known as “ Smoke .”
In this in-depth interview , Pruett and Stewart open up about their unique relationship , the challenges of balancing their hectic schedules , Stewart ’ s venture into drag racing and his future in the sport .
Tony , when you were first getting a sense of the NHRA nitro world with Leah , what was your first impression ? STEWART : I think the craziest thing was when we went to what they called Indy 1 last year , going with her team up to the line and when she left the line , it looked like it took a second and a half to get down to the finish line . All I saw was yellow fumes and clutch dust . I just saw a silhouette of the car . It was like my brain couldn ’ t process the information fast enough .
I came back on Sunday and , believe it or not , after a night of just rest , came in and could actually see the car the next day . Every time I go to the track and every pass that I see , now it gets easier and easier . My brain is learning how to process the information faster . They say that you use 18 % of your brain or whatever that number is , and I truly believe that from experience . I feel like it ’ s like any other muscle in your body . If you don ’ t challenge it , it ’ s not going to build and grow . After all these different types of cars I ’ ve driven , I couldn ’ t believe how hard it was just to see the car go down through there . PRUETT : In the beginning , if somebody asked you , “ What did the wheelie bar do on that run ? What did the wrinkle look like ? Left front tire , how much did it kick ? Did it bounce ?” You would try and watch , but you couldn ’ t see it . Now you can , right ? You know what to look for and your mind has slowed it down . STEWART : That ’ s exactly what ’ s going on now . When I stand there , I can see a lot more detail in the car . If it moves , if it does anything weird , I can see it . Now my brain ’ s processing it so fast that
A 25-YEAR VETERAN OF THE SPORT , PRUETT HAS FOUND A HOME AT DON SCHUMACHER RACING AS THE DRIVER OF NOT ONLY THE MOPAR / PENNZOIL TOP FUEL DRAGSTER , BUT ALSO DODGE ’ S FLAGSHIP DRAG PAK CHALLENGER IN FACTORY STOCK SHOWDOWN . it seems like it takes eight seconds to get down there , and it ’ s a way quicker trip than that . But it sure seems like your brain speeds up to process the information . So that ’ s part of the learning process . It ’ s a lot of fun for me , to sit there and be able to watch all the details that they talk about in the debrief and figure out .
Leah , you ’ ve been so involved in this type of racing for so long now . What has it been like to be there with Tony as he ’ s learning what you ’ ve known for so long ? PRUETT : I call it like this wave of maturity . Not just the personal aspect of it , because there is that too . But you get comfortable with the car and comfortable with a team and your own job duties , partners , fans and all that . You ’ re always looking for room for improvement . But when somebody new comes in and asks questions and makes you really think about why ? Why exactly are we not running sticker [ new ] tires on it every run , like he thinks we should be all the time , coming from his world . When he asks questions about what we do and why we do it , I go into more detail . And when you get to teach somebody something , you actually learn at the same time . You just become more involved .
Tony , the learning process and asking questions eventually led to you wanting to get in a car and start making passes . What did that process look like ? STEWART : Well , it was a simple start . I sat in enough debriefs during the season last year , then listening to her feedback going , “ I hear what she ’ s saying . And I think I know what that would feel like . But I don ’ t know what that feels like .” The curiosity got the best of me . PRUETT : And the pokes by Don . STEWART : Yeah , that too . Schumacher kept poking at me like he did 12 years ago when I first met him , about getting in a car . But it really was a simple deal of just calling Frank Hawley and saying , “ Hey , I ’ d like to come down and do a class for a couple of days just to understand , get a feel for it .” That way when I ’ m with her , I understand what Leah ’ s talking about . You know it ’ s not going to feel the same in a Super Comp car or an alcohol car , but you ’ re going to get an idea and at least have a basis for understanding .
Then I went down there for two days and I really enjoyed it . Fans that have never driven anything in drag racing have zero clue . When I say zero clue , I mean they have zero clue what the hell ’ s going on [ in the car ]. Because there is so much more . If they really are a dedicated diehard drag racing fan , the best thing they could ever do is go down to Frank Hawley ’ s school and just take a Super Comp class for two days . It ’ s one of the coolest things you can ever do . I knew going into it that it was a safe environment where I wasn ’ t going to get myself in any trouble . Frank ’ s got an
76 | Drag Illustrated | DragIllustrated . com Issue 169