Story By: NHRA – LAS VEGAS, NV – There’s been plenty of magic at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in the fall for Matt Hagan in recent seasons, including last year when Hagan won the final race of the 2020 NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series season to claim his third career Funny Car world title.
In the middle of a tight and thrilling championship hunt this year, the reigning world champ returns to Las Vegas hoping to again strike it big at this weekend’s Dodge//SRT NHRA Nationals presented by Pennzoil.
This year’s stop in Las Vegas comes in its traditional spot as the penultimate race in the Countdown to the Championship and Hagan finds himself in quite a battle heading down the stretch in his 11,000-horsepower Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat. After leading the points for two straight races, his Don Schumacher Racing teammate Ron Capps jumped one point ahead with two races remaining. With J.R. Todd 83 points back, and Cruz Pedregon and John Force both 101 points behind, it’s setting up quite a showdown for Las Vegas and Pomona. Hagan is ready for it, having won the past two fall races in Las Vegas and three of the past four.
“I’ve got a lot of confidence heading into Las Vegas,” said Hagan, who has 39 career wins. “Last year we won the race and the championship there, so we’ve done well there in the past. The track is great and we feel good about everything, but it’s going to be a challenge. Capps was right there with us last year and he’s back in the thick of it again, but if we can come out of Vegas with the lead, we’ll feel better heading into Pomona. We’ll just roll up and do the best job we can. The points have been changing around all year in Funny Car, and we’re just going to keep battling.”
Antron Brown (Top Fuel), Hagan (Funny Car), Erica Enders (Pro Stock) and Angie Smith (Pro Stock Motorcycle) are defending winners of the fall race in Las Vegas. This year’s event will be televised on FOX Sports 1 (FS1), including live final eliminations coverage starting at 5:00 p.m. (ET) on Sunday, Oct. 31. It is the sixth of seven races in Funny Car and Top Fuel in the Countdown to the Championship, and the 19th of 20 events in 2021. It also marks the 1,000th event in NHRA history. For Hagan, it’s an opportunity to finish strong and possibly become the first back-to-back world champion in Funny Car since Force in 2002.
That would be another major accomplishment for Hagan, but it won’t be easy in a loaded class that also features Bob Tasca III, Robert Hight, Tim Wilkerson and Bristol winner Alexis DeJoria. Hagan and his team, led by standout crew chief Dickie Venables, have been sensational for most of the year and it’s been an aggressive mindset that has been the catalyst. Heading into two massively important races to close the year, Hagan doesn’t expect that mindset to change.
“We’ve got that mentality of we’re in a fight, so it’s time to bite down on that mouthpiece and just throw down,” Hagan said. “I hope Dickie continues to be aggressive and I’m confident that’s going to be our mentality. That’s how we won the championship last year. We never let up and I hope we keep that up. That’s the type of mentality we need to continue to have. But I’m enjoying all this and I’m not letting the pressure get to me. We’re ready to get after it this weekend.”
In Top Fuel, Mike Salinas is coming off a victory in Bristol and heading to a track where he grabbed his first career win in 2019, giving him plenty of momentum as he makes a late-season charge in his 11,000-horsepower Scrappers Racing dragster. He’s currently fourth in points and 150 points behind Steve Torrence, which means tracking down the three-time defending world champ may be difficult, but Salinas can still end his year on a huge positive with another solid outing in Las Vegas.
Salinas is just three points back of Justin Ashley and is within striking distance of Brittany Force as well. She sits 73 points back of Torrence as they get set to duel at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, but Salinas has made big improvements on the starting line as of late. He’ll also have to contend with the likes of Brown, Leah Pruett and Clay Millican, but Salinas likes the direction his team is headed going into the final two races of the 2021 campaign.
“The car is good and my team knows what the car is going to do,” said Salinas, who has three career Top Fuel wins. “They’ve found something that is really amazing and let’s see what happens. The good thing now is my head is in the right place. It’s taken me a while to get here, but things are getting better. Everyone in this class is awesome, but I’ve found something that works for me and that’s going to be great for us. Everyone is stepping their game up in this class and we have a great team. We’ve got all the parts and pieces.”
Pro Stock’s Greg Anderson will look to take a step closer to his fifth world title. He grabbed his 98th career win, the most in class history, in Dallas and currently leads Erica Enders by 81 points heading to Vegas. Rookie Dallas Glenn also remains in contention as he looks to finish off a banner first year, while other standouts in the class include Kyle Koretsky, Aaron Stanfield, Chris McGaha and Troy Coughlin Jr.
In Pro Stock Motorcycle, Matt Smith will look to hold off Angelle Sampey in the championship hunt. He currently leads Sampey, who won two weeks ago in Bristol, by 25 points heading to Las Vegas. Steve Johnson is 56 points back, while others to watch include Angie Smith, Scotty Pollacheck, Eddie Krawiec, who is 111 points out of first, Karen Stoffer and Joey Gladstone.
The event also includes the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series, where the future stars of the sport earn their racing stripes, as well as the popular Constant Aviation Factory Stock Showdown category. The E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series presented by J&A Service will also finish its 2021 season in Las Vegas. Stevie Jackson is the defending race winner, while Jose Gonzalez has already clinched the world title.
After nitro qualifying, fans will be entertained by a pair of jet-powered dragsters that will light up The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Sporty Bandimere will drive the Lucas Oil Terminal Velocity dragster, while Jaren Mott will pilot the MavTV Plus Missile powered by Lucas Oil. Fans can also enjoy the special cacklefest that is slated to take place on Friday, as well as runs from the world’s first 200-mph electric dragster and CJ 1400 electric Cobra Jet.
As always, fans are granted an exclusive pit pass to the most powerful and sensory-filled motorsports attraction on the planet at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. This unique opportunity gives fans a chance to see teams in action and service their hot rods between rounds, and get autographs from their favorite NHRA drivers. Fans also will want to visit NHRA’s popular Nitro Alley and Manufacturers Midway, where sponsors and race vendors create a carnival atmosphere, with interactive displays, simulated competitions, merchandise, food and fun for the entire family.
NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series qualifying will feature one round at 3:00 p.m. PT on Friday, Oct. 29 and the final two rounds of qualifying on Saturday, Oct. 30 at 12:00 and 3:30 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11:00 a.m. PT on Sunday, Oct. 31.