What would you do for love? If you’re Tony Stewart, one of the most versatile racers in motorsports, you’d help found an NHRA team as part of your effort to give your fiancée a pretty damn stellar car.
Not that Leah Pruett, the fiancée in question, needs his help. Pruett has forged a name for herself as a competitive drag racer across multiple disciplines, but she hasn’t been able to settle into a solid team. But if your future husband has the ability to put together something great, why not take advantage of it?
Tony Stewart Racing, which was initially founded in 2000 and has fielded cars in all kinds of motorsport disciplines, will field two full-time entries in the 2022 NHRA field, Stewart announced during a Thursday press conference. The effort will include a Top Fuel dragster — which is what Pruett will be driving — and one Funny Car set to be driven by three-time Funny Car champion Matt Hagan.
“When I retired from full-time driving, I said it wasn’t the end, but the beginning of a new chapter. This is proof of that,” Stewart said during the press conference. “I appreciate all forms of racing, and I’ve always been intrigued about drag racing and NHRA, in particular. Back in 2009, when Tony Schumacher and I were both representing the U.S. Army, I got to hang out with him and Don Schumacher at the U.S. Nationals. Tony ended up winning, and after taking it all in, I was hooked. But it wasn’t until I met Leah and started going to races regularly, where I saw the strategy and the preparation firsthand, that I truly understood it.”
Beginning with Don Schumacher, I’ve probably annoyed everyone in the paddock with all the questions I’ve asked, but the more I learned about drag racing, the less I wanted to just be a spectator. I want to be an integral part of it. And I don’t do things halfway. I go all in. But I’m smart enough to know that I don’t need to be a rookie owner and a rookie driver, so I made sure to get two of the best NHRA drivers in Leah and Matt. I’m going to lean on their experience so we can hit the ground running in 2022.
I’m new to NHRA, but I’m not new to motorsports. We have good infrastructure in place, and we’re used to building things from the ground up. It makes success that much more rewarding.
Both Pruett and Hagan currently compete for Don Schumacher Racing, which is considered one of the sport’s “megateams.” This move, however, adds two more drivers to a growing list of those who have left the team in the past two years.
It also raises questions about motorsport manufacturers. Pruett and Hagan both have strong ties to Dodge, while Stewart has been more aligned with Ford in recent years. As we learn more about the growth of Stewart’s NHRA project, we’ll likely see some massive shifts in many automakers’ motorsport program plans as well.