Stewart enters NHRA with fiancee Leah Pruett, Matt Hagan

CONCORD, NC – First the woman, then the fastest cars in the race.

Tony Stewart, who has fallen in love with the NHRA while accompanying his fiancee Leah Pruett on her races for the past two seasons, will officially join the sport in 2022. The NASCAR Hall of Fame driver will add two full-time entries to the NHRA. Tony Stewart Racing next season – a Top Fuel entry for Pruett and a Funny Car for Matt Hagan.

“This is a unique opportunity to control my own destiny with my near-husband in a sport that I am absolutely passionate about,” Pruett told The Associated Press. “It’s an experience and an opportunity that no one would pass up, and I feel like I’ve prepared my whole life for something like this – to apply all my talents to something great in partnership and to alongside someone with similar goals. “

Pruett and Hagan are currently competing for Don Schumacher Racing, which announced on Wednesday that eight-time Top Fuel champion Tony Schumacher will return to the squad full-time next year and be teamed up with the current Pruett crew chief. .

Stewart made his announcement Thursday and said the new NHRA team will operate alongside its sprint car teams at TSR’s existing 25,000 square foot facility in Brownsburg, Indiana. Stewart, part owner of the NASCAR Stewart-Haas Racing team, has won 27 owner’s championships in sprint car racing.

“It wasn’t until I met Leah and started racing regularly, where I saw the strategy and preparation with my own eyes, that I really understood it,” said Stewart told the AP. “I annoyed everyone in the paddock by asking so many questions, including Don Schumacher, and the more I learned about drag racing, I knew I didn’t want to be a spectator. I wanted to have a role and be thoroughly. “

Pruett is in his 25th NHRA season and is entering drag racing at the age of 8 in the junior league. She won the 2010 NHRA Hot Rod Heritage Racing Series Championship in the Nostalgia Funny Car category and has spent the past eight years advancing in Top Fuel.

The 33-year-old did double duty for several years, also participating in the NHRA Factory Stock Showdown. She won the 2018 title for Schumacher.

Hagan, who has been driving for Schumacher since 2009, is the reigning three-time Funny Car champion. He currently leads the Funny Car standings with three races to go in the season. He has 39 event wins.

“Don Schumacher has been a huge chapter in my racing career and we have won many trophies and championships together,” said Hagan. “This next chapter with Tony Stewart is one I’m excited for. I’m ready I’m going into this new program with both feet and I’m confident in the package we’re bringing for the 2022 season with TSR.”

Because TSR will be a Schumacher customer, Stewart is expected to be a Dodge team in the NHRA, but he did not make a manufacturer announcement on Thursday. Stewart-Haas Racing is a Ford team in NASCAR and Ford also competes in the NHRA and has helped Stewart learn to drive a dragster since he became passionate about the racing series.

Stewart and Pruett are set to tie the knot next month and the three-time NASCAR champion has said they will forgo a honeymoon to be ready for the NHRA season opener Feb. 17-20 at Auto Club Raceway of Pomona, California.

Neither of them expects tensions to form in this new chapter in their relationship, which Pruett has made clear: “I am the Top Fuel rider of Tony Stewart Racing.”

“I think it’s going to be fine, I mean it’s not going to be flat, it’s going to be pulses because we have hearts and they are beating,” Pruett said. “But we know it will work. Seeing things that have happened in other series, teams and tracks, I was able to understand his thought process for solving problems and finding solutions.

“It made me think, ‘This is someone I would love to work with, knowing where his head and his heart are.’ Moving forward and working together is not jumping into something unknown, I saw how he works firsthand. ”

Stewart said he and Pruett barely discussed how to handle their new working relationship.

“I understand what has to be happening on the pro side, and the racing side is the racing side,” said Stewart. “You don’t bring the business stuff to the personal side, and vice versa. Leah is a smart woman, she’s a smart businesswoman, and she understands that there has to be a difference between the owner and the driver. , and I don’t think it creates an unhealthy environment for me to be the owner of the car and she the driver.

“I don’t feel that this is going to put us on the relationship level in a problem or a difficult situation. We have no reason not to get along. “

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