Reigning National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) Camping World Series Funny Car champion Matt Hagan will return to competition this weekend at the NHRA Carolina Nationals in Concord, N.C., after missing two races due to COVID-19.
Hagan has completed all the NHRA protocols and has been cleared to suit up and strap back into his 11,000- horsepower Shelor Motor Mile Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat Redeye where he will continue his title defense.
Hagan enters the weekend ranked second in the point standings and less than one round behind the current point leader following his team’s victory last weekend at the Mopar Express Lane NHRA Nationals Presented by Pennzoil, the first of NHRA’s seven Countdown to the Championship playoff races.
Hagan discussed his COVID-19 experience in an interview.
“COVID affects everyone differently, and it was something that hit me really hard. It started like the flu and then just never got better. I had several days of lying in bed with a fever, chills, and aches and finally ended up having to check myself into the emergency room. I spent a night there receiving fluids and steroids, and they were doing everything they could do to bring my 104-degree temperature down.”
My breathing was really concerning to them and that’s why they kept me overnight. Once they got my oxygen up and finally got my fever down to about 101, they released me from the hospital, but I still wasn’t out of the woods. It still took some time for my body to recover.
QUESTION: Indy would have been your 288th race. Have you ever missed a race since embarking on your professional NHRA career in 2008?
HAGAN: No, I’ve never missed a race. I was talking to my dad about that yesterday, actually. We were saying it’s pretty crazy that I’ve been able to race for almost 15 years now and never had to miss one. I’ve always been healthy; never had a broken bone or anything, which when you think about it, I’m on the farm when I’m not at the race track. I’ve never been kicked by a cow or gotten run over by a piece of equipment.
QUESTION: How did you follow along or watch the Indy and Reading races? On TV? Live timing?
HAGAN: I had about 100 people texting me all day long. And obviously, I was following the @ShoeRacing social media channels, checking all of the round-by-round results, too, so that kept me right in the loop.
But honestly, even if I never looked at social media or turned on live timing, I still would have known what was going on because my phone was going off nonstop.
QUESTION: Now that you’re healthy, what have you been doing to prepare to return to the driver’s seat?
HAGAN: As big of a setback as this was for me, I feel 100% confident and I’m 100% ready to go racing this weekend in Charlotte. I’ve been doing cardio, lifting weights. I’m a little weaker on the weights than I’m used to, but my lung capacity has bounced right back. That was the biggest concern for me – putting on 30 pounds worth of gear, and the nitro, and the g-forces, and strapping in and not being able to breathe, and thankfully, that’s not even a concern of mine anymore. I truly feel like I’m ready to go.
QUESTION: You’ve been out of the seat since Brainerd, which was almost a month ago now. Do you feel behind at all knowing that all of the other championship-contending drivers enter Charlotte with two solid weeks of back-to-back racing?
HAGAN: I don’t feel at a disadvantage at all. We’ve taken months off before. Last year we had about four months off due to COVID, and we came back and won that first race back. I feel very confident in my abilities to drive the race car and be a good leaver on the starting line. I feel excited because I know I get to crawl back into a great race car. I’ve been doing this for so many years, so the g-forces and acclimating to the speed isn’t really that big of a deal to me. I know what I’ve got to do. My guys will put a great race car underneath me and I’m confident I can get back in there and not miss a beat.