Q: I think some people might be surprised at the fact that you say Allen isn't that hands‑on. A lot of people are under the false impress that he's the pseudo‑tuner, as many people consider him the greatest tuner of all time in Top Fuel, so people might be surprised to learn that he never doesn't really get in there, you know, between rounds and tell what you to do on the car. LARRY DIXON:
He relies on his people from that standpoint. I guess where he's hands-on is the manufacturing side of the things, with AJPE. He manufactures, you know, the blocks, the heads, clutches and manifolds and fuel systems and clutch systems, and probably sells to 75 percent of the teams out there, the same parts that are on our cars go on other cars that we compete against. So from that standpoint, you know, our cars, sometimes it's a test model for components that he eventually goes out there and sells.
But as far as the micromanaging and in the middle of everybody, he doesn't do that. When I had trouble driving the car last year, and he is just – he wasn't in there. He has driven cars, but he wasn't in there telling me how to do it or anything like that.
He's behind me 100 percent and just got to sort things out and get it done. But he was behind me 100 percent and he let me know they are in this together, what we have to do, let's make it happen and I was just – all of it did was make me feel bad, go out there and try and do better for the team. We got things sorted out and you know, the rest is history.
Q: Matt, in Fort Worth, there's a big history of cattle ranching and taking care of livestock and all that. I didn't know that was a part of your background in Virginia until you got on the scene. Can you give me some background about your family business, how big the operation is and how much you do hands‑on at the ranch and a little background about your racing – before you got to the NHRA big time, how you got through the ranks?
MATT HAGAN: Texas has been good to me, first of all. We won Texas, Dallas and Houston, so got my first win there in Houston. I told them when we won Dallas, we ought to try to buy some land down here or something.
Farming, I've always been around horses and cattle growing up and stuff. And then I kind of came across some land and had the opportunity to farm it aggressively, and actually make a little bit of money doing it. I'm never going to get rich farming but it's a rich, honest, hard‑working job and it's the kind of work I like to do.
Run about 300 cattle. We have all feeder cattle and we sell calves when they are about 600, 700lbs. I take them to the market, then weigh them, grade them, sell them out west, wherever there's grain or whatever to put another 600 or 700 on them and sell them to a packer to slaughter. It's an all‑grass operation. No corn, just alfalfa and millet. We'll plant crops and stuff like that, but mainly we calf twice a year and we calf out 200 calves twice a year.
Between keeping them alive and putting up feed over the winter to trying to play daddy back at the house, I haven't had a whole lot of time to worry about racing that much. It's something that kind of works for me as far as being able to come back home, decompress, let it all go.
What I do out here is definitely strong back, weak mind kind of stuff, so I don't have to think a lot about it. Just get out there and relax a little bit. But, you know, it's just – it just works for me.
Q: Can you talk about your drag racing career before you got to Schumacher?
MATT HAGAN: I started off Bracket Racing a four‑wheeler. I didn't have enough money to buy a racecar at the time. I had a family friend come over and he said, you know, you need to come to drags with me, and I went and had a blast and didn't have a car at the time. But I had a four‑wheeler and he started loading his four‑wheeler up in the back of his racecar trailer and took me up there, and Thursday night, when they were doing testing tunings, we would run four‑wheelers.
Call it beginner's luck or what, I got in the final first time I got a four‑wheeler in Bracket Racing and I was hooked from there. Bought a Chevy 2 Nova with a flat stick and started winning a little bit there and got a taste for winning. And you know, I started to – wanted to go faster and faster, and one thing led to another. I got a little bit of local sponsorship on the car, you know, and they started – we started racing a little bit, started to branch out a little bit, and next thing you know, you step into a Pro‑Mod and get corporate sponsorship on the car.
Well, at the time, my sponsor called me up and said, "Look, kid we love what you're doing, but we want you in a Fuel Funny Car; you're going to drive it or we're going to find somebody else." I said, "Absolutely, let me go out here and get licensed," drove the car, obviously the economy turned bad and sponsor went away and we funded out of our pocket for a year and got on board with Don. He said, "Let's crunch some numbers and see what we can work out."
Long story short, it's been great. I been fast to get here, but I wouldn't have it any other way. You have a guy you're racing like John Force, I grew up watching this guy, he's a legend, and to be able to go out there and race the guy, is something else. I mean, I never would have dreamed me and him would be hunting out a championship here. Pretty cool, for me, anyway.
Q: Without giving away any secrets, what would you tell young, aspiring drag racers? What would help them most be most like John Force?
JOHN FORCE: To be like John Force? I don't know if anybody wants to be like me. I have loved it all these years, when I was driving truck when I was a kid, when I was just out of school, and trying to raise a family, I would spend my weekends down at the racetrack. There was days I stood outside of Lion's and I didn't have the money to get in. I just was caught up with these Fuel Funny Cars back from the beginning. They were Fuel Coupes and ugly and mean‑looking things and it was just a turn‑on and it just became a dream.
