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November 6, 2014

Matt Hagan

THE MODERATOR:  Next up we are joined by Matt Hagan, driver of the Mopar Express Lane Rocky Boots Dodge Charger.  Hagan is the 2011 Funny Car champion and is currently our Funny Car points leader.  Hagan has three wins, two runner‑up finishes and one No.1 qualifying position so far this season.  He was as low as 10th in points early in the year but took over the points lead after the Reading event. 
Matt, you've talked all season long how strong you believe your team was, and now it seems like they're peaking at the right time.  What is the mindset of not only yourself but your entire team going into this last race? 
MATT HAGAN:  Yeah, I mean, I think our team is very strong.  We are still a very, very hungry team.  This is a team that's only been assembled for two years, last year leading the points all the way pretty much most of the Countdown, up until my crew chief got sick, and John came in and ran really hard, but Dickie has put a great race car under me this year, as well, and we're really battling it out.  Now it's going to come down to the wire here in Pomona. 
I think we're very hungry is the word that would best describe my team.  I think that we've grown together a little bit, and we're driven to go out and get this thing done. 

Q.  You did mention Dickie, and he has led teams to the championship in the past.  Does he have a calming influence on the team for the guys that haven't been through it before?  And can he really steady the ship in this stretch run? 
MATT HAGAN:  Well, what Dickie has is a confidence influence.  He's very, very confident about the decisions that he makes.  He doesn't second‑guess himself.  He's not up there worried about anything.  I mean, hell, I worry about it more than he does. 
You know, it's just one of those deals where the decisions that he makes, he believes in them, and it trickles down to our team and our core guys that are also making decisions on the car. 
You know, it definitely keeps my morale up, as well, so I think Dickie, yes, is a great leader, but I think it's not so much of a calming thing, it's more of just a confidence thing.  It's just kind of one of them deals everybody is kind of silently brewing, hungry, ready to go race this last race. 

Q.  Matt, you're poised to get perhaps your second championship.  Do you think the second one is more difficult than the first one?  And what's your game plan knowing that you've got the experience and you've got the team? 
MATT HAGAN:  Yeah, I don't agree with that.  I think they're all hard, the first one and your last one that you ever get.  It's just going to be one of those deals where there's never any of them that are the same.  They all have different circumstances, they all have different situations, and a lot of times you race a lot of different people. 
Unfortunately me and John have been battling it out the last four years out of the last five of my career, and John has won two, I've won one, and I'm planning on winning this one. 
Yeah, it definitely‑‑ they're tough, but I think that they're all tough. 

Q.  And are you doing anything differently this time do you think? 
MATT HAGAN:  No, just laid back a little bit more.  You know, I've been there now.  The excitement, the uncontrolled adrenaline is not predictable, so you've got to be kind of cool, calm and collected with your emotions, and also just your whole team and keep them cool, calm and collected because you make better decisions, you leave the starting line better, everything just kind of comes together when you're not up on the chips and unpredictable. 

Q.  You've pretty much answered my question already, but you've been there, you've won a championship, but you talk about the fact that your team is still new and fresh, and they're looking for their first championship.  How much pressure is that on you as a driver to give them what they're looking for beyond giving yourself what you're hoping for? 
MATT HAGAN:  Well, I'll put it in perspective like this:  I had a guy that never even won a race on our team, and we go to a semifinal and he was like, oh, man, I'm going to win my first semifinal, and then we finally went to a final and then we finally won a race, and now instead of just being happy with the race, he's like, man, I want to win a championship.  We all rise to that next level of where we want to be.  Absolutely, do I want to give our team a championship. 
But a lot of it is not on me.  A lot of it is our crew chiefs.  Crew chiefs make win championships.  Drivers, I can help with leaving on time and giving us some EP on the start line, but a lot of it has to do with our setups and the crew chiefs and assistant crew chiefs, the calls that they make on the racetrack.  We went into Sunday last weekend and the semifinals and we had to change blowers and run into some, I guess, untested variables there.  It bit us.  We're kind of like, man, let's try to keep more of the same parts on the car. 
Yeah, a lot of the crew chiefs, what they‑‑ it really is their championship to win.  I'm just trying not to mess it up. 

