Hagan, Pruett Advance to Second Round Monday at Indianapolis; Dodge//SRT® Direct Connection Drivers Set in “Countdown” 2nd & 4th

The tricky track conditions at the Dodge Power Brokers NHRA U.S. Nationals made it difficult for the Top Fuel and Funny Car drivers and crews Monday in the 69th edition of the “Big Go” at Lucas Oil Indianapolis Raceway Park.

Battling the higher temperatures and humid air, the Tony Stewart Racing (TSR) drivers, Leah Pruett and Matt Hagan, had impressive first round victories Monday in the Top Fuel and Funny Car eliminations, but both Dodge//SRT® Direct Connection racers lost traction in the second-round action.

Hagan, the current track record holder in the TSR Direct Connection Dodge//SRT Hellcat, defeated Alex Laughlin in Monday’s opening round with a strong 3.914 to Laughlin’s 6.157 as the track surface became more difficult with additional heat in the afternoon. Hagan, the four-time 2023 NHRA national event winner, and his second-round opponent, Ron Capps, saw their cars lose traction early in their runs. But Capps clicked the win light first with a 4.582 to Hagan’s 5.146.

Despite the second-round defeat, Hagan trails Capps by just 24 points entering the “NHRA Countdown to the Championship” which begins with the next event at Reading, Pa., on Sept. 15-17. The top-ten in professional points were locked into the “Countdown” in the final six NHRA Camping World Series races.

“Leaving the Big Go, we enter the ‘Countdown to the Championship’ in the second spot,” said Hagan. “You can win the championship from anywhere. You have to be in it to win it. We have six races left, so I really want to park this Direct Connection Dodge//SRT Hellcat Funny Car back in the winner’s circle. We have to win two or three of these races to be a real title contender. It was a productive weekend as far as making good runs in the heat. Unfortunately, we didn’t have lane choice in the second round and the left lane was a bit tricky. We’ll go into the next race with guns blazing. Reading is always a fast racetrack, so we will be ready that one.”

Pruett, the Summit Nationals Top Fuel winner this year, recorded a close first round win in her Dodge//SRT Direct Connection dragster over Austin Prock with a 3.747 to Prock’s 3.777. And she faced current NHRA Top Fuel point leader Justin Ashley, who Pruett defeated in her last two matchups at Norwalk, Ohio, and Brainerd, Minn., in the second round Monday.

However, Pruett’s mount lost traction early in the run and Ashley advanced to the semi-finals.

Pruett’s first round victory moved her to the No. 4 position in the Top Fuel points standings, as Leah will start 58 points behind leader Ashley when the “Countdown” begins at Reading, Pa., in two weeks.

“We definitely did not leave any efforts on the table to win the world’s longest and most prestigious drag race event, the Dodge Power Brokers NHRA U.S. Nationals, “said Pruett. “Monday morning began with faith that any issues were solved, and tune-up was on point with one of the most meaningful rounds of the year. Seeing Brittany (Force) go out first round meant our countdown placement was directly in our hands. Those are the unique type of nerves that Indy serves. We’re not letting our (second-round) loss stop our momentum. Racing Indy is the hardest feat of our crew. We’re taking it as conditioning for the most important chapter of the season.”

With the “Countdown” now in place, both Hagan and Pruett are anxious for the three-race NHRA national event swing late in September with events at Reading, Pa., Charlotte, N.C., and St. Louis, Mo. Hagan, a 47-time NHRA national event winner, has NHRA race victories at all three races.

In the Dodge HEMI® Challenge at the Dodge Power Brokers NHRA U.S. Nationals, Steve Comella of Rochester, N.Y., captured his third consecutive title Friday at Lucas Oil Indianapolis Raceway Park by driving his 1968 Barracuda to the final round win over Jimmy Daniels with a final round time of 8.331 to Daniels’ 8.395.

For the last eight years, Daniels and Comella have practically owned the Dodge HEMI Challenge as they have combined to win seven of the last eight specialty events held each year at the Dodge Power Brokers NHRA U.S. Nationals at Indy. Daniels won four straight titles from 2016-19, while Comella earned back-to-back titles in 2021-22.

“We work all year to win this prize for one day,” said Comella, who won $15,000. “It’s been 364 days since the last win at this race but now let’s see how many times we can do it.  We’re going to enjoy it tonight and tomorrow we’ll start prepping for next year.”