Tony Stewart Is Happy about Drag Racing, Not So Happy about NASCAR

Jeff Speer/Icon Sportswire/Getty Images

Tony Stewart is a three-time NASCAR Cup champion, an IndyCar champion, an IROC champion, and a USAC Silver Crown sprint car and midget champion.

At 52, he’d like to add one more: The National Hot Rod Association Top Fuel championship.

Beginning with the NHRA season opener, the Gatornationals at Gainesville Raceway on March 7–10, Stewart will take over the driving duties for his wife, Leah Pruett, in the Tony Stewart Racing 11,000-horsepower, 330-mph Top Fuel car. In 2023, Stewart made his drag racing season debut in a Top Alcohol Dragster, finishing the year second in the standings. But while a Top Alcohol car is fast, a Top Fuel dragster is fast.

“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little bit nervous about it,” Stewart told Hagerty Media. “But I was a little bit nervous when I went to Daytona for my first Daytona 500, I was nervous before my first Indianapolis 500, I was nervous the first time I got in a full-sized sprint car. I would say it’d be more disturbing if I said I wasn’t a little bit nervous.”

This weekend, Stewart is at the big-money SCAG Power Equipment PRO Superstar Shootout at Bradenton Motorsports Park, just south of Tampa. It’s the first major drag race in decades that isn’t sanctioned by the NHRA—it’s sanctioned by PRO, the Professional Racers Organization, whose members are a who’s who in drag racing. Last year, Stewart was elected to the board.

But Stewart won’t be driving this weekend—it’ll be Pruett’s last race before she steps aside, as she and Stewart are trying to start a family (nothing yet to report on that front, he said). The total purse for the PRO Shootout, the richest drag race in history, is $1.3 million, with $250,000 going to the winner of Top Fuel and Funny Car, and $125,000 to the winner of the Pro Stock class. Pruett, 35, has nine NHRA wins and finished a close third in the 2023 championship.

Tony Stewart and wife Leah Pruett
Pruett congratulates Stewart on winning his class at the NHRA Four-Wide Nationals Camping World Drag Racing Series on April 16, 2023. Jeff Speer/Icon Sportswire/Getty Images

Stewart and Pruett met at an outing hosted in Utah by the late Ken Block in 2020, and were married a year later. Stewart started a drag racing team with a Top Fuel car driven by Pruett, and a Funny Car driven by Matt Hagan, the current NHRA champion. Stewart still plays a large role in NASCAR, as he and partner Gene Haas own Stewart-Haas Racing, a four-car NASCAR Cup team with drivers Josh Berry, Ryan Preece, Noah Gragson, and Chase Briscoe. Stewart also owns the dirt sprint car driven by Donnie Schatz, a 10-time World of Outlaws champion.

But it’s at drag races where you can usually find Stewart on weekends. “I enjoy it. I enjoy the people, I enjoy the atmosphere, the camaraderie—nothing against the other series, but it has an old-school feel that I haven’t seen in a long time. When I say that I don’t mean that it’s primitive at all, but the amount of fun that I’ve had there, even before I started driving, is considerable. On Friday and Saturday evenings, when the fans have all gone home and the crews are finishing up on their cars, we’re visiting with other teams and socializing and doing things we used to do way back in the day.

“That’s almost non-existent in motorsports. Some of the short-track guys will still hang out with each other when they’re traveling down the road in between races, but aside from that, you really don’t see it anymore.”

Tony Stewart NHRA Nevada Nationals
Jeff Speer/Icon Sportswire/Getty Images

Some fans have speculated that the PRO race may be causing some friction with the NHRA, but Stewart disagrees. “There was a lot of animosity at the beginning from the NHRA, but we’re trying some different things that, if they work, maybe the NHRA can adapt down the road and keep growing the sport. This is not the proverbial pissing contest. Teams go south and do pre-season testing, and this event includes two-and-a-half days of testing that teams want to do anyway, with two-and-a-half days of an event attached to it. So to be able to race for the money offered up, and to have a unique format—I mean, I’ve never seen a Top Fuel dragster race a Funny Car. To be able to see that with the cars that don’t make the field—that’s going to be unique. I know it’s been done before, but I’ve never seen it.”

