BRISTOL, Tenn. — When the World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Cars Series field rolled into Bristol Motor Speedway this week, one of the invited drivers who surprised many onlookers was Derek Hagar.
The Marion, Ark., native and 360 sprint car ace doesn’t install a 410ci engine in his familiar No. 9jr too often, but when he does, “it’s a special occasion and we’re going to have fun.”
Hagar lived up to that assertion during open testing ahead of the Bristol Throwdown on Thursday, making solid laps in all five practice sessions and keeping his car clean.
The chance to race at The Last Great Colosseum was one Hagar said he couldn’t pass up when it was offered to him.
“Man, this is pretty cool,” Hagar told Sprint Car & Midget. “It’s wicked cool to be part of this, when you consider the history we’re making here. It’s the first time in 20 years that this [racing sprint cars at Bristol] has happened and, you know, when we got the invite I wasn’t going to turn it down.
“I didn’t want to miss [being] part of history and being able to say, ‘Hey, I was there.’”
Though many competitors admitted to some anxiety in advance of Thursday’s test day at the .526-mile, dirt-covered high banks, Hagar said that once he got out on track, it was smooth sailing in his mind.
“I was more nervous in the pits,” he tipped. “Looking at the place, it’s intimidating from the infield, but once I got on the race track, man, it just felt like any other race track until we got [up] to speed. After that, the wing speed really started taking over.”
Because of the high speeds drivers experienced during practice, Hagar noted his crew actually changed an engine in advance of Friday’s program to gain some additional horsepower.
“I’m a quarter-mile guy, so this is totally different than the tracks we’re used to [running], but I feel like we made some good laps,” Hagar said. “We’re going to put a different power plant in tomorrow that has got a little more power and see if we can pick up some [lap] time compared to the rest of the field.”
During the nighttime practice session Thursday, Hagar stuck close to Stenhouse Jr.-Marshall Racing driver Sheldon Haudenschild’s NOS Energy Drink-backed No. 17 to figure out a productive line to run.
“I got behind Sheldon in that last eight-lap practice that we had, and tried to watch him. I just didn’t feel like we had enough motor,” Hagar explained. “I was flat on the floor [with the gas pedal] and she was bogging down a little bit coming off the corner. That was where I could tell that he was stretching away from us. But earlier in those practice sessions, I would open up my [corner] entry and back down in the corners and it was a little rough down in turns three and four.
“Once I’d get some speed off the banking coming down off three, it would bottom out really bad and really upset the car. So we just have to work on that and try to get the car a little bit happier,” Hagar added. “I feel like if we go out there and get a good qualifying lap in and position ourselves well for the heat race, we can transfer straight into the show.”
Hagar noted a successful weekend for his team would be making both features at Bristol and rolling the car back into the trailer unscathed.
If he can contend for a top finish, “that’s a bonus,” Hagar said.
“It’s going to be about where you start. I don’t believe there will be any passing,” he added. “It’s likely going to be about finishing where you start and, if somebody messes up in front of you, that would be a good spot to take advantage of. We just need to finish in the top five or six … whatever they’re taking out the heat races and that way we won’t even have to worry about running the B Main.
“All in all, though, I’m trying to soak it in a little bit. It really is an honor to be here.”
Hot laps for Friday’s Bristol Throwdown program are slated for 6 p.m. ET at Bristol Motor Speedway.