While some are buried under several feet of snow this week, there are those who are heating things up on drag racing tracks throughout the country. One such driver is someone who we here at RacingJunk like to call the new Girl On Fire!
Don Schumacher Racing NHRA Top Fuel driver Leah Pritchett and her Papa John’s Pizza/FireAde team, led by crew chief Todd Okuhara and assistant Joe Barlam, are off to a perfect start this season. With two wins and two poles through the first two races of the season as well as a NHRA world record with a time of 3.648 seconds, set at the last race near Phoenix, Pritchett is one femme fatale who will let nothing stop her from achieving her dream to become a champion. We slid Behind the Wheel with Pritchett as she prepares for her explosive season to continue at this weekend’s Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals.
So what fueled Pritchett’s passion to become one the few female Top Fuel drivers?
“My father was a street racer as well as a land speed competitor at places like Bonneville, which ultimately gave me and my sister the passion for racing,” said Pritchett.
While born with a love for speed and competing in a junior dragster at the early age of 8-years-old, it wasn’t until witnessing her first NHRA event, at the age of 13, that Pritchett decided drag racing would be her future.
“When you’re a kid, running in a Junior dragster, it is hard not to think about moving up to the next level, which is one reason that I convinced my mom to let me skip class so that I could attend the Winternationals in Pomona,” said Pritchett. “Being at the track and watching those powerful dragsters going through the lights at 300 MPH just blew my socks off and put stars in my eyes. It was then and there that I knew that I wanted to be a full-time drag racer.”
After that weekend, Pritchett continued to pursue her passion and racked up several wins in her NHRA Jr. Dragster before climbing into a full size drag car where she continued to light up the scoreboard at 190-mph in the NHRA Sportsman categories. This passion eventually led Pritchett to build a Nostalgia Nitro Funny car with her speed record-holding father.
“I was never that into any other sports or very athletic while I was growing up, which I knew would make my dream a really challenging one,” said Pritchett. “The funny thing is, I have always loved a challenge and I knew that if I put my mind to it I could do it, which is why I wanted to start out by building this car with my dad.”
It wasn’t long after this that Pritchett, who had her eyes set on someday competing in the top levels of NHRA Funny Car, became the first to set a record for the fastest Nostalgia Nitro Funny Car after exceeding 250 MPH. At the age of 20, Pritchett found her first big break after branching off from her family’s racing operation to drive for drag racing enthusiast Steve Plueger. After this she became the Hot Rod Heritage Series Champion, winning multiple prestigious races and setting records. Within a year, Pritchett would find herself continuing to climb the proverbial motorsports ladder after climbing into a Pro Modified car for businessman turned drag racing team owner Roger Burgess.
“This was one of the best decisions that I ever made,” said Pritchett. “Although it didn’t really line up with my goal to go Funny Car racing, drag racing in a Pro Mod was and is a real challenge and I am all about stepping up to a challenge.”
Despite these difficulties, Pritchett picked up wins in three national events in the two seasons while competing for Burgess. Following her time with this team, the driver who seemed to take any ride to a win would be given her first chance to compete in the quickest accelerating racing vehicle in the world – Top Fuel for Dote Racing.
Although her rookie season in the top ranks of drag racing was limited to half the 24-race season schedule, Pritchett realized the start to her true destiny after becoming a finalist for the NHRA Road To The Future rookie award despite only competing in 12 races. During her three years with Dote Racing, Pritchett began to get noticed by the top levels of NHRA and would soon find herself competing for well-known NHRA names like Bob Vandergriff before finally being noticed by one of the largest legends of the sport – Don Schumacher.
Today, the woman with true determination running through her veins is witnessing her dream take shape as she competes full-time in the most challenging form of NHRA drag racing for Don Schumacher Racing – not only compete, but set the NHRA world on fire with two back-to-back wins this season, including a recent win against rival Brittany Force.
So, what is next for the newest Girl On Fire besides picking up her first Top Fuel championship?
“Defeating my role model Antron Brown – I hope,” said Pritchett. “The times that I have been up against him he has cut me on ET, lights, etc. No matter what, the cards have just been in his favor.”
Who knows – maybe Pritchett’s next dream come true will take place at this weekend’s Gatornationals. Stay tuned to RacingJunk.com for more on the Girl On Fire as well as for all of your NHRA coverage.