By Christina Fuoco-Karasinski | February 11, 2022
Top Fuel driver Leah Pruett and the Valley have a mutual love.
She has won the NHRA Chandler event twice and recently joined Tony Stewart Racing’s new drag racing team.
“Phoenix is in my top three racetracks and races,” says Pruett, who married Tony Stewart in 2021. “There’s always an extra amount of excitement. Phoenix fans have always made me feel like I was their champion.
“A lot of it has to do with winning. I won in 2016. When you go to a track only one time a year, that’s why they remember. If you have a repeat winner, it creates a big buzz. The next year, when I go back there, it’s like I never left. That’s a really cool feeling they definitely instill.”
The NHRA Arizona Nationals are set for February 25 to February 27 at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park. The NHRA Arizona Nationals traditionally serve as the second event on the NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series tour. The facility has seen record-breaking performances and is a fan-favorite of the circuit.
“With over 35 years of NHRA racing history at the Motorsports Park, we are eager for the Arizona Nationals to return to Wild Horse Pass and the Gila River Indian Community,” general manager Henry Moreno says. “We are dedicated to making the event the best possible experience for the fans and racers alike.”
“We missed the NHRA Arizona Nationals in 2021,” adds Glen Cromwell, NHRA president. “We are thrilled to return to Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park and put on a great show for the Phoenix fans.”
Updates for 2022 include free event parking at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park with the purchase of an NHRA Arizona Nationals ticket.
The Redlands, California, native, started racing when she was 8. Her father, Ron, who died in early 2021, was a land street racer and a street racer but, she’s quick to add, not a drag racer.
He wanted Pruett and her sister to start something “safe.” So, Pruett ventured out on her own and built cars.
“It was my father who put the mechanical aptitude within me,” she says.
From there, she sat behind the wheel to drag race. She says she enjoys her career because her job description changes. Previously it was “just,” she says, a racecar driver. Now she’s a team manager and in business development.
“The hardest thing about my job right now is making sure that I haven’t dropped any balls,” she says. “We want to hit the scene running as a new team while not looking like a new team. We want to look like veterans, experience championship caliber team.
“For me as a ‘professional racecar driver,’ I want to be the best in the world. That’s what I think is the most challenging.”
To maintain levity, she’s living in a motor home in the parking lot of the race shop. Pruett, who otherwise resides in Lake Havasu, Arizona, works with her team daily to order parts and take care of other maintenance and organizational issues.
Pruett says she’s ready for “a fresh breath of Phoenix air” and hanging out at the Sandbar in Chandler and Radford Racing School, formerly known as Bondurant. She “keys up” there to form a road course perspective and get a feel for the high-horsepower car.
“It’s usually what I do on Thursday,” she says. “I get some horsepower time in there. It puts me in the zone.”
The same goes for a little gift she sees along the I-10 and Loop 202.
“For the second or third year, they’ve had billboards along the freeway with my car and I on it,” she says with a laugh.
“I think that really helps drive the fanbase. It’s seen for two months, and they get to see me until I get there. There’s extra enthusiasm by the fans because I’ve been in their face for two months. It’s totally weird. At least I’m not up there pimping attorneys at law. I’m trying to help people know about drag races.”
NHRA Arizona Nationals
WHEN: 7:30 a.m. Friday, February 25, to Sunday, February 27
WHERE: Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park, 20000 S. Maricopa Road, Chandler
COST: Tickets start at $44 for adults; $20 for juniors ages 12 and younger