NHRA Notes: Stewart Going Full-time In Top Alcohol In Coming Season

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, February 15 2023

Former NASCAR champion Tony Stewart will be back in a dragster in upcoming season. (File photo courtesy of the NHRA)

Tony Stewart’s conversion from rookie drag racing team-owner to rookie drag racer officially hits full-throttle next month at Gainesville Raceway.

After making his NHRA driving debut in a Top Alcohol Dragster during last year’s NHRA Nevada Nationals, Stewart confirmed Tuesday he plans to compete fulltime in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series with McPhillips Racing. Stewart and his TAD rivals in NHRA’s Southeast Division are scheduled to open the season at the historic Florida facility during The Baby Gators from March 1-5.

“It’s been like being a little kid all over again,” Stewart said in a Tony Stewart Racing news release from Brownsburg, Ind. “When I was racing go-karts, I couldn’t wait for the winter to be over so I could go racing. That’s where I’m at all over again.”

Stewart advanced to the finals of his first NHRA event last October at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, where he finished second to Madison Payne by two-ten-thousandths-of-a-second. Stewart’s 5.258-second/271.57 mph run was one inch short out of 15,840-inches down the quarter-mile _ an outcome that backed-up his self-proclaimed history of not being “a very good spectator.”

Recall that Stewart spent the 2022 season as a first-time NHRA team-owner, fielding a Top Fuel dragster for wife Leah Pruett and nitro Funny Car for three-time world champion Matt Hagan.

“It’s been a long winter,” said Stewart, a 51-year-old native of Columbus, Ind. “I think what’s made it feel even longer is the fact that we’ve been working on putting this package together with the McPhillips family to expand on what we did at Las Vegas last year and get back in the seat. I want to keep learning about the sport and have the opportunity to go compete more this year with a team I really enjoy.

“To be able to go to Vegas last year with the McPhillips family was really special. Pops (Rich McPhillips) and Richie (McPhillips Jr.) are an unbelievable family to drive for. Everyone on the crew is a fun group of guys to race with. It’s nerve-wracking to try and do something different, but when you have a team like what the McPhillips Racing team has, it makes everything a lot easier.”

The versatile Stewart _ aka Smoke Johnson _ has earned 13 championships across NASCAR, INDYCAR and USAC. His resume includes victories on high-speed paved oval tracks, the nation’s dirt bullrings and various road-courses. Competing fulltime in Top Alcohol Dragster will allow Stewart to chase an NHRA championship in a series featuring eight Sportsman categories. The 270-plus mph Top Alcohol Dragsters are the stepping-stone into the nitro categories of Top Fuel and Funny Car in the NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series.

Each TAD driver is eligible to earn points at their first 10 national events. The best six national finishes from their eligible point-earning events will constitute their NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series national championship point total. 

“It’s hard to sit there and know what expectations we should have for the year,” Stewart said. “I think as long as I keep learning more and more as I go by trying to be more consistent with driving the car, keep it in the groove, trying to stay consistent on reaction times and improve reaction times, those are all goals for me. I want to keep learning and get better every weekend and every race we go to.”

Stewart’s car will carry primary sponsorship from longtime partner Mobil 1 synthetic motor oil. Stewart won his third NASCAR Cup Series championship in 2011 with Mobil 1 as a sponsor and technical partner. Their 13-year-and-counting partnership encompasses Stewart-Haas Racing in NASCAR and Tony Stewart Racing in NHRA and the World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series.

Stewart’s TAD schedule will include the season-opening NHRA Gatornationals at Gainesville Raceway; the NHRA Winternationals at Pomona, Calif.; the NHRA Four-Wide Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway; the NHRA Four-Wide Nationals in Concord, N.C.; the NHRA Nationals at Summit Racing Equipment Motorsports Park in Norwalk, Ohio; the NHRA Nationals at Heartland Motorsports Park in Topeka, Kan.; the NHRA Nationals at Brainerd (Minn.) International Raceway; the NHRA U.S Nationals at Indianapolis Raceway Park; the NHRA Nationals at Maple Grove Raceway in Mohnton, Pa.; the NHRA Carolina Nationals in Concord, N.C.; the Texas NHRA FallNationals at Texas Motorplex in Ennis; the NHRA Nevada Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and the NHRA Finals at Pomona, Calif.

“Getting prepared for this season over the winter has been about trying to understand what the schedule is going to look like,” Stewart said. “I’m just trying to prepare for every racetrack we go to _ the shutdown areas and which way to turn off the racetrack. Just simple things and small details the people that have been in this sport for years already know. That’s what this sport is all about _ small details.

“You compete against so many talented people like Madison (Payne) at Las Vegas last year. There was no disgrace in finishing second to her because she is a great race car driver. It was an honor to be as close to her as we were in our first event. There are a bunch of great drivers and teams in that class and they really made me feel welcome. That’s one of the things I’m so excited about is that they make you feel like you’re a part of the family.”

Stewart will be teamed with Matt Cummins and Jasmine Salinas. “They are two people that have won a lot of races and championships,” Stewart said. “Having them as teammates will be an asset. The hard part is sometimes I’ll have to race them for the win. Hopefully we don’t get paired-up until the end of the day and it’s a win for the team as a whole. I’m excited and honored to be a part of the NHRA.”

Opening qualifying for The Baby Gators at Gainesville Raceway is scheduled for Thursday, March 2, at 9 a.m. ET. Qualifying will continue on Friday, March 3, at 8:30 a.m. Q3 will take place on Saturday, March 4 at 8:30 a.m., followed by Round 1 of eliminations at 9 a.m. Racing will continue through Sunday, March 5, beginning at 9 a.m. as streamed live on NHRA.TV.


