Why have women drivers had a long history of winning at the top levels of drag racing but have had trouble finding victory lane in NASCAR and IndyCar?
Leah Pritchett, a successful female driver in the National Hot Rod Association, said the answer isn’t a simple one but rather “a stew of everything.”
Pritchett, 29, has six career NHRA Top Fuel victories and has reached a top competition speed of 334.15 miles per hour. She started competitive racing at the age of 8 in junior dragsters.
“Drag racing has embraced it (driver diversity) from the series to the teams to the fans,” she told USA TODAY. “NHRA prides itself on that diversity. It’s a stereotype that’s already been stepped over. Females are perfectly capable of driving.”
Pritchett said pioneering female drag racers such as Shirley Muldowney and Lori Johns paved the way for modern-era drivers to succeed against men.
“NASCAR, I think, is still in retrograde, still in a ‘good old boy’ mind-set,” she said. “This is NASCARland – a male-dominated sport, by far. Between the competitors and the fan base, they just have not come along as far and as quickly as the NHRA has come.”
Pritchett, who recorded her most recent Top Fuel win at the May 6 Southern Nationals on the same day that Courtney Force scored her 10th Funny Car win, said it’s important that sponsors are willing to support female drivers.
“That’s why I support Danica Patrick and the partners who helped her compete,” Pritchett said. “That makes a difference. If the fan base isn’t into it, how can you expect partners to put in millions of dollars supporting a female on the track?”
Pritchett said it’s a mistake to assume that women succeed in drag racing because it’s somehow not as difficult.
“Some think all we do is grab a steering wheel and hold on and go straight,” she said. “Teams rely on the driver to be 100 percent consistent and not mess up. We go through a list of 30 things within 30 seconds – clutch, brake pressure, all the different things we do inside the car before it even launches.
“Our level of focus is really concentrated and condensed. There’s the argument that they (circle-track drivers) have to concentrate for hours. But if you miss passing that guy on that lap, there’s another one and another one and another one. We have to be perfect four times (in four rounds) a day. It’s like being in the Olympics, and you’ve got this one shot to get everything right.”
Source: USA Today Sports | Mike Hembree | May 15, 2018