AUBURN HILLS, Mich. — The motorsports duo of Leah Pruett and Tony Stewart made major news at the annual PRI Show in Indianapolis today regarding their respective racing careers.
Pruett announced she will temporarily step away from driving duties in the upcoming NHRA Mission Foods Pro Drag Racing Series to focus on starting a family with husband Stewart, who will race the full season in her place in the Tony Stewart Racing team’s 11,000-horsepower Dodge//SRT Direct Connection Top Fuel dragster.
Just one round win away from earning the coveted NHRA Top Fuel world championship last month at the season-ending NHRA Finals in Pomona, California, Pruett enjoyed her greatest Top Fuel season this year with two wins and a third-place finish in the final Top Fuel points standings, proving her dragster was a top contender against the highly competitive Top Fuel field.
Motorsports legend Stewart, a series champion in NASCAR, IndyCar and in USAC, takes over the controls of the team’s Top Fuel machine with another championship in his sights.
Stewart will make his Top Fuel driving debut at the season-opening NHRA Gatornationals, March 7-10.
“We are thrilled to welcome Hall of Fame racer Tony Stewart as the new full-time driver of the Dodge//SRT Direct Connection Top Fuel dragster for the upcoming 2024 NHRA Mission Foods Pro Drag Racing Series,” said Tim Kuniskis, Dodge brand chief executive officer – Stellantis. “With her decision to temporarily step back from a full-time racing career, we also recognize all Leah Pruett has accomplished in her many years competing and winning under the Dodge and Mopar banners. We’re extremely excited that Leah will continue next year as an at-track ambassador for our brands.
“Tony is a motorsports legend, and along with 2023 NHRA Funny Car champion Matt Hagan, we know the Tony Stewart Racing team will continue to demonstrate that Direct Connection parts are championship-proven examples of premier performance on the track and on the street.”
With her desire to focus on starting a family with Stewart, and after consultation with TSR team owner Stewart, crew chief Neal Strausbaugh and car chief Mike Domagala, Pruett, with a 27-year drag-racing career, made the decision to step away and hand the reigns of the Top Fuel dragster to her husband.
“This decision did not happen overnight, and I feel that stepping out of the seat right now is what’s best for myself and Tony to start a family,” said Pruett, a 12-time NHRA Top Fuel national event winner. “This has been one of the most difficult decisions to make because of what we have collectively created at TSR, a highly successful program and enjoyable operation.
“I’m excited about how competitive this team is, and to be able to have Tony compete in a very safe, vetted, well-performing car with an established team.”
It was Pruett’s decision to step away from driving at this time but the veteran racer will be actively involved in the TSR organization and team strategies.
“I am very proud of my wife,” said Stewart. “To make a decision like this must be extremely hard. We had discussed starting a family and this was her decision. I was very supportive as to whether she wanted to do it now or years from now. I’m very humbled that Leah and Neal felt I was the driver to fill in for her. I feel honored that I can do that for my wife and this team.”
Stewart’s drag-racing career began in 2022 with a close loss in his debut in the Top Alcohol Dragster category in Las Vegas, but the Indiana driver returned for a full season this year and placed second in the NHRA national points, including wins at Las Vegas and Reading, Pa.
“I enjoyed my time in the Top Alcohol Dragster class,” explained Stewart. “I absolutely loved racing with the McPhillips Racing family. But to have an opportunity like this, where you have your wife, who’s also a driver, and the crew chief feel I’m capable to come in and drive the car is very flattering. It’s an honor to be able to fill in for her until she’s ready to come back.”
Stewart’s teammate will be reigning Funny Car World Champion Matt Hagan, who scored his fourth title last month at the NHRA Finals in the TSR Direct Connection Dodge//SRT Hellcat. Hagan believes his team owner will be an excellent addition.
“It’s a great move for Leah, who wanted to start a family,” said Hagan. “I’m so happy for the two of them. It was challenging for Leah to step out of the seat. It’s a personal and private situation for Leah and Tony and I respect that. And she can come back when she wants as well. And for Tony, he’s a natural and a champion in whatever he has driven.
“He’s a great team owner as well, and he has driven Leah’s car and my car in testing. He was outstanding in both of them. I believe Tony will be a contender this year.”