MOHNTON, Pa. – Leah Pritchett set a high bar for herself at her sponsor’s race earlier this season in Denver, qualifying No. 1 and winning the event in her 10,000-horsepower Mopar Dodge 1320 “Angry Bee” Top Fuel dragster.
Heading into the NHRA Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship opener at this weekend’s 34th annual Dodge NHRA Nationals at Maple Grove Raceway, the star driver would love to match that performance to start her title march.
Pritchett is currently fourth in Top Fuel points, putting her in prime position to race for her first NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series championship. Starting on the right foot is an important factor and with the added attention of it being a sponsor’s race, Pritchett readily embraces the spotlight of having to perform at a high level at the first of six NHRA playoff races.
“Some call it pressure to win at a sponsors race, we call it euphoric opportunity,” Pritchett said. “There is no extra pressure because we honestly can’t do or try any better than we already would, especially at the Countdown opening race. So it makes it incredibly easy for us to operate at our highest capacity, at our sponsor’s race, with our enthusiastic fans! All we can work towards is a Denver 2.0. Those are lofty goals, but that is what’s it going to take to excel in this Countdown.”
Brittany Force (Top Fuel), Ron Capps (Funny Car), Bo Butner (Pro Stock), and Eddie Krawiec (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were all winners of the event last year. It is the 19th of 24 races during the NHRA season and the first of six in the Countdown to the Championship, and Pritchett is hopeful her team can replicate the performance it had in Denver.
It was the first of back-to-back No. 1 qualifiers for Pritchett, who has seven career wins, and consistent runs led to her second victory of the season. Entering the Countdown to the Championship for a third straight year, Pritchett is ready to tackle the rigors of the NHRA’s championship season. Pritchett finished fifth in points a year ago, but a first-round loss at the playoff opener knocked her out of the title picture, something she wants to avoid in 2018.
“I feel more prepared than ever before because of the performance diversity this racecar and team have shown,” Pritchett said. “I’ve learned that operating out of fear of losing something is not as advantageous as operating our passion for what could be. The biggest difference is I have had such a varied season when it comes to my mental preparation from race to race, be it one car or three. Hopefully it has allowed me to be stronger mentally and define my compartmentalization.”
Pritchett is ready to contend for her first victory at Maple Grove Raceway, but to do so she’ll have to get past Countdown to the Champion competitors Steve Torrence, the current points leader, Clay Millican, Tony Schumacher, Doug Kalitta, Antron Brown, defending world champ Brittany Force, Indy winner Terry McMillen, Mike Salinas and Scott Palmer. But Pritchett and her team, led by crew chief Todd Okuhara, welcome the challenge with the way the team has been performing.
“We’ve never been one for fashion, but we are most definitely trending in the right direction with finding what works and running with it,” Pritchett said. “The key to success will be having a tight and confident grip on how we are running the clutch setup, and of course having a driver that can get it done not just sometimes, but every single time. We are at the point where mediocre will no longer fly. Everything needs an extra level of attentiveness and readiness to go the distance.”