Leah Pritchett smiled Friday when asked about her ongoing verbal war with Top Fuel rival Steve Torrence.
“He’s better at it than I am, but he’s had more time since he’s older than me,” said Pritchett during a spirited press conference at Bristol Dragway.
Rivalries were once the lifeblood of motorsports, with promoters using every word and gesture to attract more fans and media attention.
At the 2015 Thunder Valley Nationals in Bristol, the controversy between the John Force Racing and Don Schumacher Racing camps emerged as the top story of the weekend. The barbs continued for several weeks.
With Pritchett emerging as a title contender this season, the backstage heat between Torrence and Pritchett has gradually intensified.
“It started out a little cute and fun, except when we come to the starting line,” Pritchett said. “I don’t really follow things on the Internet, so people have to tell me about it.”
Perhaps the best zinger came from Torrence, who referenced the term “gold-digger” while discussing Pritchett earlier this season. The fact that Pritchett’s Papa John’s dragster has a gold paint scheme and that dragsters are known as “diggers” was lost in translation by some.
“Steve has come up with some good ones,” Pritchett said. “I can’t imagine what someone who isn’t an avid drag racing fan and was watching on TV would have thought about that comment. I mean I am married to the guy that does the clutch on the [Torrence] car, so I don’t know what you consider a gold-digger.”
Pritchett said she regularly goes to Thursday night dinners with members of the Capco-Torrence Racing crew.
“Every single one of the guys attends except for Steve,” Pritchett said. “Let me make this clear, the beef is between Steve and I, and not the team. We have to live with each other.”
As for future salvos, Pritchett expects the off-track fireworks to continue.
“We’ll just keeping add new paint schemes and he will keep on coming up with new material,” Pritchett said.
Pritchett said the only feedback she’s interested in comes from veteran crew chief Todd Okuhara.
“I take my direction from Todd,” Pritchett said. “And no matter what happens, Todd said to let the car do the talking. We’re new together as a team. We have confidence in what we’re doing, so we stay low.”
Except for quick hits in press conferences, Pritchett said she is simply too busy to engage in verbal warfare with Torrence.
“I guess part of all this is competition, but I don’t have time to think about what I’m going to say,” said Pritchett, who led the Top Fuel points for five weeks. “Maybe [Torrence] can do that on his private jet, I don’t know.”
Torrence is currently second in Top Fuel points behind Antron Brown, with Pritchett in third.