BROWNSBURG, Ind. — Tony Stewart Racing has finalized its crew chief lineup for the team’s debut in the NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series with Top Fuel driver Leah Pruett and Funny Car pilot Matt Hagan.
Neal Strausbaugh will be the crew chief for nine-time Top Fuel event winner Pruett and Dickie Venables will continue his longtime role as the crew chief for 39-time Funny Car event winner Hagan. Both Strausbaugh and Venables come to TSR from Don Schumacher Racing where the duo have spent a combined 25 years.
Strausbaugh has been an assistant crew chief since 2008 working across both Top Fuel and Funny Car — first with Cory McClenathan in Top Fuel (2008), Tony Schumacher in Top Fuel (2009-2016), Jack Beckman in Funny Car (2017-2018) and Pruett (2019-present). Venables has had two stints at DSR, spending 2010-2011 with Funny Car driver Johnny Gray before returning in 2013 to lead Hagan’s Funny Car effort.
“Joe Gibbs taught me a long time ago that you win with people, and Neal and Dickie are the right guys to help build this team and get it ready for next year,” said team owner Tony Stewart. “For the past year-and-a-half, I’ve gotten to know Neal and Dickie and have seen firsthand how they work and interact with everyone on the crew. Both have a strong work ethic and know what they’re doing, but they also know each other and their drivers really well. That kind of familiarity and continuity is massively important as we build this program from the ground up.”
Strausbaugh will be joined at TSR with co-crew chief Mike Domagala and car chief Ryan McGilvry. Venables is bringing the same personnel who have helped Hagan earn two of his three Funny Car titles (2014 and 2020) and compete for a potential second straight championship in the season-ending Auto Club Finals this weekend in Pomona, California. Specifically, co-crew chief Michael Knudsen and car chief Alex Conaway will continue with Venables at TSR.
“Being a part of TSR is a dream situation,” said Strausbaugh, a native of Hillsboro, Illinois. “There are a lot of great people who are a part of this team, and it starts at the top with Tony. It’s built by racers, for racers, and we have all the resources we need to be successful.”
While Venables knows what he’s doing next year, the Texan who has spent the last 25 years in Plainfield, Ind., is intently focused on the present this weekend at Pomona. Hagan is second in the championship standings heading into the season finale.
“We’d like nothing more than to do well this weekend and be able to take the championship,” Venables said. “We’ve got a lot to take care of, but I’m looking forward to what’s coming shortly thereafter.
“I’ve been doing this a lot of years and I honestly haven’t looked forward to a program as much as I’m looking forward to this one. Being able to bring all my guys over will help us get started on the right foot and really grow this program.”
TSR will make its NHRA debut during the season opener Feb. 17-20 at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona.