By Christina Fuoco-Karasinski
Matt Hagan has raced throughout the country, but the Valley is one of the few places he feels comfortable.
“I love the Scottsdale area. I’d even consider getting a winter home there,” Hagan says. “I’ve got a lot of love for that. Everything has a good feel to it. I like the Native American feel. I’m a quarter Cherokee Indian. I love going in the airport and buying jewelry and different things like that.”
He’s returning to the Valley Friday, February 21, to Sunday, February 23, for the NHRA Arizona Nationals at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park in Chandler. Hagan (funny car), Billy Torrence (top fuel) and Jeg Coughlin Jr. (pro stock) raced to victories at this event last year. Fans will see 11,000 horsepower nitro cars coursing through the track and the sophisticated pro stock class during the NHRA Arizona Nationals. They can also meet their NHRA stars, including the likes of John Force, Antron Brown and Erica Enders.
Hagan was an all-around athlete at Auburn High School, where he was a defensive lineman and all-district center on the Eagles football team. In the spring, he was the school’s catcher on the baseball team. He attended Radford University for four years and majored in recreation, parks and tourism.
Hagan has been racing for almost half his life. Starting on his family’s quads as a teenager in Virginia, he developed a passion for speed and the thrill of competition to move into circle-track, stock car racing. From there, he began bracket drag racing and later made a splash in Pro Mod, earning the 2006 Rookie of the Year honor in the NHRA AMS Pro Mod Challenge.
Hagan and the MOPAR Express Lane/Pennzoil/Sandvik Coromant Dodge Funny Car team, led by crew chief Dickie Venables and assistant Michael Knudsen, wasted no time putting together a competitive 2019 campaign. At the second event of the season, Hagan powered his Dodge Charger to victory and took home a Wally trophy for the 30th time in his career. The win also marked 150 Funny Car victories for Don Schumacher Racing.
In his free time, Hagan spends time with his wife, Rachel, with whom he has four children—Colby, Penny, Tucker and Nelly. He is an avid hunter and loves spending early mornings in a tree stand on his property hunting for deer and takes a couple trips each year out of state to hunt deer and ducks. If his bounty is too much for family and friends to consume, he shares the meat with groups helping the unemployed around his Virginia home.
“I also farm a lot,” he says. “I have a 2,000-acre, 600-head cattle farm in Virginia. I enjoy it. It keeps me humble. I work, get my hands dirty and build some callouses. I live this rock star life—go, go, go—with adrenaline-driven fans, TV and sponsors. I come back home and turn all that off. I drive the tractor 5 miles an hour. It’s like yin and yang.”
He enjoys winning, but everything that comes with touring on the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series is exhausting.
“The travel wears on you—the hotel and all that kind of stuff,” he says.
“I was gone 180 days last year. I’m 37 years old and in the pinnacle of my sport. What other sport gives you an adrenaline rush at this age? Most people in other sports have retired at my age.
“The competition and the drive to win keeps me going. I was named Driver of the Decade by MotorTrend. I put myself around good people, so good things happen. They don’t want to let me down. It’s pretty amazing.”
In his 11th year with Don Schumacher Racing, Hagan is inspired by his father, David, who owns Shelor Motor Mile new car dealerships and the Motor Mile Speedway short track and drag strip, as well Matt Hagan Outdoors locations in Radford, Virginia, and Blacksburg, Virginia.
The first Matt Hagan Outdoors store opened in December 2013 in Radford, near Hagan’s home in Christiansburg, Virginia, and success led to moving to a larger location a year later and opening a second location in 2016.
“My dad owns 42 companies,” he says. “I own an outdoor store, a cattle farm, a hemp farm. I race. I have four kids and he makes me look like a chump. I take lessons from him. He’s a great leader and really cares about people. I just sit back, watch, learn and listen.”
NHRA Arizona Nationals, Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park, 2000 S. Maricopa Road, Chandler, 1.800.884.6472, nhra.com, various times Friday, February 21, to Sunday, February 23, tickets start at $34.