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NHRA: Leah Pritchett goes for 3 different wins in this weekend’s Gatornationals

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Typically, drag racers can only go home with one winner’s trophy from a NHRA national event.

But not Top Fuel driver Leah Pritchett. She plans on taking two winner’s trophies – and bragging rights from a third race – back to her Indiana home from this weekend’s Gatornationals in Gainesville, Florida.

Pritchett, both the quickest (3.640 seconds at Brainerd, Minn., in 2017) and fastest (334.15 mph last month in Phoenix) woman in NHRA history, came into this weekend’s event ranked seventh in the Top Fuel standings. So there’s one race to win.

Pritchett’s Factory Stock Showdown car.

Next, she will compete in the Factory Stock Showdown, seeking another “Wally” (winner’s trophy), behind the wheel of a Hoonigan-designed Mopar Dodge Challenger Drag Pak. There’s No. 2 race to win.

And last but not least, Pritchett will challenge Papa John’s Pizza founder John Schnatter in the Papa John’s Charity Challenge on Saturday to benefit the Infinite Hero Foundation and Overcome Academy. There’s No. 3 to win.

“I always dig doing things differently, and to their maximum capabilities,” said Pritchett, a five-time Top Fuel event champion. “This weekend is more about three cars and three events.

“It represents three important aspects of my passion for drag racing: Top Fuel competition, grassroots racing, and charity involvement.”

Pritchett, who grew up drag racing in her native Southern California, has competed in several different classes as she climbed the performance and competition ladder.

Now that she’s one of the stars of the sport’s quickest and fastest racing class, Pritchett talked about why she hopes to go 3-for-3 this weekend, particularly since the Gatornationals are one of the sport’s biggest races of the 24-race national event schedule.

“The Top Fuel competition is a passion to be the quickest and the fastest at the ultimate level,” Pritchett said. “Factory Stock Showdown has brought me back to my Sportsman roots.

“The program is ‘heads up’ and delivers the opportunity to make the combination of what is available from the factory faster than anyone else through tuning and ingenuity within set limitations. It’s all about who can make their hot rod faster, which is something everyone can be a part of without having to be at the Top Fuel level.

“The Charity Challenge, for me, represents growth and integration of a partner who loves this sport and can face off for a great cause while telling an All American story and raising money for returning military heroes and their families.”

All told, Pritchett has the potential of making well over a dozen runs through the weekend:

* In Top Fuel, she’ll have two qualifying rounds each on Friday and Saturday, plus up to four elimination rounds on Sunday.

* Then there’s two qualifying rounds Friday and one other qualifying run Saturday for the Factory Stock Showdown. If she gets past that, there’s the potential of a first-round elimination later in the day. If she wins that, there’s two more elimination rounds on Sunday to potentially win the Challenge.

* And if she beats her boss – Papa John’s is her primary sponsor for the Don Schumacher Racing Top Fuel team – that’s one more run. She’s also expected to have one test run.

Add all those rounds up – and in a perfect weekend if she captures all three events – Pritchett has the potential to make either 15 or 16 different runs over the three days.

“I believe my bandwidth of focus has grown to compartmentalize these opportunities at their maximum without robbing from one another,” Pritchett said. “But I can guarantee you, enjoyment will be at an all-time high.

“The constant variable is always the mindset of being the baddest and fastest no matter what; whether it’s a car I dedicate my life and all hours to, or one that I haven’t even touched before.”

In her second full-time season with DSR, Pritchett seeks her fifth Top Fuel win with the team and sixth overall career Top Fuel win.

“I’m a proud Gemini, whereby nature, I’m good at doing multiple things to the max, and this weekend, it’s all about the trifecta.”

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NHRA shocker in Houston: John Force fails to qualify for first time since 2008, snaps 221-race streak

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Sunday’s eliminations in the 31st annual NHRA SpringNationals at Royal Purple Raceway in suburban Houston  just won’t be the same without John Force.

