Tony Stewart Racing Goes NHRA With Leah Pruett and Matt Hagan
(CONCORD, NC – OCT 14, 2021 – RIS) Tony Stewart announced today that Tony Stewart Racing will field a Top Fuel dragster for his fiancée Leah Pruett and a nitro Funny Car for current champion Matt Hagan.
"I guess this started back in 2009 when I had the honor to meet Don Schumacher and Tony Schumacher through a mutual partner that we had in motorsports together," Stewart said. "I'm not a good spectator in any kind of motorsport," he quipped. The team is "something I'm truly excited about.
"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. 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," Tony said.
Planning for the team has been a long process, involving input from many sources he said. "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," said Stewart. "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."
Tony Stewart Racing began in November, 2000 and has earned 27 owner championships: 14 in USAC, nine in the World of Outlaws (WoO) Sprint Car Series, and four in the All Star Circuit of Champions TQ Midgets. Headed by 10-time WoO champion Donny Schatz, TSR's World of Outlaws sprint car program will continue, with the NHRA and sprint car teams racing out of the present 25,000-square-foot facility in Brownsburg, Ind.
"I'm new to the 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," he said.
Stewart's fiancé and Top Fuel driver Leah Pruett is racing in her 25th year in NHRA, beginning in Jr. Drag Racing League at eight years of age. She was the 2010 NHRA Hot Rod Heritage Racing Series champion in Nostalgia Funny Car and has driven the last eight years in Top Fuel while also competing full time in the NHRA Factory Stock Showdown class, winning in 2018 for Don Schumacher Racing (DSR).
"I'm an NHRA lifer, and nitro racing is my passion," Pruett said. "Don Schumacher gave me an incredible chance when we teamed up back in 2016. I've learned a lot from him, and he's made me a better driver. He helped me take a massive step in my career, and this opportunity with TSR affords another big step. I'm forever grateful to all the individuals who I've been able to work alongside with at DSR. Don's mentoring has prepared me for this new endeavor in more ways than just on the track."
Christiansburg, Virginia's Matt Hagan is three-time and reigning Funny Car champion (2011, 2014, and 2020) after joining DSR in 2009. Hagan is at the top of the Funny Car with three races left in the season. The 38-year-old alternates between racing an 11,000-hp Funny Car down a 1,000-foot straightaway and his 3,200-acre cattle farm.
"I got my start at 13 drag racing a four-wheeler. Went from that to sneaking cars off my dad's lot and returning them with the transmissions nearly gone. I've loved going fast my whole life — from Pro Mod to finding where I thrive in the driver's seat of a Funny Car," Hagan said.
"Don Schumacher has been a huge chapter in my racing career. We've won a whole lot of trophies and multiple championships together over the years, and that's because of the incredible team he's placed around me and the opportunities that he's given us to be successful.
"This next chapter with Tony Stewart is one I'm excited for. I'm ready to go racing. That's what I'm here to do. I'm jumping into this new program with two feet, and I'm confident in the package we're bringing into the 2022 season with TSR. Let's make some history."
Moving to the new team is not Hagan's primary focus until after the end of the 2021 NHRA season: "Don Schumacher has been great to me, and my goal this year is to deliver him another Funny Car championship," Hagan said. "We're in a dogfight, and a lot can happen in three races. I want to go out on top."
Somewhat parallel to the Stewart news is the announcement that Tony Schumacher will return to the wheel of a Top Fuel car for his father's team in 2022.
The winningest Top Fuel driver in NHRA history will return to Don Schumacher Racing in 2022 where he will reprise his role as a championship-contending driver. Eight-time Top Fuel world champion Tony Schumacher will kick-off his campaign for a ninth series title beginning with the 2022 NHRA season-opener in Pomona, Calif. in February, and is slated to run the full 22-race Camping World Series schedule.
Highly-decorated crew chief Todd Okuhara will serve as the lead tuner on the Schumacher-piloted Top Fuel dragster. Okuhara, who has been a member of the DSR family since 2005, has a proven record of success at the Brownsburg, Ind.-based organization where he currently serves as the crew chief on Leah Pruett’s 11,000-horsepower machine.
The Maynard Family, who joined drag racing’s winningest organization in 2021 as a major associate partner, has signed on to support Schumacher as a primary backer in 2022, with additional partners to be announced at a later date.
“We’re thrilled to have Tony return to full-time competition next year aboard The Maynard Family Top Fuel dragster,” said team owner Don Schumacher, who recently added event win No. 366 to his organization’s long list of accomplishments. “Tony and Todd Okuhara are two of the most dominant players in our sport, and I liken this alliance to two powerhouses teaming up. I have no doubt the Tony-Todd combo will find success early on in their 2022 campaign.
Long-time RIS staffer, beginning in the mid-80s. Charlotte, NC area local contact.