the first time the team has been to a final round since the Chicago race in July. It is their sixth final round appearance of the season where they have won four event titles.
“Obviously we had a lucky round but we also had some great racing and Dickie did a great job stepping up to make our Mopar Express Lane Dodge Charger run really well,” Matt said of his semifinal match against Don Schumacher Racing teammate Ron Capps.
Matt’s 10,000-horsepower Funny Car struck the tires at the starting line during the semifinal match but Capps clipped a finish line cone, disqualifying his run and giving the win to the Mopar team.
“We got put over in the really tricky lane for the final after we didn’t go down it in the semis, and when we came back to it (for the final), Dickie had made some big adjustments. Proud of him and Michael Knudsen for getting me down the racetrack and giving them boys in the other lane a good fight. We have a lot of ground to make up and four races to do it. It looks like we still have a shot at it so we have to go to Reading and make something happen.”
Their Sunday success also moved the team from fourth to second in NHRA Funny Car points standings, trailing the St. Louis event titlist Del Worsham by 90 points. Worsham reset the national elapsed time record that is worth 20 points. (No points are awarded for speed records.)
The NHRA Mello Yello series heads to race three of the six-race Countdown to the Championship playoffs next weekend at Maple Grove Raceway near Reading, Pa.
“All points matter because there have been a few times that the championship has come down to just two points,” Matt said. “Every qualifying point, every national record helps and hurts the same. We had a real opportunity to go set a national record but we just ran too quick. That’s just part of it. Hopefully we can pick up a couple more points in qualifying at Reading and keep building on that.”
“Reading is definitely going to be fast but it’s also going to present the opportunity to shake the tires a lot too. You’ll bring your mouth piece and your seatbelt but you just don’t know which you are going to use most.”
Winner: Del Worsham (Kalitta Motorsports)
No. 1 Qualified: Matt Hagan (Don Schumacher Racing), 3.883 sec., 330.47 mph-fastest ever
MATT HAGAN, Mopar Express Lane/Rocky Boots 2015 Dodge Charger R/T
Qualified: No. 1
SUNDAY CHAMPIONSHIP ELIMINATIONS
First round: HAGAN (3.955 sec., 325.22 mph) def. Brian Stewart (4.132, 303.71)
Second round: HAGAN (3.979, 323.97) def. John Force (4.014, 323.43)
Semifinals: HAGAN (no time) def. Ron Capps (no time/disqualified for crossing centerline)
Final: Del Worsham (3.964, 320.13) def. HAGAN (3.983, 324.20)
1 Del Worsham 2361
2 Jack Beckman 2345
3 Matt Hagan 2271
4 Tommy Johnson 2263
5 Ron Capps 2256
6 John Force 2211
7 Cruz Pedregon 2169
8 Tim Wilkerson 2162
9 Alexis De Joria 2154
10 Robert Hight 2140
Assistant Crew Chief