LAS VEGAS – After winning four times and advancing to six final rounds during the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season, Leah Pritchett could have been content in what has already been a standout year.
But the Top Fuel star wants to end the year in impressive fashion, and that means there are two races left to leave an even more noticeable mark.
The first comes at this weekend’s NHRA Toyota Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, the penultimate race in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Countdown to the Championship. Pritchett is currently fifth in the points standings, but a late-season victory in Vegas, while also showcasing a Pennzoil livery on her 10,000-horsepower dragster, would do wonders for a team looking to end their season on a high note.
“I do think there’s more to be gained,” said Pritchett, who also has six No. 1 qualifiers this season. “If you would have told us all the accomplishments – the No. 1 qualifiers, the wins, setting the national E.T. record – before the first race in Pomona, we would have said, ‘sign us up.’ That’s amazing. But we are competitors and while we are excited about that, we wouldn’t be the racers we are if we didn’t think we could go for more. We want more because we know we can do more.”
Steve Torrence (Top Fuel), John Force (Funny Car), Shane Gray (Pro Stock) and Jerry Savoie (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were last year’s winners of the event. It is the 23rd of 24 races during the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season, and Pritchett has enjoyed seeing the continued excitement from her team this late in the season.
Falling in close races early in the Countdown to the Championship has been difficult for the team but there is still plenty for Pritchett to race for to conclude the season. She started the year in remarkable fashion, winning three of the first five events, adding another victory in Brainerd, and finishing strong in Vegas and Pomona would provide a strong carryover for the 2018 season. It would also take away the playoff frustration that has included only three round wins thus far.
“I think these last two races are important on multiple levels,” said Pritchett, who has five career wins. “For our team, for our morale, which is already high, going through all these highs and lows together, I couldn’t ask for anything more. I believe we’re ready. This season has been a learning season, specifically what it takes to maintain a championship-caliber level, but (a win) would create a lot of momentum. We have the mentality of nothing to lose and everything to gain.”
Pritchett set a then E.T. record in Brainerd, running a 3.64, one of many highlights during her first full season with Don Schumacher Racing. Getting a fifth win would be an ideal topper, though it won’t be easy. Torrence is after his first Top Fuel world title, holding a 57-point lead over Brittany Force and a 76-point advantage against Doug Kalitta. While it’s been a learning experience competing against the Top Fuel elite, Pritchett and her team have made impressive strides.
“What this season has forced me to do is find that balance between having confidence in my abilities, and also pursuing new ways to improve,” Pritchett said. “I feel like I’ve done a good job of exploring that and hopefully these last two races will be the product of conquering that. The team is working hard, and we’re all excited for these last two events to hopefully finish well. But I know we’re going to stand up there on stage and know we gave it all we’ve got.”