KENT — The only man who could whistle a sweet tune and call out Funny Car points leader Matt Hagan at Pacific Raceways on Sunday was virtual unknown Brad Robinson.
Who is Brad Robinson?
He is far from being the 15-time National Hot Rod Association world champion racer John Force is. He can’t measure up to Cruz Pedregon or Del Worsham.
In fact, the only time he really sees the driver’s seat is when he climbs underneath Hagan’s 2013 Dodge Charger to drop the oil pan and carry it away to dump.
But on Friday, as NHRA teams waited out a pesky rain delay that washed out all professional qualifying for the 26th Northwest Nationals in Kent, Robinson was the madman with a quick trigger who eliminated Hagan in a simulated game on the driver’s drag-racing tree simulator – all in hopes of collecting a $16 pot.
The simulator aims to sharpen reaction time off the starting line – something Hagan did better than any driver in either nitro-fueled class (Top Fuel, Funny Car) when the action was real Sunday.
Hagan topped off four great rounds, including one in the semifinals when he knocked off defending race champion Courtney Force on a hole shot, to win the Funny Car title.
In the finals, he recorded a .036-second reaction time off the tree – an exceptional mark by professional standards – to buzz bast Bob Tasca III with a 4.171-second finish to collect his fourth event title of the season.
When asked to revisit his Friday embarrassment, losing to a nondriver on the computer, Hagan laughed it off.
“He put it on me. It is one of those deals, you get served up a little bit of humble pie every now and then,” Hagan said. “When it comes to race day, you put the helmet on, you get focused and it is not a game anymore. It is for real. You go out there and get it done.”
Other professional winners included Morgan Lucas in Top Fuel after he defeated David Grubnic in the finals; and Vincent Nobile in Pro Stock, who won back-to-back races against the same opponent – teammate Jeg Coughlin – in the championship round.
What a difference a year has made for Hagan. Last year, he was the defending Funny Car points champion struggling to go rounds in eliminations. In fact, he did not even make the “Countdown to the Championship” playoffs.
At the end of the season, crew chief Tommy DeLago was dismissed. Dickie Venables was hired to replace him, and Hagan has not missed a beat since the first race of 2013.
“I don’t think (DeLago’s) heart was in it where it needed to be, and it showed on the race track. We suffered all year long because of it,” Hagan said. “There were a lot of life lessons there – a lot of times where you’d just wake up and you’d just feel helpless.”
Hagan, a 30-year-old whose other profession is cattle ranching in Christiansburg, Va, tied Johnny Gray for most Funny Car wins this season (four), and with 1,151 points, has a firm grip on the top spot in the points with two regular-season races remaining.
As for Top Fuel, it was Shawn Langdon’s race to lose heading into Sunday. He set the track record in qualifying Saturday in the Al-Anabi Racing dragster – the latest display of his recent dominance over the field.
But Lucas scored the upset in the semifinals when Langdon’s car smoked its tires at half-track. Suddenly, with the best car out, Lucas or Grubnic would vie for a first win this season.
Lucas got off the line first. And even after his car blew a cylinder during the run, it had enough juice to hold off Grubnic, now a three-time Top Fuel finalist at Northwest Nationals.
“I feel like this is a symbol we are turning the corner,” said Lucas, who lost to Langdon in the final last weekend in Sonoma, Calif. “The consistency is getting there.”
Nobile has certainly established himself as one of the rising young stars of the sport. He somehow found a way to edge horsepower-king Allen Johnson in the Pro Stock semifinals, and then defeated Coughlin, a four-time world champion, in the finals, 6.586 to 6.615.
In a few weeks, Nobile will start his senior year at Adelphi University on Long Island, N.Y., which is about 20 minutes from where he grew up. He is a business management major.
“I am not much into fraternities and that stuff. But I do something special that not many people my age (21) get to do,” Nobile said. “Back at home on Long Island, no one knows what drag racing is, to be honest. I am kind of under the gun. Nobody but my close friends understand what I do.”
In the sportsman ranks, Puyallup’s Jody Lang not only had a chance to add to his NHRA national-event title haul, going for career victory No. 26, he also had a chance to stop New York driver Dan Fletcher from sweeping Stock and Super Stock for the first time in his career at the same race.
The two veterans met up in the Super Stock final. Lang started a hair early, and was disqualified – handing Fletcher the title.
Fletcher tied Pro Stock legend Bob Glidden for fourth on the all-time list with 85 national-event wins, trailing only Warren Johnson (97), Frank Manzo (100) and Force (135).Todd Milles: 253-597-8442 firstname.lastname@example.org