Matt Hagan is a soft-spoken, blue-eyed cattle farmer (his term) from Virginia who also happens to be the reigning NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series Funny Car champion.
This year, after his first championship--that followed a heart-breaking runner-up result in 2010--Hagan is learning that taking two titles in a row is a very, very difficult thing to do.
It took Hagan four races to make it into the second round of eliminations in the deep Funny Car class; during the Four-Wide Nationals a week ago at zMAX Dragway at Concord, North Carolina, Hagan discovered, "It was good I had the 'Lucky Dog' riding with me, because he must have helped me walk away from that one."
Hagan drives the Aaron's Dream Machine Dodge Charger R/T from the Don Schumacher Racing stable that includes three other successful Funny Car drivers, Jack Beckman, Ron Capps and Johnny Gray. Last weekend he walked away from a Friday qualifying explosion when a valve spring failed in his car, destroying the carbon fiber body and sending an arc of flame down the second lane of racing.
The team stated it was a $36 valve spring that pummeled the $75,000 body into pieces, but as legendary drag racing announcer Steve Evans was noted for intoning after such a disaster, "But he walked away." Hagan, 29, was completely uninjured and the team replaced the body and engine in time to get him back on the track about an hour after the accident!
Hagan owns the speed record for his Funny Car class, set at this same track, at 322.27 mph; he's also the first driver to run down the 1000-foot dragstrip under four seconds, also at zMAX Dragway last September, where he turned 3.995 seconds en route to the championship.
All of Hagan's success at this track adjacent to Charlotte Motor Speedway has come in the second of four lanes; his explosion last Friday (the 13th) came in the same lane, just as it had in the spring of 2010, when Hagan sustained a major fire and explosion - in which he was also not injured.
The international attention and notoriety Hagan and his team received after the Friday blow-over has been overwhelming--but not the way they wanted it to be.
The Dodge Charger R/T and its driver have been on worldwide television and radio.
The Aaron's Dream Machine team continues to be in a slump since winning two of last season's final six races to earn the NHRA Funny Car title: through five Full Throttle races thus far in 2012, they've only advanced past the first elimination round once, to post a 1-4 record. The team didn't qualify for last weekend's race after the Friday fire, marking the first time since Hagan's 2008 rookie season that he's failed to make the field.