AUBURN HILLS, Mich. – The excitement of the opening round of the 2023 National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) Camping World Drag Racing Series hits a 11,000-horsepower pitch this weekend (March 9-12) at the legendary Gainesville Raceway in Florida as Dodge//SRT and Mopar competitors are staged to kick off the new season with another winning performance in the 54th annual NHRA Amalie Motor Oil Gatornationals.
Led by the Tony Stewart Racing (TSR) nitro team, Dodge//SRT and Mopar racers Leah Pruett (Top Fuel) and Matt Hagan (Funny Car) bring their strong Direct Connection entries to the 2023 season opening event, the first of 21 rounds for the coveted NHRA Camping World World Championships.
The Dodge//SRT and Mopar duo enter their second campaign under the TSR banner, and Hagan returns as the event’s defending Funny Car champion with his nitro-burning Direct Connection Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat. The 2022 Gatornationals Funny Car triumph for Hagan was the first win for the TSR squad. Hagan recorded three additional NHRA national event victories in the team’s initial season.
Pruett also scored a 2022 NHRA Top Fuel title for TSR at the Dodge Power Brokers NHRA Mile High Nationals last July in Morrison, Colorado.
“After an outstanding opening season with Tony Stewart Racing, we are excited for the 2023 NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series as Leah and Matt are primed to put the Dodge Power Brokers and Direct Connection machines back in the winner’s circle,” said Tim Kuniskis, Dodge brand CEO – Stellantis. “Our Dodge//SRT performance enthusiasts also have the opportunity to get a close-up view of Direct Connection factory-backed performance products at our Manufacturers Midway display. It should be a spectacular season opener for the Dodge//SRT programs at Gainesville this weekend.”
The Direct Connection performance parts brand – only available through the Dodge Power Brokers dealer network – is the exclusive source of the Dodge brand’s factory-backed performance parts and straight-from-the-manufacturer technical information. Complete information on Direct Connection is available at DCPerformance.com.
For the first time in the 54 years of the NHRA Amalie Motor Oil Gatornationals, the Florida event will serve as the season-opening race on the NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series schedule after many decades beginning with the NHRA Winter nationals in Pomona, California. The on-track action begins Friday, March 10, with two qualifying sessions for the professional divisions, followed by two nitro sessions on Saturday with final eliminations set for Sunday at 10 a.m. EST. In addition, the Top Fuel ranks will feature the Pep Boy’s All-Star Top Fuel Callout on Saturday.
TSR team owner Tony Stewart, whose nitro operation recorded five NHRA national event wins in 2022, brings added enthusiasm for the Gainesville opener, as well as the upcoming 2023 season.
“We’re looking forward to getting the NHRA season started in Gainesville,” said Stewart, who’ll drive an Alcohol dragster for the full 2023 tour. “It’s a special track because it’s where Leah (Pruett) and I had our first date, and it’s where we got our first TSR team win last year with Matt Hagan. We retained all our team members, so I know we’re going to continue to build off last year’s success. The crews mesh very well together and are extremely talented. Both teams were able to test during the off-season to dial-in their setups and get ready for competition. We can’t thank Dodge enough for their support and continued partnership.” Hagan, a three-time (2011, 2014, 2020) NHRA Funny Car World Champion, comes to Gainesville after a strong finish where he placed third in the 2022 Funny Car points with his Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat and ran his career-win total to 43. The Virginia driver has produced top-three national point finishes nine times during his legendary career.
Still working with famed crew chief Dickie Venables, Hagan quickly gave the new TSR organization immediate respect with the 2022 Gatornationals Funny Car in the Dodge Power Brokers and Direct Connection livery. While he successfully began the new chapter in his career with his new team and Direct Connection as his primary livery, Hagan is set for another strong Gatornationals performance after a stellar pre-season testing.
“I’m pumped to be returning to Gainesville as the defending champion,” said Hagan. “Knowing we’re starting the season at the Gatornationals, and it was the track we got TSR’s first win last year is special. It was also my first win at Gainesville too. I can’t wait to climb into this Sublime Green Dodge Direct Connection Charger SRT Hellcat Funny Car. Let’s light the pipes and get another win!
Pruett, a former Nostalgia Funny Car World Champion and NHRA SAMTech Factory Stock Showdown Champion, will campaign in her 11th year in drag racing’s ultimate division, Top Fuel, and again work with crew chief Neal Strausbaugh and the TSR crew at the NHRA Gatornationals this weekend. The 34-year-old California native begins the 2023 NHRA campaign with one of the best NHRA elapsed time in series history at 3.631 seconds.
“I can’t remember a time I’ve ever looked more forward to the Gatornationals than this race in our Sublime Green Dodge Direct Connection Top Fuel Dragster,” said Pruett. “It’s the overall season opener, not just on the East Coast. Teams also got extensive testing at this track in the last month, which means the competition is going to be ultra-thick. I believe the fans are in for a memorable event.”
Also entered at Gainesville Raceway for the Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat nitro-burning contingent will be two-time world champion Cruz Pedregon in his Snap-On Tools Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat Funny Car and young Alex Laughlin in the Havoline Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat Funny Car for Jim Dunn. Pedregon brings his Cruz Pedregon Racing team to Gainesville after a 2022 season-ending Funny Car victory at the NHRA Finals last November and seeks to add to his 38-career Funny Car win total this weekend, while Laughlin moves into the Funny Car division this year after stints in Pro Stock and Top Fuel. Team owner Dunn is a legendary figure in NHRA drag racing dating back to his Funny Car driving in the early 1970s.