Redlands’ Top Fuel dragster driver Leah Pritchett continues to raise her NHRA expectations

Redlands’ Top Fuel dragster driver Leah Pritchett continues to raise her NHRA expectations

In the midst of the best season in her young Top Fuel career, Leah Pritchett has continued to set the bar higher and higher regarding her performance.

Fresh off an opening-round win at the NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals on Sunday, the former Redlands resident heads north for the Mello Yello Drag Racing Series advance event in Norwalk, Ohio, July 2-5.

The ninth Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals at Summit Racing Equipment Motorsports Park is one Dole Racing has targeted. Pritchett and Dote Racing have not qualified the past two years and they are ready to show how far she and her 10,000-horsepower Dote Racing Gumout dragster have come this season.

“Norwalk is a huge one for us,” Pritchett said. “This stretch is kind of our prime time. We’ve struggled in Norwalk and we feel like we have a lot to prove. We know how to be fast, and now we have to learn more on being consistent.

“That’s one of the big keys, getting that consistency. A lot of cars are going to be there and we have to go out there and do what we know how to do.”

Consistency was a problem at Bristol. Pritchett scored a mjaor upset in the opening around, recording her first win in six rounds against Spencer Massey in the new Gumout “Solid Gold” dragster. She posted a 3.837-second run at 301.40 mph to Massey’s 3.843 seconds at 317.4 mph. But Larry Dixon put her on the trailer in the second round.

“I thought the car left the starting line pretty well agaianst Larry,” Pritchett said. “But the tires started to break loose and I didn’t have a chance after that. It was great to defeat Spencer, and I felt the car was going to advance.

“Unfortunately, we didn’t this time, but our crew learned much more information for the hot conditions as we go on to Norwalk.”

Pritchett is 16 points behind Dave Connelly in the 13th spot in the point standings, and is 88 points behind Clay Millican for the 10th, and final, spot to make the NHRA postseason Countdown to the Title field.

Norwalk could be the location of another breakout performance for Pritchett, who advanced to her first career final round in Atlanta in mid-May. That has been the obvious benchmark in what has been a solid season, but Pritchett and her team, led by crew chiefs Doug Kuch and Rob Flynn, have shown other strong moments throughout 2015.

They have qualified fifth or better at three different events, a sign that the team has the potential to perform at a high level.

“We’re making clean and fast runs, and I couldn’t ask for more,” Pritchett said. “We just want to take it a step further of bringing the consistency with it. We’re taking it one step at a time ,and that’s the next step.

“We met one of our expectations this year and that’s going to a final round, but another one is a win, and that’s what we’re looking for.”

Pritchett said the team made a decision to run more aggressively, and the strategy has been beneficial, especially during qualifying. She qualified third in Atlanta and fourth in Topeka in a loaded Top Fuel field.

Consistency during eliminations remains a work in progress, but showing the ability to run fast, going 3.736 seconds at 321.04 mph in Englishtown, and qualifying for every event, has been extremely beneficial.

“This has been incredibly huge for every single one of us,” Pritchett said. “To show the results we have, it just gives a sense of confidence for all of us. It reassures us that we’re doing our job and that’s what we need. It’s big for us, but we have to keep working hard. We have to make sure every run we have is for a purpose.”

Pritchett is optimistic about the remaining schedule.

“The season has gone well,” Pritchett said. “Maybe not as well as we would have liked, and we want some more round wins, but we’re headed in the right direction and we’re making quicker runs.

“From a learning standpoint, we’re making the right choices and we found out we needed to push it a little more (during qualifying). We haven’t had it all come together, but it’s getting closer.”


From staff reports | | June, 22 2015