In the race shop this week in Brownsburg, Ind., the Tony Stewart Racing (TSR) Nitro teams made a decision to become more aggressive in the final four races in the NHRA Camping World drag racing series. That theory proved successful this weekend at the NHRA Midwest Nationals, with Dodge//SRT racers Matt Hagan and Leah Pruett racing to an event win and runner-up finish, respectively.
After losing races by inches at the Reading and Charlotte events the past two weeks, TSR Dodge//SRT drivers Hagan and Pruett made their presence known for the coveted points championships with sensational performances in the hot temperatures and a tricky track surface at the World Wide Technology Raceway drag strip near St. Louis.
For Hagan and his Dickie Venables-led crew, the NHRA Midwest Nationals was an important round in the six-race “Countdown to the Championship” with the driver of the TSR American Rebel Dodge//SRT Hellcat Funny Car knowing a victory Sunday would put him back in the chase for his fourth NHRA World title.
After qualifying fifth in the 16-car field, Hagan drove his 11,000-horspower Dodge//SRT Hellcat past Alexis DeJoria, John Force and Bob Tasca III in early rounds before facing reigning World Champion Ron Capps in the final. Hagan posted the best reaction time of the day (0.029) to leave the starting line ahead of Capps and was never headed with a winning 3.991 run to Capps’ 4.025.
Hagan’s victory was his 48th career NHRA Funny Car win and vaulted him to just 13 points behind the points leader as the series travels to the Texas Motorplex on Oct. 13-15 for the Texas NHRA Fallnationals.
“We wanted to be aggressive going into these last four events,” said Hagan. “Dickie and I had a long talk about our plans to run for the championship and he said, ‘I need you to be great on the starting line,’ and I said to him, ‘I need you to be more aggressive with the race car.’ We are working hand and hand, and it worked well today. I wanted Leah to get a win today too, for a TSR double.
“Man, we are back in this thing for the championship, just 13 points back with third races to go. I know we are capable as a team to win another title. Beating Ron Capps in the final was big for us. I have a lot for respect for Ron, Guido (Dean Antonelli, crew chief) and that team. And beating them is a big win for us”.
Venables knew the Midwest Nationals race was a critical stop for the TSR team and a win was almost mandatory to get back in the World Championship fight.
“We knew coming here that we needed a win,” said Venables. “It was a very tricky track here this weekend and we did a great job managing it. Hagan did a super job all weekend driving, and I can’t say enough about the guys who work on this car. They work their hearts out and give us a flawless setup every round. We are excited with this win.”
Pruett, the Top Fuel winner in the NHRA Summit Nationals in June, made her fourth final round appearance of the year and secured victories Sunday over Shawn Langdon, point leader Doug Kalitta and Steve Torrence in the early rounds before facing Clay Millican in the final.
Driving the TSR Code 3 Associates Dodge//SRT Top Fuel dragster, Pruett posted a 3.775 to Millican’s 3.758 for the runner-up position. With a strong showing Sunday, Pruett jumped to second in the NHRA Camping World Top Fuel points standings behind Kalitta with three races remaining in the 21-event national tour.
“What an incredible and solid weekend for our team, not only making points progress overall, but we’ve had the most reactive car to our tune-up changes we’ve had all season,” said Pruett. “It was a wild day starting off with round one and the win over (Shawn) Langdon. That was a big second round win with Doug Kalitta, the points leader. Going into the semifinals, we did not have lane choice and Steve (Torrence) put us over there in the left lane. I’m extremely proud of this team. The crew’s work ethic has been maintained throughout this whole season and that shows the attention to detail of the car.
The Texas NHRA Fallnationals schedule includes two nitro qualifying sessions on Friday, Oct. 13 at 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. CDT and two nitro qualifying rounds on Saturday, Oct. 14 at 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. CDT. The final eliminations will get underway on Sunday, Oct. 15 at noon CDT.
Fox Sports 1 telecasts for the Texas NHRA Fallnationals will take place Sunday, Oct. 15, with the qualifying show at 1 p.m. EDT. The final eliminations will be televised on Fox Sports 1 on Sunday, Oct. 15 at 3 p.m. EDT.