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'The Kid' Matt Hagan hopes to deny John Force his 15th NHRA funny car title

October 19, 2010 |  1:07 pm

Matt Hagan was only 8 years old when John Force won the first of a remarkable 14 NHRA funny car drag-racing championships. Now Hagan is hoping to block Force from winning a 15th title. Force

The 61-year-old Force, head of a Yorba Linda-based team and long among the sport's most popular drivers, led the funny car points in the National Hot Rod Assn.'s premier Full Throttle Series for much of the season.

But Hagan, 27, assumed the lead after the most recent race, and the Virginian -- who is seeking his first championship -- now leads by 64 points over Force with two events left, at Las Vegas on Oct. 28-31 and at Pomona on Nov. 11-14.

"That Force camp over there is a first-class operation and John is a world champion for a reason," Hagan said in a teleconference with reporters Tuesday. "I'll try not to add any extra pressure on myself."

Hagan Force, in turn, said "I'm going to give that kid everything I've got."

"We can't count on Hagan to make mistakes," said Force, who has rebounded from serious injuries in a drag-racing crash in Dallas in 2007. "I'm going to need every point I can if I'm going to catch this kid."

In the NHRA's other leading division, top fuel, two-time champion Larry Dixon has 12 wins this season and an 89-point lead over Cory McClenathan in the title standings. If Dixon wins his third title, it will snap Tony Schumacher's streak of six consecutive top-fuel championships.

-- Jim Peltz

Photos: Top, legendary funny car drag racer John Force greets fans at an NHRA race at zMax Dragway in Concord, N.C., on Sept. 19. Credit: Rusty Jarrett / Getty Images. Botton, Matt Hagan completes a funny car qualifying run Oct. 9 at Maple Grove Raceway in Mohnton, Pa. Credit: Jerry Foss / Associated Press.