- The Pep Boys NHRA Nationals Sept. 15-17 at Maple Grove Raceway near Reading, Pennsylvania, is the 16th race on the NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series’ 21-race schedule. However, it’s the opening round in the six-race Countdown to the Championship, where both Tony Stewart Racing (TSR) drivers – Leah Pruett in Top Fuel and Matt Hagan in Funny Car – are ready to make a title run in their respective divisions. The top-10 drivers in each of the NHRA’s four professional categories – Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle – compete in the Countdown. Pruett is a 11-time Top Fuel event winner and Hagan is a 47-time Funny Car winner and three-time champion.
- This year’s Countdown marks Pruett’s seventh appearance in the NHRA postseason and Hagan’s 12th. Pruett is fourth heading into the Countdown, 58 points behind leader Justin Ashley. Hagan is second, 24 points behind leader Ron Capps.
- Hagan has the best won-loss percentage (68.8% – 117-53) in the Countdown to the Championship among eligible Funny Car Drivers. He is second only to Robert Hight in Countdown Funny Car wins, with 13 (Hight has 14).
- Pruett and Hagan come into Reading representing Mobil 1 and Rinnai America Corporation, respectively. Pruett’s Top Fuel dragster carries the colors of Mobil 1, the world’s leading synthetic motor oil brand. Meanwhile, Hagan’s Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat Funny Car is emblazoned with Rinnai America Corporation, a subsidiary of Rinnai Corporation. Established in 1974 and headquartered in Peachtree City, Ga., Rinnai Corporation manufactures gas appliances including tankless water heaters, a wide range of kitchen appliances and heating and air conditioning units. As the technology leader in its industry, Rinnai is the largest gas appliance manufacturer in Japan and is the number-one selling brand of tankless gas water heaters in the United States and Canada. With a global perspective to create 21st-century products for the home and business, Rinnai Corporation commits itself to safety and Creating A Healthier Way of Living©.
- The Pep Boys NHRA Nationals will serve as Pruett’s 202nd career Top Fuel start and her 10th at Maple Grove. For Hagan, this will be his 327th career Funny Car start and his 14th at the track.
- Pruett is seeking her first victory in the Pep Boys NHRA Nationals. However, she does have No. 1 qualifier at the event, earned on Oct. 1, 2016 with a run of 3.705 seconds. It marked her first No. 1 qualifying performance.
- Pruett made her only Funny Car start at Maple Grove in 2011 when she qualified No. 16 before losing to Johnny Gray in Round 1.
- Hagan won the Pep Boys NHRA Nationals in 2014. His run of 4.330 ET at 215.00 mph defeated Tommy Johnson (5.465 ET at 152.31 mph). Although Hagan has only one win at Maple Grove Raceway, his car has won twice. In 2021, when he was sidelined with COVID-19, Tommy Johnson Jr. subbed for him and won the Pep Boys NHRA Nationals in Hagan’s car with crew chief Dickie Venables. Hagan also has two No. 1 qualifiers at Maple Grove – 2010 when he set a then NHRA national record 4.011 ET and in 2016 with a 3.873 ET.
- Hagan enters the Pep Boys NHRA Nationals two round wins shy of 500.
- Hagan will be making a Rinnai appearance on Thursday, September 14 from 1:00-2:00 p.m. EDT at Thos. Somerville Co in Lancaster, Pennsylvania (3140 Hempland Rd.) to promote the partnership between Rinnai and Tony Stewart Racing. The event will take place from 12:00-3:00 p.m. EDT with grilling on-site and fans can enter to win a new Rinnai RU199IN unit.
- Hagan’s Rinnai Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat Funny Car will be carrying a special QR code on the hood of the car encouraging people to make their voice heard by contacting Congress regarding legislation that’s being proposed by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to raise efficiency standards for tankless gas-fired water heaters. This would remove existing affordable and efficient products from the market. Visit www.rinnai.us for more information.
2023 marks the third time you’ve entered the Countdown to the Championship in the top-four. What is your mindset heading into Reading?
“I feel entering fourth is appropriate, given our team’s performance. My mind will be purposely emotionless, because it creates room for implementing tactics and being thorough.”
You’re representing Mobil 1 for their first primary race this season, which means both you and husband Tony Stewart will be carrying their colors this weekend. Talk about Mobil 1 and what their support means to TSR.
“Mobil 1 and their products are such an asset to our performance. I am happy to visually show their support. The scheme is also awesome. I couldn’t help but feel ‘home of the free and land of the brave’ when testing with their scheme this past week in Indianapolis after the U.S. Nationals.”
You have the best won-loss percentage (68.8% – 117-53) in the Countdown to the Championship among eligible Funny Car Drivers. What mindset does that give you heading into Reading?
“Having a 68.8% win-loss percentage is great, but at the end of the day, the stats don’t really mean anything when you are lined up against your opponent out there. You have to dig deep and work hard and make things happen for yourself. You can’t count on being lucky and you can’t count on someone else messing up. We just have to go out there and do what we know how to do and do the best that we can do. If you go out there and leave it all on the table, that’s all you can do. We have worked hard all season and in the off-season. We know how to run really well in the heat and when it is cool. We’ve won four races so far this year, and even though (Ron) Capps has come in and scooped up the points lead, we led all year long and there’s no reason we can’t go back out there and take the lead back. We’re 24 points behind, which is really nothing in the grand scheme of things with six races to go. We have a lot of work ahead of us, but we’ve never been afraid of work and digging deep to make stuff happen. A lot of people would give anything to be in our position to have opportunity to go out there and earn another championship. I think we have a real chance to go out there and earn the first Funny Car championship for TSR. This isn’t the first dance I’ve been to, so I’m not nervous at all. I am just excited. I just want to stay focused and get a lot of rest and do my part. That’s all I can do. Everyone’s got a part in this and we’re all a team that has to depend on each other. When you do that and believe in each other, you can win a championship. That’s what we’re going to go out there and do.”
You’re carrying the Rinnai colors this weekend. You’ll be making an appearance for them on Thursday, with members of Rinnai’s executive leadership team in attendance. What does their partnership with TSR mean to you?
“It is really neat to have a new partner like Rinnai on the car. It’s great that Tony Stewart Racing has been able to bring in new partners and introduce them to NHRA drag racing. Tony’s charisma and involvement has been great for the sport. I am looking forward to Rinnai executives visiting us at the track this weekend. No matter what paint scheme you are running, you always want to win. I’d love to be able to get Rinnai in the Winner’s Circle and I feel like we have a real shot at doing that.”
Tony Stewart Racing PR