History was made in the Top Fuel class at the Carquest Auto Parts Nationals at Wild Horse Motorsports Park in Phoenix.
Leah Pritchett won her first career Top Fuel national event, defeating Brittany Force on a holeshot in the finals.
Pritchett clocked a 3.775-second lap at 323.12 mph to edge Force’s quicker 3.774-second run. The difference was at the starting line as Pritchett had an .046 reaction time compared to Force’s .067 reaction time.
“There’s no words to describe it, this is the happiest day of my life obviously besides getting married,” said Pritchett, who drives the Quaker State-sponsored dragster for Bob Vandergriff Racing. “This is what dreams are made of. The smile I think is going to take a really long time to come off my face. This is a day I’m going to relive in my mind every single day as long as I can.”
The Gatornationals March 17-20 in Gainesville, Fla., is the next stop on the NHRA Mello Yello circuit.
Pritchett, however, wasn’t talking about Gainesville in the media center - she was living in the moment.
“I feel like I just won the Super Bowl,” Pritchett said. “Even though it is only the second race and it is not the U.S. Nationals, for me it is an incredible personal, and professional victory to be able to compete with the team I’m with and because of the teams I have been with before. I feel like I’m on top of a mountain, but when you’re a climber you get on top of a mountain and see the next one that is even higher. I’m a climber and I’m always going to be looking for what’s next. When I was a kid, I wrote down my goals and it was to race a full season in the NHRA Mello Yello series and the next line item was to win a race and the next line item was to win a championship. Those seem like far out goals, but that’s what I’m putting into words whatever you want to do in life it can be possible and (Sunday) I’m living the reality of that possibility.”
This was only second all-female Top Fuel final round in NHRA history. The first came when the legendary Shirley Muldowney beat Lucille Lee in the finals of the Spring Nationals June 13, 1982 in Columbus, Ohio.
“I didn’t know that,” said Pritchett about her place in NHRA history. “That’s a very elite status to have. That is incredible. I will always remember now that I’m the second one to do that (win an all-female final in Top Fuel). That’s phenomenal. I take great pride in the heritage of our series and the sport and being able to do that and continue that on. I really could not of dreamed up a more epic final.”
Pritchett defeated J.R. Todd, a red-lighting Antron Brown, Clay Millican and Force in her memorable victory march. Not only was this Pritchett’s first Top Fuel Wally, it also was her co-crew chief Mike Guger’s first national event win as a crew chief. Guger is a co-chief with Joe Barlam.
Pritchett’s only other Top Fuel final round appearance was at the Southern Nationals May 17, 2015, when she lost to Antron Brown while driving for Dote Racing.
This was Pritchett’s 49th career Top Fuel race, and came after she lost in the first round to Millican in the first round of the season-opening Winternationals Feb. 14 in Pomona, Calif. Pritchett also does have three career NHRA Pro Mod national event victories.
Brittany Force is now 0-7 in career Top Fuel final rounds, but her record was the last thing on Pritchett’s mind, especially since Brian Husen and renowned Alan Johnson are now tuning her dragster.
“Brian Husen and I are great friends,” Pritchett said. “When he was the crew chief for Shawn (Langdon) last year he knew some of my driving weaknesses because that’s what we talk about as friends. He had gone in and told Shawn, you know she hates losing to you. Of course I would hate losing in the final round to Brittany. Looking over there, you would think it would kind of cloud up some confidence of mine, but it did not at all because of the confidence that Joe and I have. It’s very cool and incredible.”
This season at Bob Vandergriff Racing, Pritchett replaced three-time world champion Larry Dixon, who finished fourth in the points last season highlighted by six runner-up finishes.
“The journey that we had to get there,” Pritchett said about her victory. “We all know what happened in Pomona and we’ve done a lot of carnage and damage on the track, but us testing here (Wild Horse Motorsports Park) a couple of weeks ago, really did help (Sunday) put the win light on and get my first.”
Pritchett said she and Brittany Force could easily become the next great rivalry in drag racing.
“I absolutely think so,” Pritchett said. “Why not? I think we are totally separate individuals and people. She is a very gorgeous person on the inside and out. I wouldn’t want to make anything up by any means, but why not (be rivals)? Battle of the weaves is what we were saying over there in our pit. We could play something up if there is something to be played up. Now, we are on an even playing level. They have a bad hot rod and so do I, so let’s play some ball. Good ball. Not dirty ball. If anybody comes up with some cool angle for Brittany and I to be the next Snake and Mongoose that would be absolutely incredible. I do want to point out Don Prudhomme and I, I consider us pretty good friends, he has been a supporter of mine for a little while and I actually talk to him about driving quite a bit. He gave me some mental pointers after Pomona and I implemented them. So Don, thank you.”
Pritchett acknowledged in her live post-race celebration on Fox Sports 1 that this weekend did have some tough times. Gary Pritchett, her husband and clutch specialist for fellow Top Fuel driver Steve Torrence, suffered some second and third-degree burns recently and had a setback Friday and was put in the hospital.
“It was pretty tough,” Pritchett said about driving this weekend. “I like to put on some thick leather skin and people who know me, know that I can do that sometimes pretty well. But, it doesn’t get any harder than that, knowing that the one that you love that does share your passion and competitiveness can’t be here and is hurting. I actually got to flex my focus ability and I’m hired with the best of the best to do a job no matter what goes on in my life and I was able to do that with an incredible crew and crew chiefs, and team owners and sponsors.”
Pritchett did point on her husband’s team – led by driver Steve Torrence - won and the Winternationals and now she won the second race at Phoenix.
“The two Wallys in Top Fuel so far belong in the Pritchett household,” Leah said. “I don’t know how long we can keep that going.”
Tracy Renck | competitionplus.com | February 29, 2016