Why Tony Stewart Refuses to Race in NHRA Top Fuel Dragster Class against Wife Leah Pruett
Tony Stewart, master of most motorsports, said he isn’t ready right now for an 11,000-horsepower NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series Top Fuel dragster and will stick with the Top Alcohol dragster in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series.
Avoiding a race-day pairing against wife Leah Pruett, Stewart figures, will ensure a more peaceful marriage.
He’ll continue to field the Top Fuel dragster of Pruett and the Funny Car of Matt Hagan while further exploring straight-line sport.
News that Tony Stewart would run a full NHRA season this year was a Valentine’s Day treat for drag-racing fans but not nearly as much a surprise as it was for the rest of the motorsports world.
However, many drag-racing fans had predicted the decorated driver would step up to a Top Fuel dragster and compete in the Camping World Drag Racing Series. Instead, he opted for a slate of 14 Top Alcohol Dragster events for the McPhillips Racing team in the sportsman-level Lucas Oil Series as he continues to operate wife Leah Pruett’s Top Fuel entry and Matt Hagan’s Funny Car at Tony Stewart Racing.
So what’s keeping Stewart from racing an 11,000-horsepower, nitromethane-powered Top Fuel dragster? He said Tuesday he has three good reasons.
“I’m not ready for it, first of all," Stewart said on Tuesday. "I’ve driven a Top Fuel car 16 runs, and every run I make in it, every time I finish that run, the more I realize that I am not ready to drive a Top Fuel dragster. And I don’t belong in one right now."
“It’s fine to test with it,” he said. “But the thing with that series and that division [is that] those cars are so fast that my brain is so far behind the car that if something happens, I don’t know that I could catch it or be ready for it. And that bothers me more than anything.
“The second thing,” Stewart said, “is one that I think is just a very simple answer: The last thing I want to do is have to race against my wife, because I like my side of the bed every night when I go to bed. You’re either going to have to throw the race away and red-light or you’re going to have to shut it off half-track or something if I accidentally got out in front of her. I don’t know how well you know my wife, but it would not be a matter of ‘Hey—you’re going to sleep on the couch tonight.’ I don’t know what state I’m going to have to sleep in. At some point, you’ve got to pick your poison.”
And for him, financial fitness is just as significant as marital harmony.
“Honestly, we don’t have the resources to have a second Top Fuel car at this point,” Stewart said. “I want to make sure that I’m doing the best job of getting Leah’s team and Matt’s team all the resources they need and making sure that we’re paying the bills right now before we try to add anything more to it. Those things don’t run for free. To add a third car is something I’m definitely not ready for right now.”
The question fans would like an answer to is whether Stewart ever will make the move to drag racing’s pro ranks. And that’s one Stewart himself doesn’t know, no matter if he’s talking about NHRA, NASCAR, or sprint-car racing.
“I don’t have a long-term plan for my driving career. We take it one step at a time. What is this leading to? We don’t know,” he said. “We didn’t know when we went to Vegas [last fall]. I just wanted to experience a full race weekend and see what it’s like. I had so much fun that I really want to do it again. We wanted to be smart about it. I needed to go through a weekend to see ‘Is this something I really want to do?’ I had so much fun during that weekend, as hectic and chaotic as it was and not streamlined at times. I had a blast. So that put the full-court press on trying to get something done with these guys (Rich McPhillips Sr. and Jr.).
“If all I do is run an alcohol car, then, I mean, there wasn’t anybody at the Daytona 500 weekend last weekend that can say they ran 275 miles an hour. So I got everybody beat on the speed chart at Daytona, no matter whether they won or not,” Stewart said. “So if I don’t do any more than what I’m doing, that’s OK. And if I get an opportunity and have desire and people are crazy enough to say they think I’ve got talent to move up one day, we feel like we do have that time left in the hourglass.”
In his only competitive drag-racing start, Stewart was runner-up to Madison Payne at the Las Vegas Nationals last Oct. 30 at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
He said, “I don’t feel like I don’t know what to expect now. I feel like I have a lot better understanding of what I’m going to go through on a race weekend, from who I’m lining up with to procedures and etiquette. All those variables that I didn’t know, I think I’ve got that part out of the way, to a certain degree. I think there’s a lot of things that’ll happen that I still need to learn. But I think I definitely feel a lot more comfortable going into it.
“There’s still a lot to learn about it, though,” Stewart said. “I don’t want anybody to think that in my head that I ran one race and made it to the finals and I’ve got it all figured out. That’s not at all the case. I had so much fun that I made the decision that if it was possible for me to do this more this year that I would put every effort into putting a program together where I could race full time. And I’m super-excited about getting to do that again.
“It’s got me to where I’m so I’m like a little kid . . . where I’m vibrating I’m so excited,” he said.
Stewart will miss two of the 14 scheduled events, the July 21-23 Seattle race and the Aug. 11-13 Topeka race, because of FOX Sports and NASCAR commitments.