Reigning and defending NHRA Mission Foods World Funny Car champion Matt Hagan drove his Tony Stewart Racing (TSR) Johnson Horsepowered Garage Dodge//SRT® Hellcat machine to the runner-up spot Saturday in the inaugural SCAG Equipment PRO Superstar Shootout presented by Johnson’s Horsepowered Garage at Bradenton Motorsports Park.
Hagan, the four-time NHRA World Funny Car champion, kicked off his 2024 drag racing campaign by winning two rounds of action under sunny Florida skies and advancing to the final round against rookie Funny Car racer Austin Prock, who replaced Hagan’s arch-rival Robert Hight in the John Force Racing car.
Hagan, who scored six NHRA national event wins in 2024, defeated J.R. Todd in the first round and Bob Tasca III in the semi-finals to go against Prock in the final round. Unfortunately, Hagan, who had a quicker reaction time, ran a 3.872 to Prock’s 3.845 and lost by a close margin.
Despite the final round defeat, Hagan was upbeat after the event as his TSR Dodge/SRT Funny Car team had some solid testing runs as they prepared for the Amalie NHRA Gatornationals set for March 8-10 in Gainesville, Fla., in the opening 2024 NHRA Mission Foods Drag Racing Series event.
“It’s been a busy week with all of the testing before the race weekend started,” said Hagan. “All in all, we really couldn’t have asked for much more getting to the final round. I’m so thankful for my crew and how hard they all work. We had a good testing session. I think the PRO Superstar Shootout was a great event and a super way to kick off the 2024 season. We would have liked to beat Austin, but it was good preparation for the upcoming Gatornationals.”
Pruett, third in the 2023 NHRA Top Fuel point standings, made the decision in December to step out of the TSR Dodge//SRT dragster in 2024 to concentrate on starting a family this year with husband Tony Stewart and the PRO Superstar Shootout was her only 2024 Top Fuel appearance, driving the Johnson Horsepowered Garage Dodge//SRT car,
In the opening round Saturday, Pruett defeated Mike Salinas with a 3.972 to Salinas’ 4.412 and advanced to take on Doug Kalitta, who defeated Pruett in the final race of 2023 at Pomona, Calif., for the prestigious NHRA World Top Fuel crown. In another close race, Kalitta ran 3.709 to Pruett’s 3.741 and the Michigan driver went on to capture the PRO Superstar Shootout title.
“It was a perfect race for me to hang my hat on and feel good about my decision to step out of the seat for a while,” said Pruett after the race. “I got to enjoy the intensity of racing that came with just trying to qualify for the race, as well as two tough elimination rounds. I wanted redemption bad against Doug in the semis, but it will just have to wait a couple years now.
“We leave Bradenton with some more questions in our setup. But that is okay because our program will be stronger for it as we transition into Tony testing the car and driving it from here on out. The PRO Superstar Shootout was very successful, and I’m honored to be a part of that history.”
Both Hagan and Stewart will now test their respective TSR Direct Connection Dodge//SRT racecars in the coming weeks in preparation for the March 8-10 Amalie NHRA Gatornationals, the opening event in the 21-race 2024 NHRA Mission Foods Drag Racing Series.