In a thrilling culmination to the 2023 NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series season, Tony Stewart Racing’s (TSR) Nitro Funny Car driver, Matt Hagan, secured his fourth NHRA Funny Car world championship amidst a wild and upset-filled day at the In-N-Out Burger NHRA Finals.
Hagan, alongside fellow three-time world champion Robert Hight and Bob Tasca III, entered Sunday with a chance to claim the championship. The title would be awarded to the driver who progressed furthest in eliminations unless both competitors were eliminated in the same round. In that case, the points leader, Hagan, and the Dodge Power Brokers team would emerge as champions.
The dramatic turn of events unfolded in round two when Cruz Pedregon defeated Tasca, ending his pursuit of a first world championship. Subsequently, Hagan faced a surprising defeat against Blake Alexander, leaving the championship hopes in Hight’s hands, who had a crucial battle with Chad Green.
In an unexpected twist, Hight’s car lost traction at half-track, and Green seized the victory, triggering celebrations in the shutdown area where Hagan nervously awaited the outcome.
“I thought I was far enough down that we had it made,” expressed Hight. “Congratulations to Matt Hagan. Those guys have won the most races this year. They’ve been there all year. We’ve kind of been here just at the end.”
Hagan’s championship victory makes him only the fourth Funny Car driver to clinch more than three championships, joining the elite company of 16-time champ John Force, Kenny Bernstein, and Don Prudhomme, who also achieved the feat.
Reflecting on the season, Hagan said, “It’s really about the body of work that we did all year and coming in here and being ahead in points to have that opportunity.”
Hagan and his crew chiefs, Dickie Venables and Mike Knudsen, played a pivotal role in the championship triumph, securing six victories throughout the season. The journey began with three wins in four starts, including the season-opening Gatornationals, the Winternationals in Pomona, and the Four-Wide Nationals in Las Vegas.
Despite facing challenges mid-season, including a brief loss of the points lead to Hight, Hagan demonstrated resilience. He secured crucial wins at the Denver event in July, the Midwest Nationals in St. Louis, and the Texas NHRA FallNationals in Dallas, propelling him into the first-place position.
The epic three-way shootout in Pomona saw Hagan emerging as the champion, adding to his previous titles in 2011, 2014, and 2020.