Photo courtesy LeahPritchett.com

Leah Pritchett, husband Gary have great marriage — but are fierce rivals on the drag strip

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Leah and Gary Pritchett love each other – except for less than four seconds every now and then.

The Pritchett’s are one of the most unique couples in NHRA drag racing.

Leah is in her first full season as a Top Fuel driver with Don Schumacher Racing and primary sponsor Papa John’s Pizza. She’s had a spectacular breakthrough season already, capturing wins in three of the first 12 races.

She will try to kick off the second half of the 24-race NHRA national event schedule this weekend with yet another win this season in the Route 66 NHRA Nationals at Route 66 Raceway in Joliet, Illinois, about 50 miles southwest of Chicago.

Then there’s Gary – and that’s where the less than four seconds deal comes to the fore.

You see, Gary is a crew member on the Top Fuel dragster of Steve Torrence, who has quickly become Leah’s No. 1 rival.

“This year has definitely brought its challenges,” Leah said. “Before, it was all fun and games, joking matters and all of that (between both teams).

“But then our teams have turned into pretty serious rivals since the beginning of this season.”

Torrence leads the Top Fuel ranks with four wins and is also No. 1 in the standings, where Leah was after eight races thus far in 2017 (she’s dropped to No. 2 heading into this weekend).

And when Torrence and Leah meet on the starting line and run down a drag strip at less than four seconds and more than 325 mph, you might think things have the potential to get a little tense in the Pritchett household.

But that isn’t necessarily the case.

“I think it’s unusual for everybody else but us,” Leah said. “Since we’ve been together six years, we’ve never been on the same team. So, that’s how we know it to work.”

Sure, Gary wants his wife to succeed, but not necessarily at the expense of Torrence. Loyalties are pretty well defined when both teams are side-by-side on a drag strip.

“That’s a great question and I cannot answer that for him, I can guarantee you that,” Leah said with a laugh during Thursday’s Media Day in downtown Chicago. “I think because of the success we’ve had this year, he can’t do anything but want to beat us.

“Say if we were down in 15th place and they’re No. 1, I’m sure he would be hoping for our team much more.

“But we operate completely independent. I know nothing about what happens under his canopy, I mean nothing. It’s like living in Detroit and the wife works for Ford and the husband works for Chevy.”

Only 50 points separate No. 1 Torrence and No. 2 Leah Pritchett heading into this weekend’s race. If weather conditions are optimal, there’s expectations that a number of track – if not national – speed and elapsed time records could fall, and don’t be surprised to see Leah and Torrence meeting each other in Sunday’s final round.

And given the way the season has gone so far for both teams, it’s not out of the question that Leah and Torrence could fight it out for the Top Fuel championship at season’s end.

“If we’re neck-and-neck like we are now come Pomona (the final race of the season and likely the championship-deciding race), we will probably have completely separate hotel rooms – if not completely different hotels,” Leah said with another laugh.

“I’m staying where my team stays and he’ll stay where his team stays.”

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Usain Bolt, Bill Clinton among headline guests for USGP at COTA

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The Circuit of The Americas paddock ahead of the United States Grand Prix may have been busy with teams and drivers preparing for lights out, but much of the attention lay with a number of headline guests including former presidents and Olympic champions.

As part of its plans to up the excitement levels ahead of Sunday’s grand prix and mirror other sporting events, F1’s new owner, Liberty Media, announced plans a couple of weeks ago to link up with iconic boxing announcer Michael Buffer and eight-time Olympic gold medallist Usain Bolt for the pre-race festivities.

Ahead of today’s race in Austin, Buffer will introduce the drivers in a number of groups before offering the call for drivers to start their engines, similar to the pre-race procedure for the Indianapolis 500.

Honorary race starter Bolt, who competed in his last athletic world championship event in London earlier this year, will appear on the start line to complete his signature victory pose before waving the green flags to launch the formation lap.

Bolt was also treated to a hot lap around COTA by Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton before the start of the formal pre-race build up program in Austin.

Liberty issued a list of celebrities and other public figures who are confirmed to be attending today’s race, including Verizon IndyCar Series champion Josef Newgarden and actor Owen Wilson among others.

One name that wasn’t on the list? 42nd President of the United States, Bill Clinton, who quickly became a focus for the paddock upon arrival three hours before lights out.

The United States Grand Prix is live on NBC and NBC Sports app from 2pm ET today.