The National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) got back on track last weekend for the annual New Hampshire Nationals at the New England Dragway after a three-week hiatus from the rained out Houston Raceway Park on May 23.
It also marked the New Hampshire Nationals’ two-year return after missing last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Don Schumacher Racing driver and 2020 Funny Car champion Matt Hagan was looking to continue his New England hot streak after three consecutive victories heading into the 2021 event. He seemed unstoppable, however, at some point in racing, all streaks come to an end. Hagan’s winning streak came to a halt after a second-round elimination by Tim Wilkerson’s team.
While Hagan hopes for better days ahead, a few other drivers enjoyed success this weekend in the Funny Car class. We’ll take a look at them in this week’s power rankings.
- Robert Hight – Hight qualified ninth after three rounds of qualifying and had a first round matchup with Alexis DeJoria. Heading into their round, DeJoria had seven wins and six losses to Hight. However, the first round matchup would be their elusive first round meet. Hight advanced over DeJoria with a 4.336 seconds and 287.78 mph round to move into the second round. In the quarterfinal, he met New England’s favorite Bob Tasca III. Hight was once again successful with a 3.972 ET and 324.36 mph run to set up a matchup in the semis with veteran Tim Wilkerson. Hight eliminated Wilkerson with a run of 4.022 seconds and 322.77 mph to face his competitor and Team Owner John Force in the final round. It was the seventh race in the finals where Hight and Force met once more. The drag race was close and one of the best races of the year but Hight had to settle for the 31st runner-up finish of his career.
“Really wanted this one for AAA New England,” Hight said. We all really wanted it. This crew, Jimmy Prock and Chris Cunningham, they worked hard. We went some rounds and got better but not the result we wanted. You always want to be the ones winning but I’m glad it stayed in the John Force Racing family. John’s been working hard too; all of our teams have been and we’re dominating and that’s ultimately what you want. Next weekend in Norwalk, it’ll be us.”
- John Force – Force seems to have gained momentum and it couldn’t come at a better time heading into the summer stretch and eventually the Countdown to the Championship. In the last three races, Force has two wins (New Hampshire Nationals, Four-Wide Nationals at Charlotte) and a ninth-place finish at Houston. Force qualified third, which set up a first round event with Cory Lee. Force was victorious setting a pace of 4.279 seconds and 211.03 mph after Lee lost traction. In the second round, he faced Kalitta Motorsports entry, J.R. Todd, in what was also another close drag race. This time, however, Force nearly sealed the deal and won by 15 feet over Todd setting up a semi-final appearance with Terry Haddock. Force has lost against Haddock just once but on Sunday, he earned his seventh victory against Haddock to leap him into the final round against Hight. When the two cars left the strip, Force’s reaction time was .054 compared to Hight’s .067. Force got the victory with an ET of 3.972 seconds and 327.51 mph, the 153rd win of his illustrious career.
“It represents team effort,” he said about the victory. “You have to look at both of these cars and Brittany’s dragster, they all have PEAK on them and AAA and Monster, Flav-R-Pac, Chevy and all the people that take care of me; that’s what it’s all about.” Force is now second in points, only 15 out of first place. “Robert helps me so much, trying to help me back in the driver’s seat where I don’t suck so bad and right now, I’ve got a car and I won today, and I did my job. I want to thank all the people in Epping for coming back and I want to thank Daniel Hood for a great tune-up and Fabrisi for fixing the cockpit in my car.”
3. Terry Haddock – It’s not all that often you see Haddock advance to the semi-finals. In fact, Sunday marked his first semi-final appearance in 293 career races thanks in part to a bye run in the second round. Haddock was squared up against Force in the semis and got off to a good start, but unfortunately for the fan-favorite, Haddock began laying oil down on the track and lost traction in the process. Haddock lost five points and lost the race to Force in the semis. The run was a good effort, though, by the independent Haddock team.
4. Matt Hagan – While Hagan’s reign of New England terror ended on Sunday, the Don Schumacher Racing driver didn’t go down without a fight. He was the No. 1 qualifier for the 41st time in his NHRA Funny Car career following Friday night’s run. He had an easy first-round run as he was all by himself, which automatically guaranteed him a spot in the second round against Tim Wilkerson. The two veteran drivers have faced each other 34 times in their careers and Hagan had 24 career victories over Wilkerson with 10 losses. The race was clean and down to the wire, but Hagan was eliminated by Wilkerson in a losing effort of 0.0361 seconds margin of victory. Hagan is still winless in the 2021 season but has hopes as he heads to the Summit Nationals in Norwalk, Ohio in a couple of weeks.
“It was a pretty good weekend at Epping,” Hagan said. “We qualified No. 1 for the first time this year and got that yellow No. 1 Camping World hat. The car ran really well, and we have a really good race car. We were just on the bad side of a good drag race that second round against Tim Wilkerson. You’re going to have those. You lose more than you win, but when you do win them, it makes them that much more special. Our turn for a win is right around the corner, so I’m really looking forward to Norwalk. We’re doing everything right to turn on the win lights, but sometimes you get on the bad side and that’s just racing. Last year we were on the right side of most of those races. You pay your dues, work hard and it will come around for ya, and that’s what we’re doing right now. We’ll roll into Norwalk and be excited for a great weekend. We’re glad to get DSR Performance and the DSR.parts website some good exposure with getting the No. 1 qualifier this weekend. The car looked good and it ran good, too. There’s so much racing left this season. This is only our sixth race in and there’s so much racing left, but it’s all about the finish and we’re a marathoner, not sprinting.”
5. Bob Tasca III – Tasca III had a good qualifying effort of fourth facing Jim Campbell in round one. Tasca, the New England favorite, won over Campbell with an ET of 3.960 seconds and 324.90 mph over Campbell’s 4.111 and 312.71 mph and moved into the second round facing John Force Racing driver Robert Hight. Unfortunately for Tasca, the race was over before it started, as his tires started to go up in smoke when Tasca launched off the starting line. Disappointingly, Tasca ended the second round with 10.095 seconds and 86.22 mph to finish seventh in the final results.