NHRA: Leah Pritchett climbing mountains as she continues to grow career


Few championships have witnessed as much success for female drivers as the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series.

There are several top-level drivers currently competing in all three of the primary classes, Top Fuel, Funny Car and Pro Stock.

Courtney and Brittany Force have made their respective marks on the sport, as two of John Force’s daughters. Alexis DeJoria has another famous father – John Paul DeJoria – and Patron support. Erica Enders-Stevens is racing in 2015 as the defending Pro Stock class champion.

Meanwhile Leah Pritchett, a rising star in the Top Fuel ranks, may not have the family pedigree or a name as widely known. But she is also beginning to make her mark on the nitro category in her third season in the class.

Pritchett, 27, is a California native now living in Avon, Ind., driver of the Gumout Top Fuel dragster for Dote Racing. Earlier this year, the “Solid Gold” Gumout Expert Series dragster was revealed at Bristol Dragway and was a hit for fans – the car was awarded the “Best Appearing Car” of the Thunder Valley Nationals. This week, it turns red chrome.

But there was a more important moment for her earlier this year beyond the appearance of her dragster.

Pritchett at Atlanta.

It came at Atlanta, when she made it through to her first Top Fuel final. Although she lost to Antron Brown, it marked her arrival on the class stage.

“I hadn’t even been to a semifinal this year yet,” Pritchett told MotorSportsTalk. “Given I’d been to a couple in last couple years, it was hard to… I guess apply the expectation management.

“Like, oh my gosh, I’m going to a final. I had to live in the moment, and don’t think about it as ‘What if I do win?’

“Of course it happens this way where our team owner wasn’t there. A lot of our sponsors were there but had to leave early. So here we are going to the final, putting on different hats, and so I need to figure out where the car goes, the crew goes. Figure out all our sponsor hats for pictures. Do all our PR stuff.

“I know from a working standpoint, but I’m so superstitious, but you can’t think about it because you haven’t won yet. It was a living in the moment type of thing.

“That moment, those rounds, that day, is what propels me to get back those moment.

“I’ve never done drugs, but this has to be something like that.”

source:  That living in the moment came after nearly 20 years of blood, sweat and tears in working up to various levels of drag racing, starting out at age 8 in Junior Dragsters.

Pritchett is one of only a handful of drivers who holds four NHRA pro licenses (Top Fuel, Funny Car, Heritage Funny Car and Pro Mod). She was a communications major at California State University, San Bernardino, and has served as an analyst for ESPN’s NHRA coverage.

“One thing led to another,” she said. “Whatever opportunity to open the door, push it open, it was whatever opportunity was at hand. I didn’t have a set path.

“Some know they’d get to Top Fuel, or Funny Car, and take the steps needed. For me it was scratching and clawing at whatever the next step may be. It was not extremely linear.”

Once she made it to Top Fuel, making her debut in 2013, there was the dual realization of making it, but also knowing she still wanted to get better and fit in among her peers in class.

“Once I got my Top Fuel license, it doesn’t get any higher. It’s like climbing a mountain,” she said. “You get to the top, but you don’t see another mountain until you’re there.

“Here’s this mountain, here’s the top and then when you’re there, there’s this moment of glory for all the people that helped you get there, then there’s another mountain you don’t see. Another one is a win and a championship.

“Now I’m here and at this level, I’m over the moon… but it’s not good enough for me. It includes being successful in Top Fuel. It’s not a small steppingstone by any means. There’s always going to be another mountain.

source:  “Getting (the license) was the best feeling in the world. Almost one of those things, and you have your sights set, have my life experiences, but you have to process expectation management for the day it doesn’t happen. Don’t take for granted.”

Pritchett noted Brown, Tony Schumacher and her own longtime competitor, Shawn Langdon, as challenging drivers to race against.

“It’s pretty much anyone on a streak at any point in the year,” she said.
“Sometimes it’s Tony, Shawn, sometimes Antron. When I raced against Antron, he was in the beginning of a good hot streak. So I’d consider him a difficult one.