You have to chase a dream. You don't chase it for a paycheck. You don't chase it just for a championship. I mean, I always said, I dreamed to do a burnout for Tom the Mongoose, never thought about beating them. Just wanted a photograph; and every week you follow the paper, just the hope that you would get in that drag news.
And then it became national dragster, and you just want to be a part of that. To say, one, he's smarter than me, get an education and only thing I don't know about my racecars are computers and the stuff that they do now, because you've got to...Hagan was talking he found money; I talked to his dad, sharp cookie and that's why they work with Schumacher. Schumacher, it takes money to run these teams and at the end of the day, if you can get a good education, that will help you find the money if you want to own your own team, or even if you want to drive for someone, because you can bring money to the plate as part of your negotiation. So many kids have.
And the rest of it is, do it because you love it. Do it because you love the fans. And the dream is a journey and I'm still on that journey. I don't want to get off this train. I don't want Hagan to knock me off this train so I'm going to keep punching away.
Q: What do you think you have that just kind of comes along the lines of what John Force has?
MATT HAGAN: I think that you have to have a passion for the sport. You're not going to get on a plane and go 30‑some weekends of the year doing PR stuff and racing and everything else if you don't love what you're doing. It all comes down to like John said the other day in qualifying, you have to have the heart for it.
You've got to want it. You've got to dig deep for it and you have to have that burning desire to go out there and you have to feel it in your gut that this is yours and this is what you're going to work hard to get; whether it's this year, next year or ten years from now you're going to do everything that you possibly can to be on top. And you've got to have that burning desire to win. I mean, you know, some people, they like to go to the races. They like to show up and just be there. And others come to race. I think that you have to be that guy who wants to be there that has that burning desire to win.
Q. Larry, I followed your career and you've always been one of the most composed drivers out there from your first blow over to the last engine explosion. You seem to be a lot more relaxed and confident in and out of the car this year. Is there a reason for that, that we can see it?
LARRY DIXON: Oh, I don't know. I think just you spend 20 years at one place, and it's going to take you a little while to find your position within the group. But I think, you know, with Jason and Allen, running our team, it's just a great team. I'm happy to be there. I got a shot at winning races and obviously competing for, you know, for sure a championship this year.
And it's just having a shot at it, but through the years, I guess that's maybe just my personality. I don't know. I just know a lot of years that my dad raced for a hobby. He drove Top Fuel cars; 8 to 5 during the week, and on the weekends there was a bunch of tracks in Southern California you could go to; or you could drive to Indy and other places. But you would drive through the night to get back to work to keep everything going.
But there were guys like Snake out there racing and they didn't have to go home to their jobs. That was their jobs, and I just thought that was the neatest thing in the world and that's all I ever wanted to do since I was a little kid, and where I'm going with this, is, having the opportunity to do that, I just feel lucky.
I feel blessed to have a shot at doing that. And not just for one or two years for a number of years, being able to do that. You know, I feel very fortunate. I don't feel that this is something that's owed to me. I just feel lucky to be able to still do this for a living, and so I just appreciate it a lot, every day.
Q: Cory, you've been at this for a long time, you have a multitude of wins, you're in second place again, but you're doing this with really a new crew. This is your second year together, how good does it feel to be in this position with a new crew?
CORY MCCLENATHAN: From my standpoint, great. Obviously the biggest reason, because the whole crew on the Fram team came off Funny Cars, so when they came into Top Fuel scene, it was all new for them and last year, and I have always said, guys that have been working on Fuel Funny Cars find that they have a little bit bigger of a tuning window when this comes to the clutch and they find they can throw more at it and get away with it.
I just think with the Funny Car, it's more of a fine‑tuning thing and there's more room in a Top Fuel car that you can get away with, and I see that with Todd Okuhara and Phil Shuler. I thought they did a great job with that.
We made great strides at the end of last year, but like what John Force is doing right now, we wanted to lose a bunch of weight and we did that with our car. And now it's a weight where we can go race it and we can put the cameras on it, because that's another 15lbs when you start putting cameras on cars and that adds a lot to it.
We can go still race it and have it be a good, raceable package. But I think my guys have done a great job for the last two years, and I look forward to sticking it out with these guys and trying to win championships with them. Because I do think they have what it takes. But, I'm surprised, too, at the same time, we see the same thing going with Larry and the whole Al‑Anabi team. Allen went over there; the guys went there from Schumacher. The only difference is they had all been working together, so I can certainly understand where you would see that.
Kind of the same thing with Mike Green and the guys that I had with me on the FRAM team and they went over to Tony's car. It's all about the relationships with the drivers, the crew chiefs and the guys that you surround yourself with. I've always said that and I'll keep on saying it, because that's really what it takes to go out and win championships. You work with the same people all the time. You start switching up drivers and crew chiefs and everything else, you start fading back, and it's hard to take two steps backward when you've taken 10 forward.
I certainly think my guys have done a great job and to put us in a position like that. Still have a shot at the championship, I certainly think we deserve to be here.