Indy ORP: Matt Hagan preview

MATT HAGAN: "I'M GOING TO HAVE FUN AT THE U.S. NATIONALS" CHRISTIANSBURG, Va. (Sept. 1, 2009) - Matt Hagan, a contender for the 2009 Automobile Club of Southern California Road to the Future Award as an NHRA rookie-of-the-year frontrunner, is...

MATT HAGAN: "I'M GOING TO HAVE FUN AT THE U.S. NATIONALS"

CHRISTIANSBURG, Va. (Sept. 1, 2009) - Matt Hagan, a contender for the 2009 Automobile Club of Southern California Road to the Future Award as an NHRA rookie-of-the-year frontrunner, is 11th in the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series Funny Car class standings. Only the top 10 following this weekend's 55th annual U.S. Nationals at Raceway Park in Indianapolis will vie for the championship in the final six events of the season in the Countdown to 1 playoffs. So, how is the 26-year-old with a heavy burden on his shoulders going to handle it? "I'm just going to have fun," he said.

He'll be driving the Valvoline/shelor.com Funny Car this weekend, as the team, led by tuner Tommy DeLago, continues to showcase different Don Schumacher Racing sponsors throughout the 2009 season.

One race remains before the playoffs kick in, and the Angus Cattle farmer from Virginia, who's awaiting the arrival of his second child this month, is just 31 points short of a spot in the top 10. But he's surrounded by two NHRA Funny Car veterans also aiming for a berth in the Countdown to 1: Cruz Pedregon directly in front of him, and Robert Hight, seven markers behind. It's enough to make one scream.

"I'm not going to worry about it," said Hagan, with authority and a smile, belying his youth. "It's going to fall where it's going to fall. I know I'm going to do the best job I can out there and I'm going to have fun with it.

"Sometimes you can let the pressure get to you and I think that can take away from the fun of it. Of course, it's still my job to go out there and try to win, and obviously we want to do as well as we can. And that's what we're going to do.

"For some people the pressure just eats them up and it really affects how they drive the car, the reaction times they have, and so forth. I'm going to go out there and do everything the way I've been doing it. I feel like my reaction times have been very good lately and that I have no issues driving the car down to the other end.

"I will try to capitalize on the opportunities as they arise, cut good lights, get it to the finish line and make sure I don't let anybody down, including myself or anybody on the Valvoline/shelor.com team."

Teams receive an extra perk this weekend, with a fifth qualifying session added to the schedule for the prestigious event. "That’s going to be great," added Hagan, who has one runner-up finish this season and one No. 1 qualifying effort. "We'll take any advantage we can. We had a test session last week at Raceway Park and it didn't go so well. Hopefully we can find some new ideas and new ways of doing things and have a fast race car this weekend."

In the four NHRA events he entered in 2009, the U.S. Nationals was the only one at which Hagan qualified. He was No. 16, bowing out to polesitter Tony Pedregon in the opening round of eliminations.

-credit: dsr

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Series NHRA
Drivers Tony Pedregon , Cruz Pedregon , Robert Hight , Matt Hagan