Tony Stewart Racing: Pomona Advance for the 62nd NHRA Winternationals

The Winternationals at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona serve as the official debut of Tony Stewart Racing (TSR) in the NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series. The team fields two fulltime entries – one in Top Fuel for nine-time event winner Leah Pruett and one in Funny Car for 39-time event winner and three-time Funny Car champion Matt Hagan. (Hagan earned his titles in 2011, 2014 and 2020, and he was the runner-up in the 2021 championship.)

Event Overview
 

 

 

Friday, Feb. 18 (Nitro Qualifying, streamed live on NHRA.TV)

●  Nitro qualifying session (Q1): 4:30 p.m. PST/7:30 p.m. EST

 

Saturday, Feb. 19 (Nitro Qualifying, streamed live on NHRA.TV)

●  Nitro qualifying session (Q2): 12:30 p.m. PST/3:30 p.m. EST

●  Nitro qualifying session (Q3): 4:30 p.m. PST/7:30 p.m. EST

 

Sunday, Feb. 20 (Nitro Eliminations, streamed live on NHRA.TV)

●  Round 1: 11 a.m. PST/2 p.m. EST

●  Round 2: 1:10 p.m. PST/4:10 p.m. EST

●  Semi-Finals: 2:55 p.m. PST/5:55 p.m. EST

●  Finals: 4:05 p.m. PST/7:05 p.m. EST

 

TV coverage on FS1

●  Friday, Feb. 18: Qualifying show, recapping all of Friday’s action (7 p.m. PST/10 p.m. EST)

●  Sunday, Feb. 20: Qualifying show, recapping all of Saturday’s action (4 a.m. PST/7 a.m. EST)

●  Sunday, Feb. 20: Finals show, recapping all of Sunday’s final-round action (10 p.m. PST/1 a.m. EST)

 Dodge Power Brokers and Direct Connection are the primary partners of Pruett and Hagan. The new Dodge Power Brokers program will roll out ready to serve as the exclusive source for all new Direct Connection, Dodge’s factory-backed performance parts program, and equipped with staff trained to deliver a performance-focused customer service experience.

 

●  TSR’s roots are in sprint car racing, with Mopar powering its multiple entries in USAC and the World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series from 2001 through 2007. Seven of TSR’s 27 open-wheel championships were won with Mopar.

 

●  The Winternationals kicks off the NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series’ 22-race calendar. Auto Club Raceway at Pomona is emblematic of a fresh season, as a freshly ground and polished track will greet NHRA competitors upon their return to the historic California dragstrip.

 

●  Pomona serves as a homecoming for Pruett as she grew up approximately 35 miles east of the track in Redlands, California.

 

●  The Winternationals will mark Pruett’s 173rd career Top Fuel start and her 15th at Pomona. In fact, her Top Fuel debut came at Pomona in the 2009 Finals.

 

●  The Winternationals will mark Hagan’s 296th career Funny Car start and his 26th at Pomona.

 

●  Two of Pruett’s nine career Top Fuel wins have come at Pomona (2017 Winternationals and 2021 Winternationals).

 

●  Six of Hagan’s 39 career Funny Car wins have come at Pomona (2011 Finals, 2013 Finals, 2014 Finals, 2015 Winternationals, 2017 Winternationals and 2018 Winternationals).

 

●  Pruett has a 16-12 round record at Pomona and is undefeated in her two final round appearances at the track.

 

●  Hagan has a 41-19 round record at Pomona and is 6-2 in final round appearances at the track.

 

●  Pruett’s career-best elapsed time of 3.631seconds came at Pomona on Nov. 10, 2018 in Q4. (Her best speed of 334.15 mph was earned at Phoenix on Feb. 24, 2018 in Q3.)

 

●  Pruett has been the No. 1 qualifier 12 times in her career, two of which came at Pomona (2017 Winternationals and 2018 Finals).

 

●  Hagan has been the No. 1 qualifier 43 times in his career, four of which came at Pomona (2011 Finals, 2017 Winternationals, 2018 Winternationals, 2019 Finals and 2020 Winternationals).

 

●  Hagan owns the Funny Car track record at Pomona – 3.822 seconds at 335.57 mph on Feb. 11 in the 2017 Winternationals.

 

●  DYK? The quickest side-by-side race in NHRA Funny Car history took place at Pomona during the 2018 Winternationals when Hagan ran a 3.823 to Robert Hight’s 3.866.

 

●  Crew Chief Corner: Neal Strausbaugh is the crew chief for Pruett while Dickie Venables continues his longtime role as the crew chief for Hagan. Both Strausbaugh and Venables came to TSR from Don Schumacher Racing (DSR), where the duo spent a combined 25 years. Strausbaugh had been an assistant crew chief since 2008 working across both Top Fuel and Funny Car, first with Cory McClenathan in Top Fuel (2008), Tony Schumacher in Top Fuel (2009-2016), Jack Beckman in Funny Car (2017-2018) and Pruett (2019-2021). Venables had two stints at DSR, spending 2010-2011 with Funny Car driver Johnny Gray before returning in 2013 to lead Hagan’s Funny Car effort.

Leah Pruett, Driver of the Dodge Power Brokers Top Fuel Dragster
 

Being with a new team at TSR, does the start of this season feel different?

