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Words and Photos by Richard Kratz and Alex Rogeo
RICHARD’S STORY: We were at a dyno day in Los Angeles when I got the phone call from Jeff Wolf PR guru at Don Schumacher Racing. After hanging up I asked Alex, “How’d you like to shadow world champion Matt Hagan for a day at Pomona as part of a behind-the-scenes story?”
“What? Seriously?” she asked.
“Yeah, you’ll shadow Matt for a whole day and I’ll shadow [crew chief] Tommy DeLago.”And that’s how we ended up here, February 9, 2012, the Thursday of the 2012 O’Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Winternationals at Pomona. Since Alex is a sportsman driver and I’m a sportsman crew chief each of us is about to spend a day living the life of our pro counterparts on the Aaron's/MOPAR Don Schumacher Racing world championship funny car team. Yeah, we know, it’s a brutal job sometimes, but someone has to do it.
ALEX’S STORY: You hear a lot about how some world Champion drivers show up late and leave early. They come there to do their job, look cool and get paid for doing it. But for Funny Car champ Matt Hagan, it’s a totally different day at the races. The plan for us as media was to get there at nine o’clock sharp to start the day; so naturally, Richard and I arrived at the pit at exactly 8:59 am. We were told that the crew would get there in a few minutes, and Matt would come a few hours later. But that’s not what happened at all. As we’re standing outside the empty looking pit with almost no one around awaiting the start of our unusual day, we hear a familiar voice behind us, “Hey guys, how you doin’?” A smiling Matt comes riding up on his pit scooter and greets us at exactly two minutes after nine in the morning, before anyone else has even arrived. It was clear to me right then that this day was going to be like no other.
RICHARD: 9:34 AM: A Dodge Durango arrives at the pits with the crew. The rope is opened and the day begins. First order of business is unloading the Siamesed double trailers that are the crew’s shop away from home for the weekend.
Each trailer is a stacker, with the race car, a spare race car, pit cart and other parts stored upstairs. The downstairs hold machine shop tools such as a lathe, mill, press, etc., and lots of cabinets and storage.
There’s a large opening in the middle of the two trailers which becomes a hallway when at the races. In the front of the right hand trailer is the crew chief’s headquarters, where crew chief Tommy DeLago and assistant crew chief Glen Huszar sit in front of four computer monitors where they can view data and access the Internet. Driver Matt Hagan’s locker is in the chief’s quarters as well.
I have to be honest with you, I felt a little bit intrusive and out of place at first. I’m always more comfortable when I’m using a camera so I started taking the first of my 400 photos for the day. Crew member Russ is working on the tires. Five pairs of tires are stacked on the side of the pit and Russ starts on the first pair. A nitro funny car can get seven runs out of a pair tires, which works out to a mileage guarantee of 1.75 miles, a bit less than the Goodyears on your car or mine.