After more than a decade of attempts to conquer the mountain, Don Schumacher Racing (DSR) Funny Car pilot Matt Hagan finally hoisted the Wally trophy at his primary sponsor’s longtime title event, the Dodge//SRT Mile-High NHRA Nationals Presented by Pennzoil, at Bandimere Speedway near Denver. The No. 1 qualifier powered his Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat Redeye through eliminations to break through for his first coveted victory at the picturesque dragstrip nestled in the Rocky Mountains. The win was his first of the 2021 National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) Camping World Drag Racing Series season and the 37th of his career.
“Congratulations to Matt Hagan for his first event title win at the Dodge//SRT Mile High Nationals presented by Pennzoil,” said Tim Kuniskis, Dodge Brand CEO. “We’re proud of the defending Funny Car world champion and his Don Schumacher Racing team for bringing home the Wally trophy at an event that has meant so much to us for more than three decades.”
Hagan felt the importance and exhilaration of winning for Dodge//SRT and Mopar brands at the Bandimere Speedway event at which they have held title rights for more than 32 years, the longest consecutive and active sponsorship in all of motorsports.
“Man, I tell you, this mountain has chewed me up and spit me out several years in a row and I’m just so glad to pull that win down for Dodge and SRT, and to do it behind the wheel of the Dodge//SRT Hellcat Funny Car in front of so many passionate Dodge and Mopar fans is just something you definitely put extra pressure on yourself to do so when it happens it’s just that much more satisfying,” said Hagan, whose last win also came at another of his sponsor’s title events, the 2020 Dodge NHRA Finals Presented by Pennzoil at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, where he secured his third Funny Car NHRA world championship.
Hagan’s triumph at “thunder mountain” was earned with an opening-round win over Chris King, a second-round Bye run and an exciting side-by-side semifinal battle won against his fellow DSR HEMI®-powered teammate Ron Capps to face No.2 qualifier Alexis DeJoria in the final showdown. Hagan’s quick 0.046-second reaction time gave him the starting line advantage and he never looked back on his 4.105 sec. @ 305.70 mph ride to victory.
“We finally got it done and I finally get to put this trophy up on the shelf,” added Hagan. “I’ve got to call out my guys and give them so much love. To watch them up here in the altitude wrenching and sweating. Those guys love doing what they do and they bust their ass for me. My heart was beating out of my chest up there during the finals and it felt like I was running for a championship. I had to remind myself to calm down, take a deep breath and just do what I do. It’s so cool when you do a burnout and see all of these fans in the stands; it genuinely gives me chill bumps. It feels amazing being back in the winner’s circle like we’re used to.”
With this win, Hagan will have his first career opportunity to attempt to sweep the “western swing” and now focuses his efforts on the turning win lights on at the next two events in consecutive weeks at Sonoma and Pomona dragstrips in California.
“I’m not even thinking about ‘sweeping the Swing’ at this point,” said Hagan. “I just want to take it one race at a time, qualify well, and take it round by round. Fuel Funny Cars are so unpredictable and that’s why this sport is so humbling. Every win light and every race win, you’re grateful for and we’re just going to keep moving forward.”
No. 4 qualifier Capps, who has personified consistency by qualifying his Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat in the top-five at every national event so far this season, began his day against Terry Haddock for a third consecutive event. Capps defeated Haddock in the opening round for a second time in as many races to advance to a quarterfinals meeting with No. 5 seed John Force. In that match-up, Capps turned on the win lights with a 4.039 sec. @ 312.42 mph over his opponent, who lost traction early.
That set up the mountainside showdown between the two DSR HEMI-powered teammates who had a stellar side-by-side run with the slight advantage going to Hagan, who had an early lead that he maintained to the finish to narrowly beat Capps’ straight-down-the-groove pass.
The Cruz Pedregon Racing team came into the weekend with high hopes of following up their Norwalk win with a strong performance at the uniquely challenging mile-high venue. Cruz Pedregon’s No. 9 qualifying position saw the Snap-on Tools Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat Funny Car line up against No. 6 seed Paul Lee and his HEMI-powered machine. While Pedregon was quicker off the start, he felt an issue begin to hamper his run and opted to click it off early to save efforts and equipment for the next two back-to-back events.
In Top Fuel action at the mile-high dragstrip, Leah Pruett qualified her DSR Dodge//SRT Redeye dragster 11th quickest to face off in the opening round against No. 4 seed Doug Kalitta. Pruett took advantage of Kalitta’s difficulties gaining traction off the start and, after wrangling her dragster slightly mid-track, crossed the finish with a 3.824 sec. @ 316.45 mph to advance. As Pruett and her team prepared for their second-round matchup against No. 10 seed Joey Haas, a trail of oil following her burnout ended their hopes of going any further in Top Fuel eliminations. She did, however, have another opportunity to battle for a win as she pulled double duty by also getting behind the wheel of her 2021 Dodge Challenger Drag Pak this weekend.
The Constant Aviation Factory Stock Showdown (FSS) series raced for the first time at the high altitude Denver dragstrip with both Pruett and teammate Mark Pawuk qualifying in the top half of the field with their Mopar Drag Paks.
From her No. 4 starting position, Pruett made two clean passes to defeat Waldemar Rodriguez and John Cerbone and advance to the semifinals. She then faced off against and defeated reigning FSS champ and current point leader Aaron Stanfield with an 8.259-second elapsed time run to take her 2021 Dodge Challenger Mopar Drag Pak to the final round for the first time this season. In that final matchup, Pruett and Stephen Bell were even on the start and continued racing deadlocked to the stripe, with Bell claiming victory with a narrow eight-thousandth of a second margin of victory.
Pawuk and his 2015 Empaco Equipment Dodge Challenger Drag Pak started the day from the No. 8 spot against No. 9 seed Joseph Welch, also in a 2015 Drag Pak. Pawuk took his Mopar machine for an 8.345-second run to beat his opponent’s 8.348-second pass. The quarterfinals found Pawuk lining up next to reigning series champion Stanfield. “The Cowboy” gave it a ride, keeping pace with his competitor until just ahead of the finish line when Stanfield pulled ahead for the narrow victory.
The NHRA’s three-race western swing continues next weekend at Sonoma Raceway in Sonoma, California, from July 23rd to the 25th before capping off the consecutive weeks of racing with a return to the Pomona Fairplex in Pomona, California, from July 30th to the Aug 1st.