A great start to the 2023 season in the NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series has a chance to get even better for Funny Car standout Matt Hagan. The three-time world champ opened the year with a victory in Gainesville and now has a chance for two wins this weekend at the final NHRA Arizona Nationals at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park.
Along with Sunday’s eliminations, where Hagan will race for his fourth win in the desert, he will take part in the new Mission #2Fast2Tasty NHRA Challenge, which brings competitive racing to the qualifying schedule on Saturday. It features a semifinal rematch from Gainesville – meaning Hagan will race Alexis DeJoria and runner-up J.R. Todd will take on Chad Green – with the two winners then matching up in the final qualifying session.
Throw in a bonus purse and bonus playoff points and Hagan is excited to throw down in his 11,000-horsepower Dodge Direct Connect Charger SRT Hellcat for the last time at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park.
“As good as we did, there’s always humility with these Funny Cars. As much as I want to do a great job, there’s still a lot to learn on this new car,” Hagan said. “This whole Mission #2Fast2Tasty deal changes the dynamic of the game in qualifying. It’s tough because you’re going against great drivers. You just have to keep working hard and make sure you’re doing your job as a driver. It’s such a competitive group, but it’s a great thing NHRA is doing. I’m really glad our crew gets to run for some bonus money.”
Mike Salinas (Top Fuel), Robert Hight (Funny Car) and Aaron Stanfield (Pro Stock) all won last year in Phoenix. This year’s race will again be broadcast on Fox Sports 1 (FS1), with the Mission #2Fast2Tasty NHRA Challenge adding an interesting subplot. Green advanced to the semifinals before bowing out to Todd, but he likes the strides his team has made on his 11,000-horsepower Bond-Coat Ford Mustang, as well as the chance for some redemption.
“I couldn’t be happier with how we started,” Green said. “We had a new team last year and we brought everyone back, we made some changes in the off-season to help our performance. We’re very happy to start out in this position and we just want to keep this momentum going. We feel like we’ve got a good, consistent car right now and we’re excited about this weekend coming up. I’m definitely in this group what you would consider the underdog, (but) there’s hopefully a chance for payback. We’re all racers here and that’s what we’re here to do is to race and try to beat each other.”
It was a strong start for Todd in his 11,000-horsepower DHL Toyota GR Supra, advancing to the final round and posting a series of good runs. He can feel the momentum as his Kalitta Motorsports team aims for a bounce back year and Todd, the 2018 world champ, can make major strides with a big weekend in Phoenix.
“The team has been working hard on all off-season to get this car back up to where it belongs,” Todd said. “It’s always a bummer when you go to the final round and don’t finish the deal, but it’s a good start to our season. It’s a totally different mindset (going to Phoenix) with a race within a race, so any bonus points you can grab, it all adds up at the end of the year. It seems like Funny Car championship definitely comes down to those little points.”
DeJoria also has big plans for Phoenix, which was the site of her first career Funny Car win in 2014. She’ll have a chance to get past Hagan this time in her 11,000-horsepower Bandero Tequila Toyota GR Supra, but DeJoria knows she’ll have to be on her game to have a chance for a win on both Saturday and Sunday.
“It was a great start to the season and being part of this Challenge is going to be incredible,” DeJoria said. “We’ve had some good, consistent runs in eliminations, and you definitely want to try to get some revenge, if you can. It was a close race and I’ve got to step it up on my end. My team gives me a great car and it’s up to me to get it off the starting line in a timely manner, and hopefully we can make some good runs.”
In Top Fuel, Gainesville winner Mike Salinas will race Leah Pruett in a semifinal rematch, while the other semifinal includes runner-up Steve Torrence and veteran Doug Kalitta. The rest of the field in Phoenix includes Top Fuel world champ Brittany Force, Justin Ashley, Antron Brown, Josh Hart, Austin Prock and Tony Schumacher.
Pro Stock’s Dallas Glenn will have a chance to avenge his semifinal defeat against Troy Coughlin Jr., who drove to the win in Gainesville. The other matchup will feature veteran Greg Anderson and rising star Mason McGaha, who used a stellar reaction time to defeat Anderson in Gainesville. Erica Enders, the five-time world champ, leads the list of other star drivers in the class, a group that also includes Stanfield, Kyle Koretsky and Camrie Caruso.
The NHRA Arizona Nationals also will feature thrilling competition in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series, featuring some of the top racers in the country. A big tire/small tire shootout will take place during the weekend, while fans can also look forward to exciting performances from the Little Red Fire Truck driven by Mike Mantell following nitro qualifying on Friday and the Hemi Under Glass wheelstander on Saturday. The Team “Muy Caliente” and “Wicked Sinsation” Jet Cars will also make exhibition runs, along with a fuel altered exhibition on Saturday. An autograph session will take place on Saturday at the Toyota Display with Toyota-sponsored drivers, as will a special autograph session featuring participants in the Mission #2Fast2Tasty NHRA Challenge.
Fans will also be invited all weekend long to the Nitro Alley Stage, which will help create a festive atmosphere leading into the nitro pits. The Nitro Alley Stage will be the main entertainment hub in the pits when the Camping World Drag Racing Series competitors are not on the track, hosting Nitro School, meet and greets, music and much more.
Race fans at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park can enjoy the special pre-race ceremonies that introduce and celebrate each of the drivers racing for the prestigious Wally on Sunday and includes the fan favorite SealMaster Track Walk. The final can’t-miss experience of any NHRA event is the winner’s circle celebration on Sunday after racing concludes, where fans are invited to congratulate the event winners of the last appearance in Phoenix.
As always, fans also get an exclusive pit pass to the most powerful and sensory-filled motorsports attraction on the planet in Phoenix. This opportunity gives fans a unique chance to see teams in action and service their hot rods between rounds, get autographs from their favorite NHRA drivers, and more. Fans can also visit NHRA’s popular Nitro Alley and Manufacturers Midway, where sponsors and race vendors create an exciting atmosphere that includes interactive displays, simulated competitions, merchandise, food, and fun for the entire family.
NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series qualifying will feature one round at 4:30 p.m. MT on Friday, March 24, and the final two rounds of qualifying on Saturday, March 25 at 12 and 3 p.m. The finals of the Mission #2Fast2Tasty NHRA Challenge take place at the end of final qualifying in each category on Saturday. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. MT on Sunday, March 25. Television coverage includes qualifying action on FS1 at 9:30 p.m. ET. on Friday and 12 p.m. on Sunday, leading into eliminations at 7 p.m. ET.
To purchase tickets to the final NHRA Arizona Nationals, fans can visit www.NHRA.com/tickets. Children 12 and under are free in general admission areas with the purchase of an adult ticket.