NASCAR Hall of Famer Tony Stewart will make his drag racing debut this weekend at the NHRA Nevada Nationals at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Stewart will compete for McPhillips Racing in a Top Alcohol dragster -- the equivalent of NASCAR's second-tier Xfinity Series.
"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 is guaranteed a minimum of four passes beginning with Q1 and Q2 on Friday, Q3 on Saturday and at least the first round of eliminations Sunday.
Although he has a Top Fuel license -- earned over two multiday sessions at Frank Hawley's Drag Racing School and a handful of tests over the past two years -- the 51-year-old felt Top Alcohol was a smarter entry point.
"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."
The three-time NASCAR champion, one-time IndyCar champion and USAC triple crown winner is in his first season of NHRA ownership. Tony Stewart Racing fields a Top Fuel dragster for his wife, Leah Pruett, and a Funny Car for Matt Hagan. Both drivers have qualified for NHRA's Countdown to the Championship.
"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," Stewart said. "I'm sure it will be sensory overload, but you have to start somewhere."
Stewart's drag racing debut will have sponsorship from longtime partner Mobil 1, which was both a sponsor and technical partner for him when he won his third Cup title in 2011. Stewart's partnership with Mobil 1 encompasses Stewart-Haas Racing in NASCAR and Tony Stewart Racing in NHRA and the World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series.
"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, an ExxonMobil marketing director. "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."