After two multi-day sessions at Frank Hawley’s Drag Racing School and a handful of tests over the last two years in both a Top Alcohol dragster and a Top Fuel dragster, Tony Stewart is ready for the real thing.
The versatile racer who owns driving championships across NASCAR, INDYCAR, and USAC, along with hundreds of victories on oval tracks, dirt tracks, and road courses, will throttle up behind the wheel of a Top Alcohol dragster during the NHRA Nevada Nationals Oct. 28-30 at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
“I’m excited and nervous at the same time,” Stewart said. “It’s definitely going to be a big learning curve, and to do it at a national event right out of the gate adds to the challenge. But it’s something I’ve really been wanting to do, and I’ve been working toward this moment. I’m not taking it lightly. It’s a serious business, and I’m going to be as prepared as possible when I get to Las Vegas.”
Stewart will make his debut driving for McPhillips Racing in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series. The father-son team of Rich McPhillips and his son, Rich Jr., have enjoyed tremendous success in the Top Alcohol Dragster category helping numerous drivers win races and contend for championships, including Matt Cummings, Troy Coughlin Jr., and his uncle, Mike Coughlin. Jasmine Salinas, the winner of the most recent NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series event in Dallas and a contender for the Top Alcohol Dragster world title, also races as part of the McPhillips team.
“The team I’m driving for, McPhillips Racing, has been awesome to work with,” Stewart said. “They felt like I was ready to compete. With their confidence, that’s given me the confidence and courage to try something new and take the leap.”
Even with all the newness that will surround Stewart, he will have support from longtime partner Mobil 1, the world’s leading brand of synthetic motor oil.
“Throughout his storied career, Tony has been known for his commitment and dedication to his craft, which is why he’s long been a perfect fit as a Mobil 1 partner,” said Rob Shearer, ExxonMobil Director Global Lubricants Marketing Services and Sponsorships. “His desire to be exceptional has always aligned with our goal to do the same. His laser focus and intense competitive spirit that we all know so well will be on display once again, but this time on a quarter-mile dragstrip. We’re looking forward to cheering him on in his NHRA debut.”
Stewart won his third and final NASCAR Cup Series championship in 2011 with Mobil 1 as both a sponsor and technical partner. It’s a 12-year-and-counting partnership that encompasses Stewart-Haas Racing in NASCAR and Tony Stewart Racing (TSR) in the NHRA and World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series.
“Mobil 1 is more than just a sponsor – they’re a partner that provides us with a competitive advantage to get the most out of our cars,” Stewart said. “I love driving, and it’s the most fun when our cars are running at their best – and Mobil 1 makes that possible. Their technology gives me a strong sense of security when I’m behind the wheel and a tremendous amount of pride whenever we put a race car on the track.”
While Stewart is best known for his NASCAR exploits, most notably three NASCAR Cup Series championships and induction into the NASCAR Hall of Fame, the Columbus, Ind., native has become a mainstay in the NHRA paddock. Stewart is married to Top Fuel driver Leah Pruett, a 10-time Top Fuel winner in the NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series, and his eponymous race team made its NHRA debut earlier this year in the season opener in Pomona, and has since placed both Pruett and her Funny Car teammate, Matt Hagan, in the Countdown to the Championship.
“I’ve been a rookie in a lot of different cars over the course of my career. That part won’t be new, but the drag racing side is so different from anything I’ve driven in the past. It’s all about procedures and knowing the routine and doing it the same every time,” Stewart said.
“In all the other forms of racing, you blow a corner, and you fix it and do better the next lap. There is no next lap if you screw up in these cars. You have to do it the same every time for the team to be able to tune the car the right way, and you have to do your job. You have to cut good lights and stay in the groove.
“There are a lot of things people don’t think about just by watching on television. I’ve learned a lot from our teams this year. I’m sure it will be sensory overload, but you have to start somewhere.
“The McPhillips family is awesome and they’re great teachers, and when your wife is a professional driver and you have a teammate like Matt Hagan, they’re teaching me everything I need to know. I’m excited about finally getting the opportunity to do what they do.”
When Stewart makes his first pass as part of the NHRA Nevada Nationals, it will add to an already impressive racing résumé. The 51-year-old has competed in NASCAR, INDYCAR, IMSA, USAC, and an array of sprint car series, including the World of Outlaws and All Star Circuit of Champions. Stewart has also driven a Formula 1 car, having sampled Lewis Hamilton’s 2008 championship-winning machine on June 14, 2011 at Watkins Glen (New York) International during a promotional event for Mobil 1.
“Tony Stewart is one of the most talented and versatile drivers in motorsports history, winning in every discipline in which he’s competed,” said Jei Gort, ExxonMobil Global Motorsports and Sponsorships Manager. “His love of racing is unwavering, and we’re proud to have him represent the Mobil 1 brand as he takes on this new challenge in the NHRA.
“Both driver and machine face extreme conditions on the dragstrip, and demanding environments are where Tony and Mobil 1 technology thrive. This should be an outstanding combination – just as it has been so many times before.”
Even with 13 driving championships to his résumé, Stewart is taking a methodical approach to his NHRA debut.
“My expectations are just to gain experience and knowledge throughout the weekend,” Stewart said. “It will be nice to go from getting to drive the car to actually competing. Hopefully, we’ll have a good weekend and I’ll get to make a lot of passes.”
The NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series is the premier Sportsman racing program in motorsports. The series features eight categories, highlighted by the 280-plus-mph Top Alcohol dragsters, the stepping-stone division into the nitro categories of Top Fuel and Funny Car in the NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series.
Stewart and his Top Alcohol counterparts begin their NHRA Nevada Nationals weekend on Friday, Oct. 28 with Q1 at 11:15 a.m. PDT/2:15 p.m. EDT and Q2 at 5:45 p.m. PDT/8:45 p.m. EDT. Saturday, Oct. 29 begins with Q3 at 10:30 a.m. PDT/1:30 p.m. EDT with Round 1 of eliminations at 2:30 p.m. All the action will be streamed live on NHRA.TV.