Leah Pruett will step away from the NHRA drag racing series in 2024 to focus on starting a family with Tony Stewart. Her NASCAR Hall of Fame husband will replace her next season in the Top Fuel dragster that Pruett drove to a career-best third-place finish in the NHRA standings this year.
Pruett and Stewart married just over two years ago.
“This is an incredibly personal decision, and what led to making this decision are other personal situations that have happened in my life and our lives,” Pruett 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 female and a female racer, time is particularly not on your side. One of the decision-making factors was, ‘What do we want our life to look like when we have a family?’ And it is easy to sit back and have the immediate view that we’ve got this killer race team and we can do what we didn’t do this year, which is win a championship.
“But stepping back and thinking about long term and what our family looks like, it was just the right time at the right decision.”
Pruett won two races this season in the Dodge Top Fuel dragster driving for Tony Stewart Racing, which won the Funny Car championship with Matt Hagan. Pruett has 12 career Top Fuel victories. Stewart ran the full NHRA season in 2023 in the Top Alcohol Dragster class.
Pruett turns 36 in May, six days after Stewart will celebrate his 53rd birthday. The two became inseparable in 2020 during the early days of the pandemic as Stewart, who had already retired from full-time racing, turned his attention to drag racing.
The three-time NASCAR champion and one-time IndyCar champion fell 21 points short in his first season of becoming the first driver to complete the trifecta with an NHRA title. 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 Hagan 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 several grassroots racetracks across the U.S.
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.
“That plays a part into my health, which means I need more time to start a family,” she told the AP. “The reason I bring that up is because people can relate to that and there’s a human element beyond just, ‘Oh, it’s the right time for us and everything is so great for us.’
“Hashimoto’s gives me a lot of challenges throughout the year in racing, and it took a lot to get that under control just to race, more or less under control to start a family,” she said. “There are no guarantees or promises on when I will be back in the seat, but I have every intention of returning as soon as I can. Everything in my heart says that I will return to driving Top Fuel as soon as I feel ready.”
As for Stewart, the team owner, taking over his wife’s seat, Stewart was adamant it was a team decision made by Pruett and crew chief Neal Strausbaugh after the duo scoured the market for available replacements.
He insisted he did not ask for the job or pressure the team into choosing him to fill his wife’s seat. In the end, the progress he showed in one season racing the Top Alcohol dragster and his immersion with the team made him the natural choice.
“To be a competitive, professional race car driver and have to make the decision to take yourself out of the seat to start a family is not a position most males would want to be put in,” Stewart said. “We had discussed starting a family, and this was her decision. In those discussions, we came to the conclusion that the timing was up to her. I was very supportive as to whether she wanted to do it now or years from now.
“I’m very humbled that Leah and Neal felt I was the driver to fill in for her. I feel honored that I can do that for my wife and this team.”