Leah Pritchett earned her third consecutive victory in the NHRA Factory Stock Showdown class Sunday at Texas Motorplex to clinch the 2018 championship in her first full season in that division.
Her win at the AAA Texas NHRA Fall Nationals gave the 30-year-old Pritchett her fourth title and her second world championship. She captured the Junior Dragster Division 7 championships in both 2000 and 2001 and added the NHRA Hot Rod Heritage Racing Series world championship in the Nostalgia Funny Car class in 2010 (the adult classes in NHRA are identified as world championships). She currently is the only professional driver with the opportunity to win two NHRA championships this season. She is fourth in the Top Fuel standings with three events remaining in the Countdown to the Championship.
"It's been eight years since I had a world championship," said Pritchett, who drove a Mopar Dodge Challenger Drag Pak to the title. "To have one is a life's dream, but to have another one at, what I would consider top shelf, highest caliber of support and people around, is something that I feel, at this very moment, has yet to sink in. It's gratifying, but at the same time it's humbling."
Pritchett entered the season finale having won at the NHRA U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis in early September and at the NHRA Midwest Nationals in Illinois two weeks ago. At the Madison, Illinois, event, Pritchett became the first NHRA driver in the Factory Stock Showdown class to make a pass in the seven-second range.
"When we came into the [Texas] event, we felt really good about our momentum, but then when we started qualifying, our momentum plummeted," said Pritchett, who qualified 10th. "We had difficulties getting down the track, we had traction issues, we had a new motor in it, a new supercharger."
The team entered Sunday's eliminations relying on experience, but "more in a guessing game than all season long."
When eliminations began Sunday, Pritchett posted her quickest pass of the weekend, an 8.079-second E.T. at 169.64 mph to defeat Aaron Stanfield.
After advancing past Randy Taylor in the quarterfinals, Pritchett moved to a dramatic semifinal grouping that featured co-point leaders Stephen Bell and Arthur Kohn. Pritchett trailed the duo by a single point and had to face Bell.
She left the line first with a 0.038-second reaction time, recording a winning 8.107-second, 169-mph mark. Kohn needed to win his semifinal match against Kevin Skinner to extend the championship battle to the final round. Skinner won, giving the Factory Stock Showdown championship to Pritchett. She claimed the event by taking out No. 1 qualifier Skinner in the final round with an 8.106-second pass.
"My name is on that [championship], but it had everything to do with everybody else's development and support and hard work," Pritchett said. "I'm just the one that got to wheel it."
Pritchett's event win was the 332nd for Don Schumacher Racing, the winningest team in NHRA history, and the 17th championship for the organization.
The Indiana resident's championship came after she lost in the second round of Top Fuel eliminations Sunday. She now trails Top Fuel standings' leader Steve Torrence by 154 points with three events left. However, she still believes she has a chance at that title.
"Some people say the glass is half empty or half full. For us, we think it's half full," Pritchett said. "We have a couple of things to fix and I have confidence in this team that we will turn it around. It's going to get interesting and it's going to be good."
Source: ESPN | Deb Williams | October 7, 2018