In one of the most stunning turn of events seen in the last decade-plus in NHRA drag racing, the legendary 16-time Funny Car champion and the sport’s all-time winningest driver on Saturday failed to qualify for Sunday’s main event of the race weekend.

It marks the first time Force, who turns 69 on May 4, failed to qualify for a race since Sept. 13, 2008 in Charlotte race, snapping a string of having made the eliminations in each of the subsequent 221 races until failing to do so Saturday.

“That is hard for me,” Force said after failing to go any faster than 222.29 mph in the four qualifying rounds for the race, two on Friday and the other two on Saturday. “You earn what you get. We didn’t put it in the show. We couldn’t get to half-track.

“We have had a lot of problems all year. At least I got my final shot to get in and I didn’t make it. I will be here tomorrow rooting on Robert, Courtney and Brittany (teammates Robert Hight and daughters Courtney and Brittany Force). I’ll be signing autographs for all the fans. I am sorry to all of you fans that I didn’t make it.”

Saturday’s failure to qualify marked only the 22nd time he’s DNQ’d in his 40-year professional drag racing career. He set a drag racing record by qualifying for 395 consecutive events from 1988 until April 2007.

“I am bummed that the boss didn’t get in. That was quite a streak he had going,” Hight said of hoss and father-in-law. “There is nobody better at rallying a team and leading a comeback than John Force.

“He loves the fight and he will do whatever it takes to get his team back on top. It really isn’t something to worry about because two of our Chevys are No.1 and No. 2 right now.

“We have good combinations and we just have to duplicate one of those set ups for John’s PEAK Funny car. He’ll be back next week in Charlotte.”

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As for the other classes (information courtesy NHRA Media Relations):Leah Pritchett set a new Top Fuel track record during the final qualifying session on Saturday to secure the top spot in Top Fuel heading into Sunday.Hight (Funny Car) and Greg Anderson (Pro Stock) are also No. 1 qualifiers in their respective categories at the fifth of 24 events on the 2018 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series schedule.

Defending event champion Pritchett raced her Mopar Dodge dragster to a pass of 3.680-seconds at 326.00 mph. This is her first No. 1 qualifier of the season and eighth of her career.

“We’ve been developing our confidence the last couple of races,” Pritchett stated. “To be able to put it on the track is phenomenal. We know we need to be exceptional because our competition is exceptional.”

Pritchett will line up against Terry Brian in round one of eliminations on Sunday. Defending world champion Brittany Force locked-in the No. 2 spot after a 3.701 at 313.80 in her Monster Energy dragster. Tony Schumacher is seeded third and will face William Litton.

Hight’s final qualifying pass of 3.894 at 317.27 in his Auto Club of Southern California Chevrolet Camaro took him to the top of the Funny Car category. This is his first No. 1 qualifier of the season, second at Houston and 58th of his career.

“This is going to be a new ball game tomorrow,” Hight said. “With fresh asphalt and the sun being out; these cars are going to spin. It’s definitely going to be fun. Two of our Chevy’s are one and two (in Funny Car) which shows we have good combinations.”

Hight will face-off against Todd Simpson Sunday morning in the first round. Teammate Courtney Force sits in the No. 2 position with a pass of 3.911 at 295.14 in her Advance Auto Parts Chevrolet Camaro and two-time world champion Matt Hagan rounds out the top three.

Anderson, four-time Pro Stock world champion, remained atop the field Saturday with his pass of 6.492 at 213.00 in his Summit Racing Equipment Chevrolet Camaro from the first qualifying session on Friday. He notched his third consecutive No. 1 qualifier of the season and is seeking his first victory of the year.

“I haven’t had great Sunday’s yet,” Anderson stated. “I know I’m going to break through one of these days though. The weather is going to be great again tomorrow. I feel good about it, I’m excited and so far it’s just been a great weekend.”

