TOP FUEL’S LEAH PRITCHETT HEADING TO CARQUEST AUTO PARTS NHRA NATIONALS
CHANDLER, Ariz. – Leah Pritchett is in uncharted territory in her young NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series career, but this is the moment she has always wanted and the Top Fuel driver plans to take advantage.
Pritchett earned a full-time driving position behind the wheel of Bob Vandergriff Racing’s 10,000-horsepower Quaker State/FireAde dragster before the season, a role Pritchett has been aggressively pursuing since joining the Top Fuel ranks.
But she also knows the full-time role leads to a bigger spotlight and demands results, which has Pritchett and her team working hard heading to this weekend’s CARQUEST Auto Parts NHRA Nationals at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park near Phoenix.
“It was a very positive high for me to partner with Vandergriff Racing and, mentally, this is new territory for me,” said Pritchett, who suffered an opening-round loss at the season opener in Pomona. “I’ve never had an on-track standpoint where I’m thinking about Indy and the Countdown, and things like that.
“Every single race matters for qualifying and points. It’s something new and it weighs heavily on your mind. I put more pressure on myself than anybody, but I’m embracing it. I keep reminding myself this is happening and this is what the plan has been for a long time, and it’s all about maximizing the opportunity.”
Tony Schumacher (Top Fuel), Matt Hagan (Funny Car) and Rodger Brogdon (Pro Stock) were last year’s winners of the race at the popular multipurpose motorsports facility in the Valley of the Sun. For fans watching at home, the race will be televised nationally on Fox Sports 1 (FS1), including Saturday qualifying coverage as well as live coverage of Sunday’s finals at 5 p.m. (ET). The race is the second of 24 during the 2016 season and Pritchett is ready to make an impact on a new team that has come together quickly.
Returning to the familiar scene at Phoenix, where the team tested together to prepare for the opener should help, and Pritchett has seen nothing but positives regarding a team led by crew chief Mike Guger.
“We’ve got a number of new crew members with this team but it’s going very well and we’re all meshing,” Pritchett said. “We’re getting to know everyone’s styles and that’s going to streamline our entire process. Everyone is very thorough with the projects we’re working on and it seems very seamless so far. It’s been very impressive. We’ve got a very strong core and that’s already been shown. I’m feeling very positive about everything.”
Pritchett has displayed her talents on a limited basis in previous years, advancing to her first career final round a year ago in Atlanta. It continued a noticeable progression in her short time behind the wheel, and Pritchett, who also has three career semifinal appearances, is expecting even more out of her 2016 campaign.
Competing on a full-time basis against all the stars in Top Fuel is the biggest step yet for Pritchett, who has developed her driving skills in the NHRA during 19 straight seasons after starting her racing career in the NHRA Summit Racing Jr. Drag Racing League. But talking with Vandergriff, who starred in Top Fuel for a number of years, has already paid dividends for Pritchett.
“Bob has been very supportive going into this,” said Pritchett, who also has three career NHRA Pro Mod Series wins. “Whether it’s been testing or at Pomona, he’s been very much behind us. He’s talked with me about staging and different procedures, and it’s been very easy to talk to him about different things, whether it’s driving or from a business standpoint. At the end of the day I’m so excited and thankful to be doing this.”
That said, Pritchett is ready to perform at a high level as well and believes things will turn around quickly in Phoenix. She’ll face off against a host of Top Fuel standouts, including reigning world champion Antron Brown, eight-time world champion Tony Schumacher, recent NHRA Winternationals winner Steve Torrence, Shawn Langdon, Brittany Force, J.R. Todd, Doug Kalitta, popular Aussie Richie Crampton, teammate Dave Connolly and Clay Millican.
But Pritchett knows her team is capable of competing at the top and she is ready to see it come to fruition at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park.
“There’s no better feeling than getting in that car and racing,” Pritchett said. “Everyone is in the same boat working hard to get everything ready. Phoenix cannot come any sooner. From Mike to everyone on down, we are all just itching to get back and really get our car on track. We made such big changes at Pomona, but if we get everything in sync it’s going to be great to watch.”
Defending Funny Car world champ Del Worsham is a former Phoenix winner and is opening his title defense against a strong lineup of challengers, including national record holder and seven-time 2015 winner Jack Beckman and 16-time world champ John Force, the winningest driver in NHRA history at Phoenix with eight victories. Others to watch include Tommy Johnson Jr., Ron Capps, who won the opener in Pomona, defending event winner Hagan, Courtney Force, Cruz Pedregon, Alexis DeJoria and Robert Hight.
Competition is expected to be fierce in the new-look NHRA Pro Stock category and two-time defending world champ Erica Enders and her new Dodge Dart teammate, five-time world champ Jeg Coughlin, are both past winners at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park. Others expected to challenge for the victory in the 200-mph factory hot rod class include last year’s top rookie, Drew Skillman, tough Texan Chris McGaha, Shane Gray, Vincent Nobile, Bo Butner, 2012 champ Allen Johnson, Pomona winner and four-time world champ Greg Anderson, Jason Line and V. Gaines.
The sleek new Pro Stock cars will feature fuel-injected engines, shorter wheelie bars, flat hoods and a 10,500 RPM rev-limiter.
