Drag Illustrated Issue 180, January / February 2023 | Page 114

SPECIAL AWARD FOR AMBASSADORS TO THE SPORT OF DRAG RACING |||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||


Tony Stewart has done it all in racing , which means there ’ s not much that grabs his attention after four decades in motorsports . But the pull of drag racing sparked something new in the legendary wheelman , and the sport appears headed for a thrilling trajectory in the near future because of it .
Stewart added on to Tony Stewart Racing heading into the 2022 season , forming a twocar nitro team that features his wife , Leah Pruett , in the Top Fuel ranks , and three-time Funny Car world champ Matt Hagan . The duo combined for four wins in what was a stellar first year for the new program , with Hagan battling down to the wire for a world title .
But Stewart also became an active participant in the sport , making his official NHRA debut behind the wheel of a Top Alcohol Dragster at the NHRA Nevada Nationals in Las Vegas . In true “ Smoke ” fashion , he dazzled the Vegas crowd , advancing to the final round in a successful first outing in the McPhillips Racing-owned dragster . It was another spectacular drag racing experi- ence for Stewart , who has been captivated by the sport ’ s uniqueness and draw .
“ It ’ s just something so different than everything I ’ ve done ,” Stewart says . “ Everything I ’ ve done in my career has been somewhat been under the same umbrella . Every car has its nuance and something different , but you come over here and it ’ s like fantasy island . It ’ s totally different than everything I ’ ve been a part of .
“ For me , it ’ s just nice to have something new that ’ s stimulating . You come over here and it ’ s drastically different and it ’ s stimulated my mind to thinking differently about a lot of different things . You think about how things you learn [ in NHRA ] could apply [ in NASCAR ] and you think of things we do in NASCAR and IndyCar and the sprint car side , some of that we ’ ve been able to bring over here as well .”
Stewart brought his legion of fans into a whole new realm of motorsports and it ’ s had a noticeable effect , both in the pits and on television screens . He stepped into the television booth for a pair of NHRA on FOX events in Indy
Reading – two of the biggest broadcasts of the year – establishing a major presence in the sport .
This wasn ’ t about merely dipping his toes in the drag racing water , either . Stewart jumped in full speed ahead and drag racing is far better for it , with plenty of excitement coming in 2023 . Both Pruett and Hagan return their full teams with big expectations , with Stewart expected to juggle even more on his plate with what could be an even larger racing schedule behind the wheel .
A proven winner – both as a racer and team owner – Stewart appears destined for success in drag racing , too , and with a star power as a great as his , the sport is gladly along for the ride .
Drivers in the NASCAR ranks have repeatedly asked Stewart about his drag racing experience as well , and it ’ s always gone back to how much fun the Hall of Fame is having – a surefire sign he ’ s eager to see what ’ s next .
“ When I ran the Top Fuel car , they had a lot of questions ,” Stewart says . “ It was fun to show them something different because when you get a chance to really get integrated in someone ’ s program , it ’ s like a multiplier of how much you really enjoy the experience .” – RYAN MURRAY DI
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