Leah Pruett will step down from the NHRA drag racing series in 2024 to focus on starting a family with Tony Stewart. His NASCAR Hall of Famer husband Pruett led his next season in Top Fuel Dragster to a career-best third in the NHRA standings this year.
Pruett and Stewart had married just two years earlier.
“This is an incredibly personal decision, and the reason this decision was made is my life and other personal circumstances that have occurred in our lives,” Pruitt told The Associated Press in an interview with Stewart.
“Time is not on anyone’s side and time is not gender neutral. But when it comes to being a woman and a female racer, time is not particularly on your side,” she said. “One of the deciding factors was, ‘What do we want our life to look like when we have a family?’ And it’s easy to sit back and immediately think we’ve got this killer race team and we can do what we haven’t done this year – which is win a championship.
“But stepping back and thinking about the long term and what our family looks like, it was just the right time to make the right decision.”
Pruett won two races this season driving a Dodge Top Fuel dragster for Tony Stewart Racing, winning the Funny Car Championship with Matt Hagen. Pruett has 12 career Top Fuel wins. Stewart ran a full NHRA season in the Top Alcohol Dragster class in 2023.
Pruett will turn 36 in May, six days after Stewart will celebrate his 53rd birthday. The two became inseparable during the early days of the pandemic in 2020 and Stewart, who had already retired from full-time racing, Turned his attention towards drag racing.
The three-time NASCAR champion and one-time IndyCar champion fell 21 points short of becoming the first driver to complete the trifecta with NHRA titles in his first season. He scored four wins in his first full year of NHRA competition as a driver, and has expanded his racing empire to field Dodge dragsters for Pruett and two-time Funny Car champion Hagen over the past two seasons .
Stewart’s racing properties include Stewart-Haas Racing in NASCAR, the Tony Stewart Racing sprint car team, the Superstar Racing Experience All-Star Series, and ownership in numerous grassroots race tracks throughout the United States.
The decision for Pruett to take 2024 off to focus on starting a family was made earlier this year and would not have changed even if she had won the Top Fuel championship.
Pruett told the AP that she suffers from Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, an autoimmune disorder that prevents her thyroid from producing enough hormones. She is unsure how her condition will affect her attempt to get pregnant.
“It plays a role on my health, which means I need more time to start a family,” he told the AP. “I bring it up because people can relate to it and there’s a human element beyond ‘Oh, it’s the right time for us and everything is great for us.’
He said, “Hashimoto gave me a lot of challenges in racing throughout the year and it took a lot to keep it more or less under control just to race, to start a family.” “There are no guarantees or promises as to when I will be back in the seat, but I have every intention of getting back as soon as possible. Everything in my heart says I will come back to driving Top Fuel as soon as I feel ready.
As for team owner Stewart taking over his wife’s seat, Stewart was adamant that it was the team’s decision that Prowett and crew chief Neil Strausbaugh made when the two scoured the market for available replacements. I had researched.
He insisted that he did not ask for the job or pressure the team to select him to fill his wife’s seat. Ultimately, the progress he showed over a season of Top Top Alcohol dragster racing and his engagement with the team made him the natural choice.
“Becoming a competitive, professional race car driver and making the decision to get yourself out of the seat to start a family is not a situation most men would want to be in,” Stewart said. “We had discussed starting a family and it was her decision. In those discussions, we came to the conclusion that time was up to him. I was very supportive of whether she wanted to do it now or years from now.
“I am so grateful that Leah and Neil thought of me as the driver to replace them. I feel honored that I can do this for my wife and this team.
AP Auto Racing: https://apnews.com/hub/auto-racing