Pritchett, Papa John's Top Fuel dragster team at DSR go to semis,
earn No. 3 seed for Countdown to the Championship playoffs
BROWNSBURG, Ind. (Sept. 4, 2017) - A year ago, Leah Pritchett arrived at the NHRA U.S. Nationals near Indianapolis hoping she could get the 10th and final spot in the six-race Countdown to the Championship playoff that would begin two weeks later near Charlotte.
She made it in by one point and finished the season ranked seventh with her rookie Papa John's Pizza Top Fuel dragster team led by crew chief Todd Okuhara and assistant Joe Barlam of Don Schumacher Racing.
Her goal was loftier when this year's 63rd annual U.S. Nationals opened on Friday: She planned to head to Charlotte as the top seed by winning the regular season championships that closed on Monday.
The 29-year-old driver came up a little short but earning the No. 3 seed is an impressive improvement in one season that includes four event titles, six No. 1 qualifying positions and holding the current NHRA world record for elapsed time.
She even saw a silver lining in advancing to Monday's semifinals where she lost to Steve Torrence, who went on to win the U.S. Nationals title and earn the top seed for the playoffs.
"We leave here, and our heads are not hung low," she said. "To go to the semifinals at the U.S. Nationals is farther than I've ever been at the U.S. Nationals in any category. It's something to be proud of. To lose to the eventual winner and current points leader, that should be a good glimpse into the future of how tight this Countdown to the Championship is going to be."
The Papa John's team held the No. 1 qualifying spot with a track record until it was topped and she finished as the second quickest in qualifying.
"I think we had a lot of momentum coming into this race and we kept it going as long as possible. We experienced some rather unusual circumstances in the semifinals that slowed our momentum but definitely didn't stop it.
"This race is actually a turning point for us. It's something that we really needed. We hadn't been able to get a grip on a warmer track tune-up and this race made us dig deep and figure it out.
"Between yesterday and today in eliminations, we have more confidence going into the Countdown with St. Louis and the warmer tracks than we did four days ago."
DSR RAISES $70,000 FOR RILEY HOSPITAL FOR CHILDREN'S RILEY KIDS
Don Schumacher Racing with a lot of help from their friends raised more than $70,000 for Riley Hospital for Children and the Riley Kids during the U.S. Nationals.
It started Friday with the 12th annual DSR Open House that raised $40,000 and DSR partner Pennzoil added $10,000 to that total to take the amount to $50,000.
On Saturday, "Papa John" Schnatter, founder and chairman of Papa John's Pizza, and DSR owner Don Schumacher presented donations of $10,000 each to Riley Kids.
Also on Saturday, Schnatter and Schumacher donated another $10,000 each to the Infinite Hero Foundation program as part of this year's Charity Challenge series that pits Schnatter and his cherished 1971 Camaro Z28 against Leah Pritchett in DSR's 2017 Dodge Challenger Drag Pak.
Unfortunately, Schnatter was under the weather and unable to race Pritchett during the U.S. Nationals but that didn't stop Schumacher and him from fulfilling their season-long commitment.
So far this year, the Charity Challenge has raised $80,000 for Infinite Hero and $20,000 for Riley Kids with the last Charity Challenge race schedule for next month near Dallas.
Event winner: Steve Torrence (CAPCO Contractors)
No. 1 qualifier: Clay Millican (Doug Stringer Racing) 3.663 sec.-track record, 329.10 mph.
TOP FUEL STANDINGS 2017 COUNTDOWN TO THE CHAMPIONSHIP(Reset for six-race playoff; wins in parenthesis; DSR drivers in CAPS)1. Steve Torrence (7) 2,100 ----2. ANTRON BROWN (4) 2,080 -203. LEAH PRITCHETT (4) 2,070 -304. TONY SCHUMACHER (1) 2,060 -405. Doug Kalitta 2,050 -506. Brittany Force (1) 2,040 -607. Clay Millican (1) 2,030 -708. Terry McMillan 2,020 -809. Scott Palmer 2,010 -9010. Shawn Langdon 2,000 -100FINAL 2017 NHRA MELLO YELLO REGULAR SEASON(Official after U.S. Nationals; 18 of 24 events: wins in parenthesis; DSR drivers in CAPS)1. Steve Torrence (6/7) 1,6672. ANTRON BROWN (4) 1,5993. LEAH PRITCHETT (4) 1,5634. TONY SCHUMACHER (1) 1,2205. Doug Kalitta 1,1266. Brittany Force (1) 1,1057. Clay Millican (1) 1,0808. Terry McMillen 7709. Scott Palmer 69810. Shawn Langdon 647