NASCAR’s Tony Stewart is going NHRA Top Fuel racing in 2024
Three-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Tony Stewart is going NHRA Top Fuel drag-racing in 2024, replacing his wife, Leah Pruett, who is voluntarily stepping out of the driver’s seat to concentrate on starting a family.
Stewart, 52, and Pruett, 35, have been married since 2021. During their courtship Stewart became enamored with drag racing, and started Tony Stewart Racing, fielding the Top Fuel dragster for Pruett, and a Funny Car for longtime driver Matt Hagan under the Mopar umbrella. Hagan won the championship for 2023, and Pruett was third. Hagan’s team will remain unchanged for 2024.
Stewart himself went Top Alcohol dragster racing for the 2023 season, ending up in second place in the championship, with the best record for off-the-line reaction time in the class.
Pruett, who said on a Zoom call that she isn’t yet pregnant, will drive in the non-NHRA-sanctioned PRO Superstar Shootout, a big-money race in Bradenton, Florida held February 8–10 before formally stepping aside. Stewart is expected to make his debut at the NHRA season opener in Gainesville, Florida, on March 7–10. He had shoulder surgery two weeks ago, but recovery is expected to take two months, so he should be good to go in Gainesville.
Pruett said the initial plan was to hire a driver to replace her, but Stewart “slowly raised his hand and said, ‘What about considering me?’” By that time, “Tony had already made 20 runs in a Top Fuel car, and had been improving.”
Stewart has a long history of driving a variety of racing cars, including USAC midgets and sprint cars, IndyCar, the World of Outlaws, IMSA, and eventually moving full-time to NASCAR, where he retired from competing in 2016 to concentrate on his role as team owner in Stewart-Haas Racing, which fielded cars for Kevin Harvick, Clint Bowyer, Aric Almirola, and others.
Stewart is aware that his presence in the top level of drag racing might attract some curious NASCAR fans to a different discipline of motorsports. What should they look for? “The first thing that stands out is what a family atmosphere it is,” says Stewart. “When a fan buys a ticket to a drag race, they literally can walk anywhere but on the starting line.” The fan experience is quite different from that in NASCAR, IndyCar, and IMSA, he says.
“If you really want to understand it, to get sensory overload, go to the race one time. Everybody that we have brought to an NHRA race for the first time has left there with their eyes wide open saying, ‘That is insane!’ That tells the tale.”