Q.  When you look at the time between your first championship and where you are today, what is the greatest thing you've learned as a driver that makes you better prepared for next week? 
MATT HAGAN:  I think confidence in myself, knowing that I can do it, knowing that I've been there and I've done it, knowing that my team can do it.  A lot of stuff that holds people back is their confidence in theirself.  You've got to go out there and trust yourself, know that you've done everything to prepare to go out here and win this championship and you're going to race the hell out of the race car.  If it doesn't work out you go over there and you shake the man's hand and say, man, good on you.  You just did a little better than I did this weekend. 
But the fact of the matter is that you've got to go up there believing that you can do it and knowing in your heart that you can win it because if there's any doubt, that's when those negative thoughts will creep in there and you'll make mistakes mentally and that'll cause you to make physical mistakes out there on the racetrack.

Q.  I don't know how your weather was back at home, but if it was anywhere close to the snow and everything, how intense has it been taking care of your farm versus your championship next weekend? 
MATT HAGAN:  Yeah, well, I'm growing a beard, man, but I might save it for the final.  I don't know, it's getting chilly back here, the wind is blowing, and we've got a pile of cattle to feed.  We definitely did a lot of work this summer.  I sat on the tractor for a long time, put up a lot of feed, so we're ready for the winter.  Nobody ever wants to see the cold come around here because the grass goes brown and the cows start eating hay, so it just costs you money. 

Q.  Can you talk a little bit about Dickie last year and you had such a strong season and he had some health problems.  Does that kind of‑‑ do you look at that and think, man, that slipped away, or is it just all part of the learning process and all the pieces have to be there to try to win one of these championships? 
MATT HAGAN:  Well, you know, I mean, obviously we want Dickie in our corner there the whole time.  That was just an unfortunate situation that nobody could control, and I'm glad he came out of it very healthy now and he's hungry and he's ready to battle for this championship down to the wire. 
But yeah, like I said before, crew chiefs are where it's at, and you've got to have a strong crew chief in your corner, but hats off to Mike Knudsen.  He went out there and never tuned a race car and we still won the race in Pomona.  Pomona has been really good to me.  I've been able to win it several times, and I really look forward to getting out there and crawling in this race car.  We can talk about it until I'm blue in the face, but when push comes to shove, it's crawling in the race car and making it happen. 

Q.  I was cracking up when you said about the snow.  Didn't you tell us that cattle don't eat snow?
MATT HAGAN:  Yeah, it's hard to feed cows snow.  You've got to have hay to feed them. 

Q.  The year that you won your championship and then the next year you didn't qualify for the Countdown, is that something that's been driving you ever since to just‑‑ I'm sure that bummed you out, but has that played a role in how you guys have approached your season and your quest for a title? 
MATT HAGAN:  Well, you know, obviously it makes you hungry because you've had that experience of not being able to go out there and get it done.  But that was some unfortunate situation there where Tommy DeLago, he had already decided he was going to make a change to go over to the Kalitta camp.  I wish him all the best, but our team suffered because of it.  The guy is a phenomenal crew chief.  His and mine focus just wasn't in the right direction that year, and it showed it on the racetrack.  That's where that came from. 
But on the flipside, Dickie came in here and did great job to get the ground running with it, and we're excited to have him at the DSR camp. 

