Matt Hagan wants to stay on top of Funny Car mountain heading into Denver this weekend

Leave a comment
source:
Defending Funny Car champ Matt Hagan (Photo courtesy NHRA)

When you reach the top of the mountain, not only do you enjoy the view, the last thing you want to do is head down.

That’s how defending NHRA Funny Car champ – and current points leader – Matt Hagan is approaching this weekend’s 35th annual Mopar Mile-High Nationals in the Denver suburb of Morrison, Colo.

Hagan climbed the Funny Car mountain with a strong run in the six-race Countdown to the Championship, eventually toppling 16-time champ John Force. It was Hagan’s second Funny Car title in four seasons, having done so the first time in 2011.

And Hagan has shown no signs of letting up in 2015.

Through the first 13 races of the 24-race Funny Car schedule, Hagan has a series-high four wins and leads second-ranked Ron Capps by a 178 points. He’s 189 points ahead of the third-place tie of Jack Beckman and Del Worsham by 189 points each, and leads fifth-ranked John Force by a whopping 223 points.

This weekend has special meaning for Hagan, as race sponsor Mopar is also one of the primary sponsors on his super-fast Dodge Charger Funny Car. Hagan has never won in Denver, but he’s hoping for a Rocky Mountain high by the time Sunday’s final eliminations are over.

“Obviously this is a huge race for Mopar and they’re one of my primary sponsors, so this is an event I want to win really bad for them,” Hagan said in an NHRA media release. “I just haven’t done it yet.

“It’s so tricky and you never know what you’re going to get with the challenges of this track and race. But everybody is in the same boat and I would love nothing more than to win it this year.”

This weekend is the start of the NHRA’s annual three-race “Western Swing.” A good run this weekend can give a team momentum it can ride through next week in Sonoma (Calif.), and two weeks from now in suburban Seattle.

A winner of 18 national events, Hagan has won four this season: the season opener at Pomona, as well as Phoenix, Englishtown and Bristol.

Those four wins are equal to what Hagan did last season – and there’s still 11 races left on the schedule.

He also finished second last week in Joliet, Ill., losing to Don Schumacher Racing teammate Tommy Johnson Jr.

This weekend’s host track, Bandimere Speedway, presents challenges to drivers not only because of the racing surface, but also because it’s the only track on the circuit that is a mile high in elevation (5,800 feet) and altitude.

“If I have any shot of getting it done (winning for the first time at Bandimere) this is going to be the year,” Hagan said. “We’ve put on a good (title) defense this year, and up to this point we’ve raced well and raced smart.

“We’ve capitalized on some mistakes and had some luck as well. But one mistake and things can change quickly. You just have to make good decisions and feel comfortable in the car. That confidence from my crew chief gives me confidence as a driver. Hopefully we can have that momentum built up and it all rolls downhill from there.”

But it won’t be easy for Hagan to break through, especially against John Force Racing, which has 11 combined career wins at Bandimere, including an event record six victories by John Force and three by teammate Robert Hight.

“This sport has, hands down, been the most humbling I’ve been a part of,” Hagan said. “You can do it all right and still lose. But I’ve got a great car underneath me and it all comes down to my crew chief and team. To come out and after a championship like this is huge, but you still have to prove it during the Countdown.

“We want to carry that momentum with us,” Hagan said. “We had a big points day in Chicago and we definitely want to keep all the momentum going over the next four to five races. In Denver you have to try some stuff and see if it works.”

Follow @JerryBonkowski

Indianapolis Motor Speedway can have 10,000 fans for IndyCar races

Indianapolis Motor Speedway fans
Jamie Squire/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Indianapolis Motor Speedway will have crowds for its NTT IndyCar Series race weekend next month, the first time fans are allowed at the track this year.

The track announced Friday that up to 10,000 fans will be allowed in the grandstands daily from Oct. 1-4. The IndyCar Harvest GP race doubleheader will be held on the track’s road course Oct. 2-3.

