The NHRA is returning to Route 66 Raceway for the first time since 2019. You’ve earned three wins at Chicago and enter the event as the Funny Car points leader. Tell us why you’re looking forward to a return to Chicago.
“I’ve had a lot of success at Chicago and set national records there. It’s a great venue. There are huge grandstands and it’s an awesome facility. With the race being gone a few years and now back on the schedule, I think we should have a great turnout. I’m excited to be back. Unfortunately, I put the car in the sand last race at Charlotte (N.C). We’re planning on testing this week to shake the car down and make sure it’s ready to go. It’s a long week for the guys putting everything together after replacing the front-half of the car. We usually replace the front half of the car a couple times a year, but it was added work for them right now. I’m so proud of them to jump in and do what they do and get back in the groove, so we can pick up where we left off before Charlotte. We also changed the seat clearance in my car, so we have a bit more head room. As unfortunate as it was that it happened, it makes me feel better as a driver that we were able to lower the seat. It’s early in the season, so I’ll crawl back in the car and feel comfortable now. We also get to participate in the Mission #2Fast2Tasty Challenge at Chicago, which will hopefully give my guys a chance to earn some more bonus money. Tony (Stewart) came off a win at the Top Alcohol regional race in Indianapolis with McPhillips Racing, so I’m sure he’s pumped up. Both he and Leah finished runner-up at Charlotte, so we are all excited and have momentum coming into Chicago. TSR has been strong overall lately and we have to keep that going.”
You and your crew experienced a challenging weekend at the Circle K NHRA Four-Wide Nationals. Your parachutes didn’t deploy during a qualifying run, resulting in a move to the backup car and you had your first Round One loss of the season. Talk about the steps the Direct Connection crew have taken in regards to repairing your car for the Route 66 Nationals and getting back on-track for success at Chicago.
“Unfortunately, we did go in the sand and had to bring the backup car out. However, the first round loss had nothing to do with the backup car. We made some decisions that weren’t great regarding setup for the conditions we had out there. We all make mistakes, including myself going in the sand. The spare car is very close to what we have with our new car, which is great. That being said, if we had to drag the old car out again for some reason, we would have no issues. We were trying to be on the conservative side in Round 1 following the rain and we shook the tires from a weak shake and I had to pedal the car. That’s racing. You make a decision and go with it. Sometimes they’re right and sometimes they’re wrong, but we learn from it either way. All in all, I’m very confident about both race cars we have. I’m looking forward to getting back in the new one in Indy for testing to see what we can do.”
- The Gerber Collision and Glass Route 66 NHRA Nationals presented by PEAK Performance near Chicago, Illinois, is the sixth event on the NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series’ 21-race calendar in 2023. Tony Stewart Racing(TSR) brings its two fulltime entries – one in Top Fuel for 10-time Top Fuel winner Leah Pruett and one in Funny Car for 46-time Funny Car winner and three-time champion Matt Hagan.
- Coming into Chicago, Pruett is third in the Top Fuel standings, 53 points behind leader Steve Torrence. Hagan leads the Funny Car standings with a 58-point advantage over Alexis DeJoria.
- Direct Connection is the primary partner of Pruett and Hagan this weekend in Chicago. 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 Top Fuel Dragster and Charger SRT Hellcat Funny Car are featured in Sublime green. Sublime was first introduced during the 1970 model year. The Dodge Charger and Challenger, in current form, are coming to an end after this year. Dodge is bringing back the iconic color for consumers to bring nostalgia to the highways and purchase their own commemorative last call vehicle.
- The Route 66 NHRA Nationals will mark Pruett’s 199th career Top Fuel start and her seventh at Chicago. For Hagan, the Route 66 NHRA Nationals will be his 321st career Funny Car start and his 12th at Chicago.
- Hagan has recorded three career wins at Chicago in 2010, 2013 and 2014. In 2010, he defeated Robert Hight with a 4.035 ET at 312.78 mph (compared to Hight’s 4.069 ET, 311.92 mph run). In 2013, Hagan’s 4.065 ET at 315.34 mph defeated John Force (4.113 ET at 304.80 mph). In 2014, Hagan defeated Tommy Johnson Jr. with a 4.098 ET at 310.48 mph run (compared to Johnson Jr.’s 4.147 ET at 308.50 mph). Hagan has two No. 1 qualifiers at Chicago, which came in 2016 (3.882 ET at 331.12 mph) and 2018 (3.917 ET at 326.79 mph).
- By advancing to the Semifinals at the NHRA Winternationals, Hagan qualified to participate in the Mission #2Fast2Tasty NHRA Challenge. The challenge brings competitive racing to the qualifying schedule at 12 regular-season events during the NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series campaign, pitting semifinalists from the previous race against each other in a pair of rematches, with the two winners then matching up in the final qualifying session. The Mission #2Fast2Tasty Challenge didn’t take place at the last two four-wide events. Hagan earned a rematch against Terry Haddock in Round 1. There is a bonus purse and bonus points for the Countdown to the Championship on the line.
- Hagan will participate in the Mission #2Fast2Tasty autograph session on Saturday at 11 a.m CDT. The session will take place at the Mission Foods Display.
- Pruett and Hagan will participate in a Dodge autograph session on Friday from 3:30-4:00 p.m. CDT and again on Saturday from 12:15-12:45 p.m. CDT. Both sessions will take place in the pits at the Dodge display.
- Team owner Tony Stewart will join the NHRA on FS1 booth for Sunday’s eliminations, which will be broadcast at 10 p.m. EDT.
- Pruett and Hagan will run special decals at Chicago in support of Military Appreciation Month, which is celebrated every May. TSR salutes all those who serve and have served, and honors the sacrifices made by service members and their families. Four of TSR’s crew members are veterans – Thomas Brown, Kurt Johnson, Allen Oberbroeckling and Chris Shuron. Brown, who oversees body and tire preparation on Hagan’s Funny Car, was a sergeant and squad leader in the Army. Johnson, TSR’s track specialist, spent six years as a United States Marine Aircraft Fire Fighter during Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm. Oberbroeckling, a member of TSR’s hospitality team, was a 88M Motor Transport Operator in the Army. Shuron, a clutch assistant who handles tire preparation on Pruett’s Top Fuel dragster, served in the Marines where he was a lance corporal.
- DYK? The NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series is making its first visit to Route 66 Raceway since 2019. Route 66 Raceway was built in 1998 and consists of the 0.25-mile dragstrip and a 0.375-mile dirt oval racetrack. The property is located adjacent to Chicagoland Speedway.