Bradenton Motorsports Park has been open since 1974, but has never hosted an event this size. “The group at Bradenton has done an amazing job to accommodate what needed to happen to make this event possible,” Stewart said. “I don’t think there would have been too many venues outside Bradenton that would have had the balls to make changes that we needed for this event—they haven’t blinked, they haven’t flinched, and that’s one of the reasons why we think this event will be a success.”

Stewart also addressed the challenges that face Stewart-Haas Racing, the NASCAR team. The past two seasons have been “miserable,” Stewart said, and its two most experienced drivers, Kevin Harvick and Aric Almirola, left at the end of 2023. Stewart has taken a lot of criticism, especially on social media, about the lack of competitiveness of Stewart-Haas, with many of the comments centered around the fact that Stewart is spending more time at NHRA races than NASCAR races, and he isn’t happy about it.

Tony Stewart portrait
Stewart, co-owner of Stewart-Hass Racing looks on during qualifying for the NASCAR Cup Series Championship at Phoenix Raceway on November 04, 2023 in Avondale, Arizona. Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

During the off-season, “I’ve spent more time in the NASCAR shop than I ever have, in all honesty. I can’t tell you what the results are going to be, but I can tell you that whatever they are, it’s not going to be for lack of effort on anybody’s part.

“I’m tired of hearing race fans complain that I’m not at the racetrack enough—somebody has to have the common sense to remind these fans that I’m not the crew chief, I’m not the engineer, I don’t make the pit strategy calls, I’m not the spotter—my job is to put the people in place to do those jobs. Whatever it is we’re missing is not because we don’t have good people.

“It’s frustrating on my side. It shows me how uneducated some of these fans are, and how they start talking before they think about what they’re saying. You can’t be in every place every time, and I’m not going to go to every NASCAR race. Even if I wasn’t racing in the NHRA, I wouldn’t go to every NASCAR event. It doesn’t mean I don’t care about our race teams, it doesn’t mean I don’t care about our drivers, and it doesn’t mean I don’t care about the results.

“For 20-plus years, NASCAR dominated my life. Now, I’m going to get some of my life back, and do some of the things I want to do, but it doesn’t mean that if we don’t have the results, I’m not putting effort into it. I don’t understand why people would say, after two seasons that went rough, that it’s because I’m not there. I’m confused and baffled by some of the stuff that you read, and the stuff you hear. Just baffled.”

Tony Stewart of Stewart-Hass Racing Josh Berry announcement press conference
Stewart talks with the media during a press conference introducing Josh Berry as the new driver of the #4 Stewart-Hass Racing Ford Mustang at Charlotte Motor Speedway on June 21, 2023 in Concord, North Carolina. Grant Halverson/Getty Images

Stewart admitted that he spent more time reading social media comments than he should have. “I had shoulder surgery the day before Thanksgiving, and I literally couldn’t do anything the first two weeks. So I went on the computer, and there was so much on social media—these people have no clue as to what’s going on. They just turn the TV on every Sunday and think they know everything. And they don’t know anything. It’s amusing to read some of it.

“It was a good reminder to just go do your thing. We don’t do all this for them, we do it for ourselves.”

For information about the PRO Shootout, which starts today and runs through Saturday, go to For information about the NHRA Gatornationals, log onto




Check out the Hagerty Media homepage so you don’t miss a single story, or better yet, bookmark it. To get our best stories delivered right to your inbox, subscribe to our newsletters.

Read next Up next: Auction Recap: RM Sotheby’s Arizona 2024


    Stewart was an IRL champion, not an IndyCar champion. I think that’s a big enough distinction to mention.

    Tony loved racing in NASCAR but he hated all the politics and drama.

    Tony was like his Godfather Foyt. Just let me drive.

    I expect him to cash out of NASCAR soon.

    I would not be shocked if at some point he takes over leadership of the NHRA. They could use his leadership.

    I think people should show Tony some Respect & not give him a hard time for Drag Racing. He has done a bunch of other types of Racing why not NHRA? I’ve watched NASCAR Since I can Remember but they opened a Dragstrip around 1970 Local & we Went There. Been to Many, Many Dragstrips, Twice to US Nationals, but mostly in Texas & Louisiana. Still watch NASCAR But if NHRA was on TV same time I’d be watching the Drags. Go Tony, Go!!!!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *