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Funny car driver wows Manteca fans
NHRA Funny Car Driver Matt Hagan signs an autograph for young fan Owen Gully Thursday evening at Bass Pro Shops. - photo by JASON CAMPBELL

By this afternoon Matt Hagan will be launching himself down a 1,000-foot straightaway at speeds in excess of 300 miles per hour.

But on Thursday night the soft-spoken Virginian was all smiles as he greeted fans that showed up for an hour-long autograph session in advance of the FRAM/Autolite NHRA Nationals at Infineon Raceway in Sonoma this weekend. The event was sponsored by Full Throttle Energy Drink.

It gave Hagan – who set a speed record last season in Gainesville, Fla. At 316.15 miles per hour – a chance to meet some of the Northern California fans he’s gotten to know in the three years he’s been making the trek to Sonoma.

“All of the fans up here are very supportive, and everybody is always so friendly,” said Hagan – who threw out the first pitch at a Giants game at AT&T Park last year to coincide with the event. “Early in my career I’m growing my fan base every day, and it’s great to get the chance to come out and meet the fans that really are die-hards in this sport.

“They love it through-and-through.”

For fans like Ann Scholl, who brought a picture of herself with friends Mary Pou and Audra Reiswig at the event last year for Hagan to sign, Thursday’s event was just another example of how NHRA drivers make themselves accessible to those who support them in their on-track endeavors.

Not every racing series, Scholl said, presents those opportunities.

“What I love about it is that you get the chance to be up close and take pictures with these guys,” she said. “After they’re done with what they have to do they make it a point to come over and talk with their fans. They’re really nice, and that’s not something that you see at events like NASCAR where the drivers are shielded.”

The three women will be in attendance at the event finals on Sunday.

Randy Flores, however, had a little something special for Hagan to sign in addition to the shiny cards that he distributed to the fans that came by the table.

Tucked under his arm in a plastic bag was a brand new NHRA 60th Anniversary T-shirt that he wanted to give Hagan the honor of signing. For the last 25 years Flores has been a devoted drag racing fan. Flores is looking forward to the action in Wine Country.

“I love the sights, the sounds and the smell. I love it all,” Flores said. “We go to Infineon every year, and you get a chance the meet the guys and get autographs. It’s a good place to go with friends and family.”

Currently Hagan is fifth in points in the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing standings. He’s a member of the Don Schumacher Racing team, and drives the DieHard Top Fuel Funny Car.