“I haven’t felt any two seasons feel the same at the start of the year, but this one is most definitely the largest difference. A new racecar, a new group of crew members, a new co-crew chief, Neal Strausbaugh’s first season as a crew chief – I’m used to change so all these things bring comfort in their newness. What I’m not used to, but have always had a desire for, was to race with my spouse. This one happens to be my team owner, but also the new feeling has been operating in the management structure of this organization and taking on and sharing new responsibilities. To say it’s business as usual would be far from correct and, until I put on the helmet for the first time during a race event, I can’t say exactly what will be different, but I already know it will be, and I expect to enjoy our successes even more than before.”

 

For the novice drag racing fan, why is Pomona such a legendary and prominent venue for the NHRA?

“Professional drag racing is rooted in Southern California, and Pomona has been the foundation, literally, of generations of drag racing legends. SoCal may no longer be the physical center of the highest tier of drag racing as it once was – as that is now Brownsburg, Indiana – but the magic of its location and the heritage it holds is still undeniable.”

 

Explain the nuances of drag racing at Pomona. Is it like any of the other venues on the NHRA circuit, or does it have enough characteristics that make it unique?

“I might be biased, but I think it’s the most gorgeous track on the circuit. It’s surrounded by palm trees, purple mountain majesties, and an incredible Mexican food joint on the corner there at opposite end of the NHRA museum. Pomona is ground zero for NHRA drag racing, and it’s also where I began racing at just age 8. From the tower where I sang the national anthem as a kid, to hanging in the bleachers as a teenager with my friends, to roaming the pits, excited if I knew anyone on a team or got to take home a clutch disc or connecting rod, that was my life, and those memories came from Pomona. I’ve won there before in Top Fuel, and I didn’t think it could get any bigger than that moment, but that was because of what I didn’t know. With what I know now, if we can duplicate that same success from 2018 in our Dodge Power Brokers Top Fuel Dragster, it will be a new milestone for me at Pomona, no doubt.”

 

Climate and weather play a big part in dialing in your dragster. What do you deal with at Pomona to get your car right?

“We’re back to our regularly scheduled Winternationals programming, being in February as opposed to July where it was last year, so that’s ideal for us. We prefer the cooler, drier conditions for making maximum horsepower, and that’s what it looks like we’ll get this weekend. The new Pomona surface will take some time to get worked in, which is probably why they have cars starting to run on Wednesday. Pomona has a reputation for creating world-record conditions, and I think the new track surface will help that for the second race of the season, and for running later in the evening. This weekend we will be running in the afternoon instead of at night, which is really where those record conditions are at.”

 

 

Matt Hagan, Driver of the Dodge Power Brokers Charger SRT Hellcat Funny Car
 

Being with a new team at TSR, does the start of this season feel different?

“We’re coming up on my 15th year of racing and, honestly, it does feel different. Our team’s morale and charisma is different. These guys are super excited to be here and Tony Stewart has been great to work for. It’s laid back, but business as usual for us. We know what we have to do. I’ve won multiple championships out here and have won a lot of races along the way. Our core group of guys between my crew chief, my assistant crew chief, my car chief and myself, we know what we have to do to get it done in our Dodge Power Brokers Charger SRT Hellcat Funny Car. Out here, everyone gives 100 percent no matter what. There’s not a day where you can ask for any more from anybody because everyone is trying as hard as they can. I think Tony as a racer and competitor, he sees that.”

 

For the novice drag racing fan, why is Pomona such a legendary and prominent venue for the NHRA?

“Pomona is such a legendary place because we start there, we finish there, and history is made there. It’s where you crown champions. I’ve been fortunate enough to run there quite a few times, but I’ve also been fortunate enough to be crowned a champion there. That’s something that no amount of money can buy, and that’s something no one can take away from me. You are 10 people with one goal and you’re surrounded by people who helped you get there. It’s such a special and magical place because of how it ends there. You’re able to see history get made every year there.”

 

Explain the nuances of drag racing at Pomona. Is it like any of the other venues on the NHRA circuit, or does it have enough characteristics that make it unique?

“Pomona is unique in and of itself. It’s kind of short, so when you show up there, you know you better have your parachutes together and a handful of brake. It makes you be more aware and more prepared as a driver to start the season. You have to be more tuned-in to what you’re doing because the shut-down isn’t quite as long as other tracks. It makes you on top of your game to start the season. Pomona is a special place because drag racing originated in California, so there are so many legends that show up there. Back in the day, people were on fire and upside down there. They had to go through so much to put on a show. We’re so fortune nowadays that we have so much safety equipment and fire gear to keep us safe. I have a lot of respect for all the legends that started out there and made the sport what it is today.”

 

Climate and weather play a big part in dialing in your dragster. What do you deal with at Pomona to get your car right?

“The weather at Pomona is always changing, but I remind myself that the conditions are the same for everyone. That’s what our crew chiefs do so well because they take the conditions, their notes and the data they’ve compiled over the years to be able to go up there and make a solid run. I’m so lucky with Dickie Venables because he has been doing this for a very long time, so he has a lot of data, gut knowledge and instinct. I think we’re so successful because of Dickie and the calls he makes.”

 

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