IMS has played host to several events this year without fans, including the 104th Indianapolis 500 on Aug. 23 and a NASCAR-IndyCar weekend July 4-5 that included the Brickyard 400. Plans originally were made to have fans at the Indy 500 before reversing course a few weeks ahead of the race. In a letter last month, Roger Penske vowed that fans would return for the 2021 Indy 500.

“We can’t wait to see fans come through our gates for the first time in 2020,” IMS president Doug Boles said in a release. “They’ll be greeted by a vastly improved facility, featuring significant upgrades to the spectator experience. We’re also extremely grateful to have a presenting sponsor with the expertise and resources of GMR as we look to implement our detailed and comprehensive health and safety plan.”

Fans will undergo temperature screenings upon entry and also be required to wear face coverings at all times on property. The track said each attendee will receive a mask and bottle of hand sanitizer.

The Friday, Oct. 2 race will be shown at 3:30 p.m. ET on USA, and NBC will broadcast the Saturday, Oct. 3 race at 2:30 p.m. ET.

Here’s the release from Indianapolis Motor Speedway:

INDIANAPOLIS, Friday, Sept. 18, 2020 – For the first time in 2020, Indianapolis Motor Speedway will welcome fans to the Racing Capital of the World for the INDYCAR Harvest GP presented by GMR weekend. Up to 10,000 spectators can be in the grandstands each day of racing action Oct. 1-4, per approval from the Marion County Public Health Department.

Tickets are available now via IMS.com and will be sold on a first-come, first-served basis.

The massive facility, which holds more than 300,000 people, will provide two spectator zones with up to 5,000 fans in each. The zones will be located in Turns 1 and 4 of the oval, offering strong sightlines of the road course. Strict health and safety rules will be in place, including the following:

  • Face coverings must be worn throughout the property at all times;
  • All fans will receive temperature screenings before gate entry;
  • Grandstand seats will be marked for distancing;
  • Attendees must use pre-assigned gates and remain in their designated zones.

Global Medical Response, the world leader in compassionate, quality emergency medical and patient relocation services, will be the presenting sponsor of the penultimate weekend of INDYCAR racing this season.

“We can’t wait to see fans come through our gates for the first time in 2020,” IMS President J. Douglas Boles said. “They’ll be greeted by a vastly improved facility, featuring significant upgrades to the spectator experience. We’re also extremely grateful to have a presenting sponsor with the expertise and resources of GMR as we look to implement our detailed and comprehensive health and safety plan.”

The plan, which includes each attendee receiving a mask and a bottle of hand sanitizer upon entering the track, was developed in consultation with state and local health officials.

This event weekend is highlighted by an NTT INDYCAR SERIES doubleheader, with races Friday, Oct. 2 and Saturday, Oct. 3. It will be the penultimate event of the series’ season as the field pursues the champion’s prestigious Astor Challenge Cup to be awarded Sunday, Oct. 25 at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

The INDYCAR Harvest GP will pay tribute to a storied IMS event, the Harvest Classic in September 1916. The Harvest Classic was the only racing event held outside of May at IMS from 1911 through 1993. The event featured three races, all won by legendary driver Johnny Aitken.

Fans also will see a host of facility improvements during the event weekend, including more than 30 new LED video boards, refreshed concession stands and restrooms, and 5G wireless connectivity throughout the facility.

The first race will air at 3:30 p.m. (ET) Friday, Oct. 2 on the USA Network. NBC will broadcast the second race at 2:30 p.m. (ET) Saturday, Oct. 3, with WTHR-13 airing the action live in Central Indiana.

Also racing that weekend will be the first pairing of two major sports car series — the Intercontinental GT Challenge Powered by Pirelli and its North American counterpart, GT World Challenge America Powered by AWS. Former Indianapolis 500 pole winner Ryan Briscoe is among the drivers in the Indianapolis 8 Hour event held Sunday, Oct. 4.

The event also will showcase drivers in SRO America’s Pirelli GT4 America, GT Sports Club America and the TC America series.

The full on-track schedule is available at IMS.com.