Q.  I've talked to you several times and interviewed you at the races several times, but you seem to have a calm confidence in your voice that I've never heard before.  Are you really as relaxed going into the finals as you sound? 
MATT HAGAN:  I really am, and you know why, because like I said, with my team, I believe in my team, and I know that we've got the stuff and what it takes to get it done.  We're going to have a battle on our hands with John, but we're not racing John, we're racing the racetrack and we're racing our race car.  As long as we go out there and race as hard as we can and get as much EP on that racetrack as we can, it's going to take care of itself. 
Like I said, the calmness, it comes from confidence, and the confidence comes from Dickie Venables and knowing that he's up there making the right calls.  He's not second‑guessing anything that he's doing.  The radio is pretty much silent up there.  We go up there and make a couple clutch calls and he turns some fuel knobs and he says let's go.  There's not a lot of back and forth, not a lot of chatter and just a lot of confidence in the whole team itself. 
That gives me confidence, as well, but also, like I said before, you have to trust in yourself and what took you and got you to this point, and I know I can go up there and leave it on the starting line, keep it in the groove and turn the win light on, and we've just got to put times in Pomona. 
THE MODERATOR:  We have been joined by John Force. 
John, thank you for joining us, as always, and I'll ask one question for the both of you and Matt can go first.  I think somebody hit upon it.  We've kind of seen you two have come down to the end of the season, and I think a lot of people have likened it to a heavyweight championship bout, and here we are in the final round and the bell is getting ready to ring, and Matt, kind of take it from there.  What do you guys have left in the tank going into Pomona? 
MATT HAGAN:  Well, I mean, I guess to answer your question, I have a lot left in the tank.  I have a lot to prove.  I mean, John has got 16 and he can hang it up any time he wants to and walk away with a very successful career.  I don't plan on walking away with one championship.  I plan on having multiple.  So I have to dig deep and work hard and do whatever it takes to do that. 
John brings the best out of me.  I want to go up there and I want to cut 30 lights, but right now I'm cutting 50 lights.  It makes me want to do more.  But yeah, I think I definitely have a lot left in the tank.  I've got a lot to show and a lot to give and a lot to prove.  But I think it's just good racing for the fans.  It all comes down to the fans.  We're showmen and we're here to put on a show.  Them fans, they go out there and spend their hard‑earned money to come watch a battle, and that's what they're getting.  It's coming right down to Pomona.  They're getting what they paid for, and it's going to be one hell of a show, and I'm excited to see it myself. 

Q.  And John, what are your thoughts on that coming into this last race with Matt? 
JOHN FORCE:  First I want to say hi, Matt, and wish you good luck this week. 
MATT HAGAN:  Good luck to you. 
JOHN FORCE:  I want you to know when we were on the stage with the NHRA breakfast, Scelzi and Schumacher was there, Tony and Antron, Tony was talking about the fight and coming down to the wire, and I made a joke about, not me.  If Hagan had a heart attack, they'd be doing me a favor.  You know that's a joke.  A few people took it wrong, and I just wanted to clarify it for you.  I'll race you and it's going to be exciting.
I will tell you I read your article about getting on a tractor and out there working the fields.  I went home last night, got on my John Deere and drove it around until midnight.  It's pretty cool, pretty good feeling to relax. 
What was the question? 

Q.  Just your thoughts going into it.  It's been a long season and you and Matt the past couple of years, it's come down to this last event, and just kind of your thoughts with Matt here coming into Pomona. 
JOHN FORCE:  Well, I'm excited about it, but I don't want to think about it.  I want to get my head out of it.  I'm back home here right now doing construction.  If you wrap your head up in it, all the things that could go wrong or go right will go through your head, and none of that does any good.  What I'm going to do is enjoy this weekend with my grandchildren and my daughters.  Everybody is coming for dinner, keep racing out of my head, keep chasing corporate America every day of the week, and just look forward to it, to going to Pomona.  I've got a good race car, and we're going to give the fans what they want, and that's a race, and we're going to entertain them, and at the end the champ will walk away.  Whoever that is, I know we'll congratulate one or the other, and that's how I'm going to race it.  If I start thinking, I've got to beat this kid, you know what I'm saying, then it starts getting mental.  I'll wait until race morning, Sunday morning, and that's when I'll put on game face and I'll go after Matt Hagan, because I am chasing him. 
THE MODERATOR:  Matt, we'll go ahead and continue with John on his portion, but Matt, as always, thank you for joining us, and we'll see you in Pomona next weekend. 
MATT HAGAN:  Thank you, guys.  We'll see you out there.  Be safe getting there, man. 
JOHN FORCE:  See you, kiddo. 

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