Tony Stewart’s next racing venture will be in the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) as a team owner. Stewart is starting a new drag racing program that will field two full-time entries in 2022.
His team, Tony Stewart Racing, will continue to operate its sprint car program in Brownsburg, Indiana, while adding entries in different NHRA classes next year. Leah Pruett, Stewart’s fiancée, will drive for the team in Top Fuel. Matt Hagan will drive for the team in Funny Car.
Stewart has deep roots in the racing world as a NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee, a three-time Cup champion and a co-owner of Stewart-Haas Racing. He was a co-founder of the Superstar Racing Experience (SRX) series that aired on CBS last summer, and said that he’s become increasingly interested in NHRA events since last year when he and Pruett began dating.
“I’m not a very good spectator in any format of motorsports,” Stewart said during a press conference in Concord, N.C. on Thursday.
The former NASCAR driver said that he plans to keep his involvement focused on ownership for the new team rather than driving despite the 10 runs he’s made in Pruett’s car. Pruett, meanwhile, will look to help steer the organization from behind the wheel and in the shop as a source of knowledge developed during her 25 consecutive seasons of NHRA competition.
“I think the word that stands out for me 100 percent is ‘stability’ on multiple levels,” Pruett said. “From the competition standpoint, knowing that TSR is going to provide both teams with what they need to be able to compete going to every race with adequate people in place.”
“On the other side of that is the emotional stability,” Pruett continued. “The logic is what has really been paramount in what Tony has brought.”
Hagan, a three-time Funny Car champion with 39 wins in that class, also described the stability that partnering with Stewart provides. Despite a winning record, Hagan’s often had to find and forge partnership deals, but he said that the business connections through Stewart should allow him to focus more on driving. Sponsorship announcements for the team are forthcoming, but Stewart indicated that equipment will be acquired from well-established NHRA team owner Don Schumacher, who Pruett and Hagan compete for. Both drivers credited Schumacher with helping establish their careers.
Stewart said that he met Schumacher in 2009 at U.S. Nationals to lay the foundation for his drag racing interest, but tagging along for Pruett’s racing schedule over the last year has allowed him to see more of the strategy and preparation firsthand.
The racing couple met during an event for their respective sponsors and developed their romantic relationship a few months later at the urging of mutual friend and drag racing legend, Don Prudhomme. That led to Stewart proposing to Pruett in March. They’re set to be married in November, and three months later will debut as team owner and driver.
“We’ve had so many trials along the way of creating the team, of being a couple together while working together,” said Pruett, who has nine Top Fuel wins. “It’s like we’ve been practicing, we’ve been qualifying, and now we get to go race.”
That means it’ll be a packed schedule Stewart in 2022. He said that the addition of an NHRA team doesn’t mean that he’s pulling out of other motorsports series and that he’ll be strategic about splitting his time, although it likely means he’ll do less sprint car racing.
“I hope Leah understands after we get married that we will not have any off weekends because I’ll always be at a racetrack,” Stewart said. “So our weekends will be during the week.”
Pruett said that she’s prepared for that schedule, as well as the next major step in her personal and professional life alongside Stewart.
The 2022 NHRA season opener Feb. 17-20 at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona.