During a video conference before making his NHRA driving debut at the Nevada Nationals at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Tony Stewart predicted he might fall in love with a new form of motor sport in which he has become a team owner.
He called three successful qualifying rounds in the steepingstone Top Alcohol dragster class a promising first date.
“I want to have a second date,” the three-time NASCAR champion said about pursuing a future as a drag racer after speeding down the track at 275 mph.
“The primary goal was to get experience; it wasn’t to focus on performance. It was about learning procedures and learning how to do them correctly and just getting the experience of the weekend. So far, we’re happy with that experience.”
After setting the second-quickest time in qualifying, Stewart won his first- and second-round elimination races Saturday in his first foray as an NHRA car owner-driver to punch his ticket to Sunday’s semifinals.
Stewart married Top Fuel driver Leah Pruett last winter, and that led to him starting a team for his wife and former Funny Car champion Matt Hagan. Stewart’s debut as a hot rod driver has fueled speculation that he is considering expanding his NHRA role.
“You’re way ahead of where my mind is,” he said about the possibility of starting another driving career at age 51. “After the weekend’s over, we’ll sit back and (see) if this is something we want to pursue. (Is it) overwhelming, is it too much, do I need to just stay in my lane and be an owner? Or is it something that’s feasible?”
One of the car owners for whom he is driving in Las Vegas suggested it is more than feasible based on Stewart’s first passes in front of spectators.
“You look at him in our pit area and you can see the wheels turning. He’s focused and determined to do well,” Rich McPhillips Jr. said. “On the first run, we just wanted to make sure the car went down the track and that (the media) got good video. He ran a bit quicker than we expected, but then again, I’m not surprised considering the level of talent we’re dealing with.”
Stewart, who also has won an IndyCar championship and dozens of sprint and midget racing titles, said crossing over to dragsters has piqued the interest of his former competitors.
“They all hear about how many Gs it is when the chutes come out, what that feels like,” Stewart said of reaching the far edge of the speedway property at the end of the drag strip. “I say it feels great, because I know I’m eventually going to stop and not end up out on I-15.”