Anderson will race Steve Graham in the first round of eliminations. Jeg Coughlin Jr. qualified in the No. 2 position with a pass of 6.504 at 212.36 in his JEGS.com/Elite Performance Chevrolet Camaro and Tanner Gray is third.

Eliminations at the NHRA SpringNationals begin at 11 a.m. on Sunday at Royal Purple Raceway.

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SUNDAY’S FIRST-ROUND PAIRINGS FOR ELIMINATIONS:

TOP FUEL: 1. Leah Pritchett, 3.680 seconds, 326.00 mph vs. 16. Terry Brian, 4.275, 284.62; 2. Brittany Force, 3.701, 320.20 vs. 15. Terry Haddock, 4.081, 287.17; 3. Tony Schumacher, 3.703, 322.73 vs. 14. Bill Litton, 3.927, 306.60; 4. Billy Torrence, 3.737, 317.87 vs. 13. Kebin Kinsley, 3.819, 313.51; 5. Antron Brown, 3.740, 324.98 vs. 12. Terry McMillen, 3.783, 314.31; 6. Clay Millican, 3.746, 315.78 vs. 11. Mike Salinas, 3.766, 313.73; 7. Doug Kalitta, 3.748, 320.05 vs. 10. Richie Crampton, 3.766, 316.23; 8. Scott Palmer, 3.754, 318.17 vs. 9. Steve Torrence, 3.759, 313.88. Did Not Qualify: 17. Terry Totten, 4.636, 216.34.

FUNNY CAR: 1. Robert Hight, Chevy Camaro, 3.894, 317.27 vs. 16. Todd Simpson, Dodge Charger, 4.318, 288.33; 2. Courtney Force, Camaro, 3.911, 313.58 vs. 15. Jeff Diehl, Toyota Camry, 4.151, 283.49; 3. Matt Hagan, Charger, 3.913, 311.85 vs. 14. Ron Capps, Charger, 4.077, 305.77; 4. Jack Beckman, Charger, 3.918, 317.42 vs. 13. Richard Townsend, Camry, 4.026, 308.99; 5. Cruz Pedregon, Camry, 3.918, 301.94 vs. 12. Del Worsham, Camry, 4.017, 307.51; 6. Tim Wilkerson, Ford Mustang, 3.925, 311.41 vs. 11. Shawn Langdon, Camry, 3.994, 311.34; 7. Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 3.926, 313.00 vs. 10. J.R. Todd, Camry, 3.989, 313.37; 8. Jonnie Lindberg, Camry, 3.927, 316.52 vs. 9. Bob Tasca III, Mustang, 3.938, 314.09. Did Not Qualify: 17. Jim Campbell, 4.341, 273.05; 18. John Force, 4.625, 222.29.

PRO STOCK: 1. Greg Anderson, Chevy Camaro, 6.492, 213.00 vs. 16. Steve Graham, Camaro, 6.775, 205.60; 2. Jeg Coughlin, Camaro, 6.504, 212.36 vs. 15. Alan Prusiensky, Dodge Dart, 6.621, 208.65; 3. Tanner Gray, Camaro, 6.507, 211.99 vs. 14. John Gaydosh Jr, Chevrolet Camaro, 6.592, 210.93; 4. Vincent Nobile, Camaro, 6.513, 212.29 vs. 13. Erica Enders, Camaro, 6.548, 210.67; 5. Jason Line, Camaro, 6.518, 211.99 vs. 12. Rodger Brogdon, Camaro, 6.545, 210.50; 6. Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.525, 212.79 vs. 11. Matt Hartford, Camaro, 6.532, 212.73; 7. Drew Skillman, Camaro, 6.527, 212.29 vs. 10. Bo Butner, Camaro, 6.532, 211.79; 8. Deric Kramer, Camaro, 6.528, 211.93 vs. 9. Alex Laughlin, Camaro, 6.530, 211.33.