The Tony Stewart Racing (TSR) team faced a challenging three weeks as they worked on rebuilding Matt Hagan’s Direct Connection Dodge Charger SRT HELLCAT Funny Car following the incident at Charlotte where it ended up in the catch netting. The first eight feet of the Funny Car chassis had to be replaced at a local repair shop in Brownsburg, Indiana. Hagan, who had already won three NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series national events in 2023, conducted successful tests before the NHRA Gerber Route 66 Nationals, and the crew led by Dickie Venables was ready for the race at the Illinois drag strip.
Unfortunately, despite qualifying fourth in the 16-car field, Hagan’s Funny Car lost traction in the first round of eliminations due to tricky track conditions. Despite the disappointing first-round loss to fellow Dodge driver Alex Laughlin, Hagan still holds the top position in the NHRA Funny Car point standings as the tour prepares for the NHRA New England Nationals in Epping, New Hampshire, scheduled for June 2-4.
Reflecting on the recent first-round losses at Charlotte and Joliet, Hagan acknowledged that they do not accurately represent the team’s capabilities. He mentioned the incident in Charlotte where he put the car in the sand and the subsequent replacement of the front half of the car. Hagan remains confident in the team’s potential and sees the recent results as a temporary setback. He emphasized the need to hit the reset button and move forward.
Meanwhile, Hagan’s TSR teammate, Leah Pruett, ran more successfully at the Route 66 Nationals. She advanced her Direct Connection Top Fuel dragster to the second round, winning the first round against four-time NHRA series champion Steve Torrance. However, Pruett’s dragster lost traction at half-track in round two, resulting in a loss to local driver T.J. Zizzo. Despite the second-round defeat, Pruett maintained her position in the top five of the NHRA Top Fuel standings as she looks ahead to the upcoming race in New Hampshire.
Pruett described her team’s experience at Route 66 Raceway as adaptable, highlighting the challenges of competing on a new racetrack with different conditions and a larger field of 21 cars. Although their qualifying average was disrupted, Pruett emphasized their commitment to a new tune-up program and the ongoing learning process under various conditions. She attributed their strong position in the points standings to their consistency and ability to make successful runs when others have struggled. With the race in Epping approaching, Pruett expressed confidence in their preparedness.
Cruz Pedregon had a solid performance in the Funny Car category, qualifying second with his Snap-On Tools Dodge Charger SRT HELLCAT. He was only surpassed by Robert Hight’s pole time. Pedregon advanced to the second round of eliminations on race day.