Leah Pruett delivers first Top Fuel victory for Tony Stewart Racing at NHRA Mile High Nationals
MORRISON — Leah Pruett clutched a championship trophy and looked out from the tower at Bandimere Speedway as a champion.
“This view never gets old,” Pruett said.
Need more proof that women belong atop the NHRA podium?
On Sunday, Pruett took home the Top Fuel title at Mile High Nationals — her second at Bandimere since 2018 — with a dominant performance. Pruett took down Antron Brown, Clay Millican, Justin Ashley and Shawn Langdon to give newly formed Tony Stewart Racing its first Top Fuel victory of the season.
“We’ve had a tough season,” said Pruett, who is also married to Stewart. “You might think that a team owner would be breathing down your throat a little bit by now, and wanting a little (better) results compared to our Funny Car team. But he’s a realist. We’re optimistic. These are long-term goals and you guys are just seeing now the short-term results of it.”
Pruett’s first win with TSR didn’t come easy.
Drivers faced their most challenging track conditions of the NHRA season on Sunday with the temperature exceeding 90 degrees to begin the semifinals. Plus, they faced the difficulty of adjusting equipment to the high altitude at Bandimere.
“That’s the first time that this Dodge team has had to go through three blocks in one weekend,” Pruett said. “By that time, (Matt) Hagan’s team had been out, and they came over and did a phenomenal job of being supportive.”
Pruett caught a break in the finals when her opponent, Langdon, was unable to launch because of an oil spill. She still fired out to a blazing 3.884-second finish (316.38 miles per hour). Pruett struggled to find the right words to describe her emotions after the victory.
“I won’t even say it’s what dreams are made of,” Pruett said. “Because I never dreamed that it could actually be as fulfilling of a life that I have.”
Funny car. Top-qualifier Matt Hagan, the defending Mile High Nationals Funny Car champion, got upset in the first round of the finals with a loss to Jack Wyatt. It opened the door for second-seeded Robert Hight to win the title.
Hight — in the Auto Club Chevy Camaro SS — has five NHRA victories halfway through the season. He won on Sunday in 4.065 seconds (311.92 mph) over Bob Tasca III in the finals.
“Things are going our way,” Hight said. “We’ve got to keep digging and keep working.”
Pro Stock. Matt Hartford, the president and CEO of Arizona-based Total Seal Piston Rings, is an independent driver who doesn’t make his living on the track. That didn’t stop Hartford from winning the Pro Stock competition on Sunday at 6.967 seconds (196.36 mph) in the finals over Aaron Stanfield.
“We have as good of a racecar as anyone right now,” said Hartford, who drives a Chevy Camaro.
Pro Stock Motorcycle. Matt Smith (Denso/Stockseth/MSR) and his Buell set a Bandimere record with the first 190 mph Pro Stock Motorcycle runs in Mile High Nationals history — in the semifinals (190.03 mph) and finals (190.22 mph) — as the top-qualifier.
Smith finished in 7.097 seconds to defeat second-place Joey Gladstone to collect his 34th career NHRA race victory. Smith has secured two wins on different motorcycles (Suzuki and Buell) this season.
“Any time you get a win, it’s awesome, because these things are hard to come by,” Smith said. “You never know when it’s your last one. Don’t take it for granted.”