You’re entering the PRO Superstar Shootout as the NHRA Funny Car champion. What motivation does that give you heading into a new season of racing?
“I think it sounds great on paper that I’m moving into the new season as a defending champion, but at the end of the day, that was last year and this is this year. We have to start fresh. We’ve had a lot of changes over the off-season and different things in the shop that the guys are working on. You hopefully bring a package you ended up with at the end of the season, but things are always changing and you never know what you’re going to get because tracks are different and conditions are different. We’ve never raced on this facility down in Bradenton. It sounds good to be the champ, but at the end of the day, everybody’s gunning for you and it’s a fresh new start, so I kind of look at it like that’s that and this is this now, so we still have to buckle down and work hard during this whole season to defend what we know we just accomplished in the past.”
The PRO Superstar Shootout is the first event of its kind to be hosted by the Professional Racers Organization. What are you most excited about for the fans to enjoy at this unique experience?
“The PRO Superstar Shootout is definitely going to be the first of its kind. We’re going to stay down there and test for a few days and then get to race. Since it’s an invitation-only field, you’re going to have eight cars racing that are all heavy-hitters. You have to roll out the gate with guns blazing. Your first round could be your hardest round. There are no easy draws and you want a heavy-hitter every time. If there’s anyone you’re scared to race against, you have no business being out there.”
Top Fuel and Funny Car competitors will race for $250,000 to win. Talk about how monumental the purse is for the sport of drag racing and what it would mean to bring it home for TSR?
“To race for $250,000 for each class is massive and it says a lot about what PRO can do to go out and round up that money for this event. Money motivates everyone and it motivates team owners to show up and it motivates people to come to the races. People want to see big-money races, so I think it’s a great opportunity for the sport of drag racing. This event will be nothing but good from here on out for the sport. It’s a new structure to look at and an opportunity to do something big.”
Once qualified, competitors that have advanced to Saturday’s 8-car field for eliminations will take part in a random chip draw to determine who they’ll line up against in Round 1. What level of excitement will that bring to the event?
“I love the chip draw idea because it mixes us things up. In the NHRA, number one qualifier is running number sixteen. For the PRO event, number one could have to run number two, so you really have to have it together for every run. When we have callouts, I pick a hard competitor because I know it makes my crew chief and assistant crew chief push hard. Running heavy-hitters makes you race hard and be aggressive. I love that idea.”
- The inaugural SCAG PRO Superstar Shootout presented by JHG is an invitation-only race featuring standout drivers from the Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock and Super Stock Eliminator categories. In collaboration with the Professional Racers Organization, Drag Illustrated, Bradenton Motorsports Park and FloRacing, the event will offer $1.3 million in total prize money, with $250,000 being paid out to both the Top Fuel and Funny Car victor. Tony Stewart Racing (TSR) brings two entries – one in Top Fuel for 12-time NHRA Top Fuel winner Leah Pruett and one in Funny Car for defending NHRA Funny Car Champion Matt Hagan.
- Johnson’s Horsepowered Garage (JHG) is the primary partner for both Pruett and Hagan this weekend in Bradenton. JHG was formed in 2021 and brings a passion and flare to the automotive world. They aim to inspire, drive and celebrate progress. JHG spans across Jason Johnson’s car collection featuring more than 200 sought after vehicles from classics, to hot rods and supercars. Johnson’s Horsepowered Garage’s mission is to preserve and showcase the automotive industry. The vehicles are driven to and displayed at events by Johnson and his team with the goal of growing interest and keeping car culture thriving. Johnson’s history in the industry began with Mather Auto Dismantler, Mather Mini Trucks and U-Pull It in Northern California. He later held an instrumental role in the growth and success of Copart, Inc., a global provider of online vehicle auction and remarketing services. JHG also serves as a primary sponsor of Elite Motorsports in the NHRA Pro Stock Series and they are the presenting sponsor of the SCAG PRO Superstar Shootout.
- Coming into the PRO Superstar Shootout, Pruett has made 207 career Top Fuel starts in the NHRA. Hagan has made 332 career NHRA Funny Car starts.
- Hagan enters Bradenton as the 2023 NHRA Mission Foods Drag Racing Series Funny Car champion. He earned his fourth Funny Car championship (2011, 2014, 2020, 2023) at the NHRA Finals in Pomona, California. It marked the first championship for Tony Stewart Racing in the NHRA since the team began in 2022.
- Pruett will be making her lone Top Fuel start of 2024. In December at the Performance Racing Industry (PRI) Show in Indianapolis, Pruett and husband Tony Stewart announced Pruett will be stepping aside from NHRA competition in 2024 to focus on starting a family. Stewart will move into the Top Fuel seat on behalf of Pruett starting at the NHRA Gatornationals.
- Following qualifying on Friday night at the PRO Superstar Shootout, competitors who have qualified for the 8-car field will participate in a random chip draw to determine who they’ll face in the first round of eliminations on Saturday.
- Fans can watch the PRO Superstar Shootout live on FloRacing.com. Throughout the race weekend, fans can also watch live action from a variety of 15 pit locations.
- Hagan, Pruett and Stewart will participate in Tony Stewart Store merchandise trailer signings. Hagan and Pruett will be signing Thursday from 3:00-3:30 p.m. EST. Stewart will be signing Friday from 1:00-1:30 p.m. EST.
- Fans can join Hagan, Pruett and Stewart at a public autograph session on Friday from 10:00-10:30 a.m. EST.
- Following on-track action Friday night, fans can catch a concert by Florida’s own Blake Free Band. On Saturday following on-track action, up-and-coming band The Vindys will be performing at Bradenton Motorsports Park.
Thursday, February 8 (Nitro Qualifying, streamed live on FloRacing.com)
- Nitro qualifying session (Q1): 6:15 p.m. EST
Friday, February 9 (Nitro Qualifying, streamed live on FloRacing.com)
- Nitro qualifying session (Q2): 12 p.m. EST
- Nitro qualifying session (Q3): 3:15 p.m. EST
- Nitro qualifying session (Q4): 6:15 p.m. EST
Saturday, February 10 (Nitro Eliminations, streamed live on FloRacing.com)
- Round 1: 2 p.m. EDT
- Round 2: 4 p.m. EDT
- Finals: 6 p.m. EDT