KENT — Matt Hagan was the one doing the laughing on Sunday.
Hagan took plenty of good-natured ribbing in the NHRA pits after losing to mechanic Brad Robinson in a starting-tree challenge tournament during a rain delay on Friday, but blew away the field with his lightning-quick reaction times when it counted most.
“I had some great lights today,” Hagan said after winning the 26th annual NHRA Northwest Nationals Funny Car title at Pacific Raceways. “It was one of those deals where you get served up humble pie every now and then. But when it comes to race day, it’s not a game anymore, it’s for real, and I had to go out and get it done.”
Hagan had the fastest two reaction times of the day in the three professional divisions, 0.31 and 0.33, to win for the fourth time this season and pick up the ninth wally — the trophy awarded to NHRA national-event winners — of his career.
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A cattle farmer from Virginia, Hagan, 30, is enjoying a remarkable turnaround season in his 8,000-horsepower Funny Car.
After winning the Funny Car world championship in 2011, Hagan didn’t win or even qualify for the season-ending playoffs in 2012. He clinched his 2013 spot on Sunday and leads the Funny Car field by a whopping 117 points.
“This year, the difference is just night and day,” Hagan said. “It starts with (new) crew chief Dickie Venables and trickles down to all our guys. We grew from the experience last year and we know how quickly things can change out here.”
Hagan advanced to the final by edging Courtney Force, last year’s Northwest Nationals winner. Three-time track champion Tim Wilkerson red-lighted in the semifinals, allowing Bob Tasca III to win with a speed of 93 mph.
Hagan ran away when Tasca smoked the tires in the finals.
Hagan was able to survive a day of upsets that started when No. 1 qualifier and defending national champion Jack Beckman was eliminated in the first round by Johnny Gray.
Also out in the first round was 15-time world champion John Force. He lost to Paul Lee.
Morgan Lucas moved up a spot to seventh in the point standings after winning the Top Fuel title. He beat Dave Grubnic in the final for the eighth win of his career and his first of the season
Unheralded driver T.J. Zizzo took out most of the fast Top Fuel cars, beating three-time event winner and seven-time national champion Tony Schumacher in the opening round and defending world champion Antron Brown in the quarterfinals before losing to Grubnic in the semifinals.
Lucas, who was second last weekend in Sonoma, won for the first time this season and picked up the eighth win of his career. He eliminated points leader and No. 1 qualifier Shawn Langdon in the semifinals.
“We’ve had our struggles all year and I feel like this is the symbol that we’re turning the corner,” Lucas said. “It was a blessing for us to have the consistency we had. This is as cool and as big a win as I’ve ever had.”
Vincent Nobile won his third race of the season and second in a row by beating Jeg Coughlin in the Pro Stock final.
Nobile, 21, is a college senior at Adelphi University in Long Island, N.Y. During the school year he races on Sunday and then catches the red eye to get back for classes during the week.
“This is my passion and I’m going to try my best to make a living out here,” Nobile said. “Back home on Long Island, no one knows what drag racing is. Only my close friends really understand what I do.”