John Force Racing again will field four fulltime hot rods in the 2023 NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series season, albeit with a revised crew chief roster.

JFR’s returning driver roster includes two-time/reigning Top Fuel world champion Brittany Force, three-time Funny Car world champ Robert Hight, Austin Prock and 16-time Funny Car champion and team-owner John Force. JFR will be chasing its 23rd and 24th NHRA world championships this season.

“The 2022 season was good to us. We all got wins, did the work for our sponsors,” said “Brute” Force, founder/CEO of JFR. “Brittany with the championship and Robert battled all the way to the end. Austin kind of surprised us all with the late surge and I held my own, too. We’ll build on that success this year. We’ve promoted from within, made some changes and it makes me, all of us, excited for this season.”

With the retirement of Hall of Fame crew chief Rahn Tobler from Austin Prock’s Chevrolet dragster, Chris Cunningham will move from Hight’s Chevrolet Camaro SS Funny Car. Cunningham will be lead crew chief with Joe Barlam remaining as co-crew chief on Prock’s car after leading the team to a third-place finish in 2023.

Filling Cunningham’s spot on Hight’s team will be Thomas Prock _ son of lead crew chief Jimmy Prock _ and Nathan Hildahl, promoted from car chief, as co-assistant crew chiefs.

“We’ve worked hard to create an environment here at John Force Racing where our employees are able to learn and grow,” Force said in a team release from his headquarters in Yorba Linda, Calif. “It’s all part of our Next Generation Program, it’s not just for drivers. So, when it came time to fill roles, it only made sense to have our own move into the open positions. We have all the confidence that these moves will set our teams up to continue the high level of racing and competitiveness that everyone expects from John Force Racing.”

David “Grubby” Grubnic will continue to make tuning decisions on Brit Force’s Chevrolet dragster. Grubnic will be joined by Brandon Hazelton as car chief in a move from John Force’s Funny Car team.

Force’s Chevrolet Camaro SS will continue to be led by crew chiefs Danny Hood and Tim Fabrisi, with Mac Savage moving from Brittany Force’s Top Fuel team to assist.

John Force Racing has begun preseason testing at Gainesville Raceway in Florida in anticipation of the season-opening Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals March 10-12.


The Funny Car Chaos Classic will return to Billy Meyer’s Texas Motorplex in Ennis for the third consecutive year March 16-18.

Funny Car Chaos quickly has attained major event status at the Motorplex, widely recognized for its revolutionary all-concrete racing surface, stadium-style seating and corporate suites. The Plex has become home to the third annual Stampede of Speed leading into the 38th annual Texas NHRA FallNationals Oct. 6-15.

“I grew up a ‘Motorplex kid,’^” said Chris Graves, Funny Car Chaos promoter and race director. “This is where my addiction to the sport was born, so it means a lot to me personally, aside from the luxuries and professionalism the Motorplex venue and staff bring to our racers and fans.

“The Motorplex continues to rise to the top and Funny Car Chaos is proud to be a part of that. We’re ready to put on a show, so you know what to do _ be there.”

Tickets are on sale for the Funny Car Chaos Classic. For details, visit www.texasmotorplex.com.

“We are thrilled to not just host another Funny Car Chaos event, but to continue to grow one the most popular and exciting drag racing series in the country,” said Christie Meyer Johnson, co-owner of The Plex with her father, a former Funny Car driver and inductee of the International Drag Racing Hall of Fame. 

“Over the past two years we have seen Chris and his team grow this event and build Funny Car Chaos into an impressive series that draw participants and fans from across the country,” Meyer Johnson said. “Last year we had over 60 Funny Cars and we think we can attract another amazing field in March.”

Highlights of The Plex’s 2023 racing schedule:

Texas Motorplex Bracket Series (Feb. 25-26 and July 28-30) _ Bracket racing returns with a pair of events highlighting the best local and regional racers competing for big bucks.

Funny Car Chaos Classic (March 16-18) _ This program features nitro-burning entries from Funny Car Chaos and Outlaw Fuel Altereds.

Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series NHRA Double Divisional (May 18-21) _ Four full days of racing will kick off the summer season. The event will offer twice the racing with future NHRA stars in Top Alcohol Dragster and Top Alcohol Funny Car battling for championship points.

Stampede of Speed and Texas NHRA FallNationals (Oct. 6-15) _ The lengthiest racing event this side of the Indianapolis 500, the Stampede of Speed again will feature concerts, a rodeo, lantern festival, beer expo and drag racing leading into The Plex’s cornerstone event. All four NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series pro categories will compete on the famed all-concrete surface, as well as premiere Lucas Oil Sportsman categories and JEGS All-Stars.

Street Outlaws No Prep Kings (Oct. 27-28) _ Broadcast on Discovery, No Prep Kings is the newest series in the Street Outlaws franchise. Racers compete at tracks across the country to earn points in a bid to be crowned the 2023 No Prep King.

Editor’s Note: John Sturbin is a Texas-based journalist specializing in motorsports. During a near 30-year career with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, he won the Bloys Britt Award for top motorsports story of the year (1991) as judged by The Associated Press; received the National Hot Rod Association’s Media Award (1995) and several in-house Star-Telegram honors. He also was inaugural recipient of the Texas Motor Speedway Excellence in Journalism Award (2009). His list of freelance clients includes Texas Motor Speedway, the Dallas Morning News, New York Newsday, Rome (N.Y.) Daily Sentinel, Corpus Christi (Texas) Caller Times, NASCAR Wire Service, Ford Racing and Used Car Dealer magazine).


| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, February 15 2023
No Comment