As always, fans will have the opportunity to interact with their favorite drivers as they’re granted an exclusive pit pass to the most powerful and sensory-filled motorsports attraction on the planet. This unique opportunity in motorsports gives fans direct access to the teams, allowing them to see firsthand the highly-skilled mechanics service their hot rods between rounds, and get autographs from their favorite NHRA drivers.
The event also will feature thrilling competition in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series.
Mello Yello Drag Racing Series qualifying will feature two rounds at 1:30 and 4 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 26 and the final two rounds of qualifying on Saturday, Feb. 27, also at 1:30 and 4 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sunday, Feb. 28.
To purchase general-admission or reserved seats, call (800) 884-NHRA (6472) or visit www.NHRA.com/tickets. Kids 12 and under are free in general admission areas with a paid adult. For more information about the NHRA visit www.NHRA.com.
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CARQUEST AUTO PARTS NHRA NATIONALS FACT SHEET
WHAT: 32nd annual CARQUEST Auto Parts NHRA Nationals, the second of 24 events in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series. Drivers in three categories – Top Fuel, Funny Car and Pro Stock – earn points leading to 2016 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series world championships.
WHERE: Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park, Chandler, Ariz. Track is located off Interstate 10 at exit 162. Follow the signs.
WHEN: Friday through Sunday, Feb. 26-28.
FRIDAY, Feb. 26 – LUCAS OIL SERIES eliminations
MELLO YELLO SERIES qualifying at 1:30 and 4 p.m.
SATURDAY, Feb. 27- LUCAS OIL SERIES eliminations
MELLO YELLO SERIES qualifying at 1:30 and 4 p.m.
SUNDAY, Feb. 28 – Pre-race ceremonies, 10 a.m.
MELLO YELLO SERIES eliminations begin at 11 a.m.
Saturday, Feb. 27, FS1 will televise one hour of qualifying coverage at 10 p.m. (ET).
Sunday, Feb. 28, FOX Sports 1 (FS1) will televise three hours of finals coverage at 5 p.m. (ET).
2015 EVENT WINNERS: Tony Schumacher, Top Fuel; Matt Hagan, Funny Car; Rodger Brogdon, Pro Stock
MOST VICTORIES: John Force, FC- 8; Bob Glidden, PS- 5; Tony Schumacher, TF- 5; Jack Beckman, FC- 3; Kenny Bernstein, TF-FC- 3; Antron Brown, TF-3; Ron Capps, FC-3; Larry Dixon, TF- 3; Cory McClenathan, TF- 3; Darrell Alderman, PS- 3; Kurt Johnson, PS- 3; Warren Johnson, PS- 3.
Top Fuel – 3.720 sec. by Tony Schumacher, Feb. ’15; 329.91 mph by Schumacher, Feb. ’13.
Funny Car – 3.975 sec. and 324.83 mph by Matt Hagan, Feb. ’15.
Pro Stock – 6.498 sec. and 213.77 mph by Mike Edwards, Feb. ’13.
Top Fuel – 3.680 sec. by Antron Brown, Aug. ’15, Brainerd, Minn.; 332.75 mph by Spencer Massey, Aug. ’15, Brainerd, Minn.
Funny Car – 3.884 sec. by Jack Beckman, Nov. ’15, Pomona, Calif. and 331.45 mph by Matt Hagan, Nov. ’15, Pomona, Calif.
Pro Stock – 6.455 sec. by Jason Line, March ’15, Charlotte, N.C. and 215.55 mph by Erica Enders, May ‘14, Englishtown N.J.
TICKETS: For tickets call (800) 884-NHRA (6472). Tickets also available online at www.NHRA.com/tickets.
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NHRA MELLO YELLO DRAG RACING SERIES WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP POINTS STANDINGS
GLENDORA, Calif. — Point standings (top 10) following the first of 24 events in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series –
Top Fuel: 1. Steve Torrence, 106; 2. Doug Kalitta, 94; 3. Richie Crampton, 77; 4. J.R. Todd, 72; 5. Clay Millican, 57; 6. Morgan Lucas, 52; 7. Antron Brown, 48; 8. Terry McMillen, 46; 9. Tony Schumacher, 42; 10. Brittany Force, 37.
Funny Car: 1. Ron Capps, 119; 2. Del Worsham, 97; 3. Robert Hight, 80; 4. John Force, 69; 5. Jack Beckman, 65; 6. Courtney Force, 59; 7. Alexis DeJoria, 55; 8. Chad Head, 54; 9. Tim Wilkerson, 33; 10. (tie) Gary Densham, 32; Matt Hagan, 32; Cruz Pedregon, 32.
Pro Stock: 1. Greg Anderson, 125; 2. Jason Line, 105; 3. Bo Butner, 84; 4. Drew Skillman, 75; 5. Vincent Nobile, 54; 6. Jeg Coughlin, 53; 7. (tie) Shane Gray, 52; Allen Johnson, 52; 9. Chris McGaha, 35; 10. Alex Laughlin, 33.
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CONTACT: NHRA Communications Department, (626) 914-4761. Anthony Vestal ext. 425, email@example.com, (626) 695-6649, cell.
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