Pre-Race 55th NHRA Gatornationals

You’re entering a new season as the reigning Funny Car Champion and you’re once again retaining all your crew members. What confidence does that give you heading into 2024 as you chase a fifth championship?

“We are One Team, All Team here at TSR, but having a group of guys that have earned your trust gives me a lot of confidence because I don’t have to worry about what’s happening on the car or what they are going to drag up there to the starting line. We have a group that is well-oiled with a lot of chemistry, synergy and energy. I’m super confident in everything that my guys do. They’ve earned my trust over the years and I trust them with my life. That’s not taken lightly, I really mean that. I know that when we drag it up there, it is done up and put together as well as possible. Tony’s going to be learning to drive the dragster this season, so it’ll give us an opportunity to help those guys also if they need it. With the confidence I have in our guys, I know we should win another championship this year. It’s going to be tough out there, but it’s one less thing that we have to worry about that we can go up there with the upmost confidence and just really race on Sunday and worry about being the best racers that we can be.”

You got more seat time during the off-season by competing in the PRO Superstar Shootout, where you finished runner-up. How valuable were those extra runs?

“The PRO Superstar Shootout was great to kick off the season a month early. It was nice to make more runs and we still need more runs ahead of Gainesville. Our pre-Gainesville testing will also be big. We’re trying to find a little more horsepower. We saw (Bob) Tasca III run 341 miles per hour in Bradenton and (Austin) Prock was running 337 and 338. However, I think a lot of people may not understand that ET (elapsed time) is everything in drag racing. Miles per hour is a direct correlation to how much horsepower you’re making. I feel like we have a little work to do with that, but it’s all about getting down the track with all eight cylinders. I know the miles per hour number will come around in our favor. We definitely need some more test runs. It was great to runner-up at the Superstar Shootout. It was awesome to have an opportunity to win that much money, but tough to runner-up and have it slip through our fingers. But that’s drag racing, there’s going to be a winner and a loser. We’re champions and we know what we have to do to work hard and get back on top. I’m excited for the season and having Tony as my teammate.”

You’re entering Gainesville as the event’s previous winner the last two years. How special would it be to win three in a row there to start the season?

“It would be really unbelievable to be able to win Gainesville a third time. It’s so hard to win any of these races and anything can happen. We’re going to go out there and work really hard to kick the season off. Gainesville has come around and been a better track to me the last few years. We have a lot of data to go off of, so we’ll go out there and see what we can do.”

  • The 55th NHRA Gatornationals at Gainesville (Fla.) Raceway is the first event on the NHRA Mission Foods Drag Racing Series’ 21-race calendar in 2024. Tony Stewart Racing (TSR) brings its two full-time entries – one in Top Fuel for NHRA Top Fuel Rookie Tony Stewart and one in Funny Car for 49-time Funny Car winner and four-time champion Matt Hagan – to the north-central Florida track eyeing continued progress in its third season. Hagan won the 2023 Funny Car championship, which marked the first championship in the NHRA for TSR. Leah Pruett finished a career-best third in the Top Fuel standings. She is stepping out of the Top Fuel seat this season with plans to start a family with Stewart. Pruett and Hagan combined for eight wins in TSR’s second season.
  • Direct Connection is the primary partner of Stewart 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 Stewart’s first career Top Fuel start and his first Top Fuel start at Gainesville. For Hagan, the Gatornationals will be his 333rd career Funny Car start and his 16th at Gainesville.
  • Hagan enters Gainesville as the previous event winner, where his 3.926 ET, 329.34 mph run defeated J.R. Todd’s 4.141 ET, 239.95 mph run. The victory marked Hagan’s second win at the track, having won the Gatornationals the year prior. 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.
  • Hagan needs just one win to become the 17th pro driver with 50 tour victories. John Force, Robert Hight and Ron Capps currently are the only Funny Car drivers to have reached that plateau. Hagan has won at least three tour events for 11 consecutive seasons, the longest active streak in the NHRA Mission Foods Drag Racing Series.
  • Stewart is seeking his first win and No. 1 qualifier at the Gatornationals. He competed in the Baby Gators at Gainesville Raceway in the Top Alcohol Dragster in 2023, where he was defeated first round. Stewart also took part in the 2023 NHRA Gatornationals in the Top Alcohol Dragster, where he advanced to the second round and lost to Cody Krohn.
  • Stewart is trying to become just the ninth driver in NHRA history to win his professional debut and the seventh to do so in the Top Fuel class. The last pro driver to win his first race was Josh Hart, who won Top Fuel at the 2021 Gatornationals. The other Top Fuel drivers to accomplish that feat were Bob Gibson at the 1970 Springnationals at Columbus, Ohio, Hank Johnson at the 1971 Supernationals at Ontario, Calif., Gary Beck at the 1972 U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis, Gary Scelzi at the 1979 Winternationals at Pomona and Darrell Russell at the 2001 Winternationals. K.C. Spurlock won his debut race in Funny Car at the 1990 Winternationals and Larry Lombardo won his first Pro Stock start at the Summernationals at Englishtown, N.J., in 1974.
  • Hagan, Pruett and Stewart will participate in a Dodge autograph session on Friday from 1:45-2:15 p.m. ET and again on Saturday from 11:30 a.m.-12:00 p.m. ET. Both sessions will take place in the pits at the Dodge display.
  • Hagan, Pruett and Stewart will participate in autograph signings at the Tony Stewart Store merchandise trailer. Pruett will be signing on Friday from 4:30-5:00 p.m. ET. Hagan and Stewart will be signing on Saturday from 5:30-6:00 p.m. ET.
  • Fans can join Hall of Fame drag racer Darrell Gwynn for the Gatornationals track walk to benefit the Darrell Gwynn Chapter of the Buoniconti Fund. 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. ET and costs $20 per person to participate.
  • The Gatornationals will set the field for the first Mission #2Fast2Tasty NHRA Challenge of 2024. The semifinalists from Gainesville will rematch during qualifying on Saturday at the next event in Pomona, with bonus money and points on the line.