- The 54th NHRA Gatornationals at Gainesville (Fla.) Raceway is the first event on the NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series’ 21-race calendar in 2023. Tony Stewart Racing (TSR) brings its two full-time entries – one in Top Fuel for 10-time Top Fuel winner Leah Pruett and one in Funny Car for 43-time Funny Car winner and three-time champion Matt Hagan – to the north-central Florida track eyeing continued progress in its second season. Hagan finished third in the 2022 Funny Car championship point standings, while Pruett finished 11th in the Top Fuel standings. The two combined for five wins in TSR’s inaugural season.
- Direct Connection is the primary partner of Pruett and Hagan this weekend in Gainesville. With muscle car enthusiasts looking for “ready to run” parts, Direct Connection serves as the source for high-performance parts and technical expertise straight from the factory.
- The Gatornationals will mark Pruett’s 176th career Top Fuel start and her 10th at Gainesville. For Hagan, the Gatornationals will be his 297th career Funny Car start and his 15th at Gainesville.
- Hagan enters Gainesville as the previous event winner, where his 3.910 ET, 339.96 mph run defeated Blake Alexander’s 9.561 ET, 80.15 mph run. The victory marked the first for Tony Stewart Racing in the NHRA in just the team’s third start and it was also Hagan’s first win at the track after 13 previous attempts. Hagan has earned the No. 1 qualifying spot three times at Gainesville – 2010, 4.060 ET at 313.58 mph; 2011 – 4.030 ET at 309.84 mph; and 2020 – 3.975 ET at 321.35 mph.
- Pruett is seeking her first win and No. 1 qualifier at the Gatornationals. She reached the Semifinals in 2020 and lost a narrow decision to Steve Torrence, who went on to win the race. Torrence won in 3.772 seconds at 324.86 mph and Pruett ran a 3.812 ET at 310.26 mph.
- Pruett and Hagan will participate in a Dodge autograph session on Friday from 1:15-1:45 p.m. EST and again on Saturday from 11:30 a.m.-12:00 p.m. EST. Both sessions will take place in the pits at the Dodge display.
- The Mopar CAP (Career Automotive Program) will be partnering with TSR on Fridays at seven events this season, starting with the Gatornationals. CAP consists of strategic alliances between Stellantis and over 100 colleges and trade schools teaching technical curriculum integrated into the school’s general automotive program, so that students can become certified Stellantis technicians.
- Fans can join Hall of Fame drag racer Darrell Gwynn for the Gatornationals track walk to benefit the Darrell Gwynn Quality of Life Chapter. In 1990, Gwynn had a racing accident that caused paralysis. Following his accident, he established the Darrell Gwynn Foundation, which provides support for people with paralysis and works to prevent spinal cord injuries through their Wheelchair Donation Program and Education & Prevention Program. The track walk takes place on Sunday at 8:30 a.m. EST and costs $20 per person to participate.
- The Gatornationals will set the field for the first #2Fast2Tasty Mission NHRA Challenge. The semifinalists from Gainesville will rematch during qualifying on Saturday at the next event in Phoenix, with bonus money and points on the line as part of the special new program for 2023.
Leah Pruett, Driver of the Dodge Direct Connection Top Fuel Dragster
You retained all your crew members from 2022. What confidence does that give you starting the season, knowing you all have an established relationship and benchmark to go off of?
“There are so many undeniable steps that go into starting a new team. Each individual brings experiences on specific jobs and how they were formerly instructed or service the car. Chemistry of a team is also so important and all of our team members meshed throughout last season, which takes time. That is time and effort we have this year to focus on performance and service acceleration. Additionally, the strong minds and attitudes of every one of our returning members show that they believe in the purpose and protectory of this team. They are not just a well-oiled machine, but the heartbeat of this team.”
With the opportunity to test at Gainesville during the off-season, explain how important it’s been getting that track time with the longer off-season.
“We tested on two different occasions for a number of days in the past month, vetting out various system changes, upgrades, cycling new parts, etc. We also tested an even more improved Mobil 1 blend that we and our parts are happy with. Ultimately, testing here is the real life version of ‘where the rubber meets the road’ by getting race ready in a way that will take our performance to the next level. Some of it worked and proved successful, which I am stoked on, while some other strategies require some more time, which I am also excited about when we get those techniques dialed in. We have a competitive and realistic setup for Gainesville and I look forward to racing our Sublime green machine in competition soon.”
How special is it starting the 2023 season on the East Coast in Gainesville?
“Racing at the Gatornationals is a big deal for anyone, especially starting the season here. For me personally, this race is a culmination of how strong we ended the last season and our developments over the off-season. Qualifying will be our first comparative victory to this race last year, but the strides this team has made since then I believe will speak for themselves on-track. We’ll deliver strong all weekend long and have a winner’s circle-worthy performance. We’re ready and hope the fans that bleed gator green in Florida are ready for us to give them all the fast Dodge powered Sublime love we’ve got.”
Matt Hagan, Driver of the Dodge Direct Connection Charger SRT Hellcat Funny Car
2023 marks your 11th season working with crew chief Dickie Venables. What confidence does it give you having such a long history together?
“Working with Dickie Venables (crew chief) has been amazing and I can’t wait to start our 11th season together. He’s brilliant and it’s awesome watching him pick apart parts on the race car. It gives me a lot of confidence climbing into the car knowing that it’s put together right. A lot can be said for the guy that goes up there when the conditions aren’t right and you know you have a chance of setting a world record. I told him the other day that he impresses me to no end. I’m impressed every time we work together and go racing. I’m proud to have him in our corner with what he brings to the table. I know we have a chance to win every round with Dickie. He gives his life to this race car and I’m just proud to be able to work with him.”
With a longer off-season, how important was it being able to test at Gainesville prior to the race?
“This has been the longest off-season I’ve ever had. Being able to test at Gainesville was huge. We had four days to go over some new things. The first couple days didn’t really go as planned, so we were really glad we had two more days there. At the end, we killed it and ripped off some great numbers in a row. It made me feel confident leaving that test session going into Gainesville and knowing that what we added to the car will make it better. The car is running good and the crew is running good. The guys got to knock the dust off and get in a rhythm of turning four rounds every day we were out there. The car is reacting to the changes we’re asking it to make and I’m excited to go racing.”
You’re entering Gainesville as the event’s previous winner. How special was it earning TSR’s first win and what momentum does that give you starting out 2023?
“Knowing we’re starting the season in Gainesville and that it was the track we got TSR’s first win last year is special. It was also my first win at Gainesville, so it’s got some history for me. I was proud to put that Wally up on the shelf last year and check it off the box. The momentum and memories we’ll bring into the weekend are huge.”
Tony Stewart Racing PR