At the end of most interviews, three-time NHRA Funny Car world champion Matt Hagan gives a shoutout to the crowd, hoping that his performance in his Dodge Power Brokers Charger SRT Hellcat was a good show for the fans.
Currently second in the standings, Hagan has shown he isn’t afraid to ramp up the heat on the drag strip and fight for the win – he has three victories so far this season.
However, even Hagan will be challenged during the Pep Boys Funny Car All-Star Callout on Sunday, Sept. 4.
The novelty race that features eight of the sport’s best Funny Car racers takes place as part of the Dodge Power Brokers NHRA U.S. Nationals at Lucas Oil Indianapolis Raceway Park, applying even more pressure to the weekend for the racers involved.
“Really, as a competitor, for me, it used to be about driving the race car and how fast it would go and what it was gonna do, but it’s really about the person beside of you and being able to race them,” Hagan said. “That’s what does it for me.”
“To win this thing, you need to go through everybody,” Robert Hight said. (NHRA photo)
As it stands, Funny Car points leader Robert Hight is in the position to make the first callout. Depending on who he selects as his opponent, defending series champion Ron Capps and Hagan would then be next in line to pick a competitor.
Whether it’s an advantage or not, it’s hard to say.
“Anybody in their right mind wouldn’t believe that they could beat any of these cars,” Hight said. “It’s just not the way it is.”
The remaining lineup for the All-Star Callout includes Cruz Pedregon, John Force, Bob Tasca III, Alexis DeJoria and defending U.S. Nationals winner Tim Wilkerson. The driver who prevails through the stacked field will earn $80,000, but for many of the competitors, the winner’s check isn’t their first thought.
“Money is a bonus, at the end of the day,” Pedregon said. “None of us can spend the money ahead of time.”
However, as team owner of Cruz Pedregon Racing, the money is still worth mentioning. If he claims the event win, he acknowledges most of the winner’s check would trickle down through his crew to bolster their hard work.
Like Hagan said, “Money is important, but we just want to race.”
The drivers consider it a privilege to be part of the all-star format, even as they balance their mental preparation for the steep competition with their focus on the U.S. Nationals themselves.
“It’s brought the whole Indy weekend back to what it should be,” Capps said.
He recalled the “Big Bud Shootout” that used to take place at the U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis, which began in 1982 and ran through 2001, adding that it used to be “the deal” in drag racing. To see the shootout-style find its way back to the NHRA is exciting for Capps, who clinched a few wins of his own at the “Big Bud Shootout” during the late 1990s.
Cruz Pedregon believes the event strategy should be to pick the best car as your opponent and gear up for a challenge. (NHRA photo)
“My neck hair is standing up right now thinking about it, because it’s going to be a lot of money and it’ll be fun to see who picks who,” Capps said.
The weekend at Lucas Oil Indianapolis Raceway Park is set to be a lengthy one, with Funny Car qualifying and competition spanning from Sept. 2 to Sept. 5.
But with the All-Star Callout taking place the day before final eliminations for the U.S. Nationals, DeJoria sees the callout on Sunday as a chance to pick up momentum heading into Monday.
“Indy itself is exhausting sometimes,” DeJoria said. “As a team, winning something like that prior to the actual race on Monday, it’s so motivating.”
After putting to rest all the possible scenarios already running through their minds, the eight Funny Car drivers will start with a blank slate during qualifying on Friday night.
However, Saturday’s callout announcements will mark the beginning of unavoidable rivalry among the racers and a good, old-fashioned show for the fans.