“One that is the most … not difficult, but difficult and special is Shawn Langdon. They always bring the heat. Even if they miss a step that weekend, they pick up 2-3 steps. I guess… racing Shawn is one of the most difficult.

“We started together 20 years ago. Not against each other, as we were different ages. But it’s a cool moment to be on a mountain that we’re climbing and look over, and see someone you knew so long ago. Makes victories that much better when you beat him.”

source:  Pritchett makes no secret of the fact she’s not from a racing family a la the Forces, although she does have a husband in the sport, Gary, who works on Steve Torrence’s team. Her efforts to make it to NHRA took time, patience and dedication.

“A couple years ago I would let it get under my skin,” Pritchett says. “Call it maybe wooden spoon vs. silver spoon, but I let it get under my skin and that was a distraction.

“I can’t compare it to theirs because I don’t know their struggles. I do know mine, and I would consider it to be that much better when I do get there, to winning. Getting to the first mountain, becoming an official Top Fuel driver was a victory in itself.”

Pritchett heads into the U.S. Nationals this week on the back of a two-day test, and also having had four races off due to her team running a part-time schedule.

Running at the most prestigious event of the year, especially as she now lives in Indiana, only fuels her even more.

“It’s everything. I already felt like Indy was here two weeks ago because of all the lead-up into it,” she said.

“I hadn’t raced Indy when I was living in California. It was like going to another hotel room.

“Living here, yes it adds a level of comfort to go back to your house every night, but it also adds a level of extra stress… you have friends and families here.

“I hadn’t envisioned all this while I was going through the ranks. But now, I want to win.”

Indianapolis Motor Speedway can have 10,000 fans for IndyCar races

Indianapolis Motor Speedway fans
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Indianapolis Motor Speedway will have crowds for its NTT IndyCar Series race weekend next month, the first time fans are allowed at the track this year.

The track announced Friday that up to 10,000 fans will be allowed in the grandstands daily from Oct. 1-4. The IndyCar Harvest GP race doubleheader will be held on the track’s road course Oct. 2-3.

IMS has played host to several events this year without fans, including the 104th Indianapolis 500 on Aug. 23 and a NASCAR-IndyCar weekend July 4-5 that included the Brickyard 400. Plans originally were made to have fans at the Indy 500 before reversing course a few weeks ahead of the race. In a letter last month, Roger Penske vowed that fans would return for the 2021 Indy 500.

“We can’t wait to see fans come through our gates for the first time in 2020,” IMS president Doug Boles said in a release. “They’ll be greeted by a vastly improved facility, featuring significant upgrades to the spectator experience. We’re also extremely grateful to have a presenting sponsor with the expertise and resources of GMR as we look to implement our detailed and comprehensive health and safety plan.”

Fans will undergo temperature screenings upon entry and also be required to wear face coverings at all times on property. The track said each attendee will receive a mask and bottle of hand sanitizer.

The Friday, Oct. 2 race will be shown at 3:30 p.m. ET on USA, and NBC will broadcast the Saturday, Oct. 3 race at 2:30 p.m. ET.

Here’s the release from Indianapolis Motor Speedway:

INDIANAPOLIS, Friday, Sept. 18, 2020 – For the first time in 2020, Indianapolis Motor Speedway will welcome fans to the Racing Capital of the World for the INDYCAR Harvest GP presented by GMR weekend. Up to 10,000 spectators can be in the grandstands each day of racing action Oct. 1-4, per approval from the Marion County Public Health Department.

Tickets are available now via IMS.com and will be sold on a first-come, first-served basis.

The massive facility, which holds more than 300,000 people, will provide two spectator zones with up to 5,000 fans in each. The zones will be located in Turns 1 and 4 of the oval, offering strong sightlines of the road course. Strict health and safety rules will be in place, including the following:

  • Face coverings must be worn throughout the property at all times;
  • All fans will receive temperature screenings before gate entry;
  • Grandstand seats will be marked for distancing;
  • Attendees must use pre-assigned gates and remain in their designated zones.

Global Medical Response, the world leader in compassionate, quality emergency medical and patient relocation services, will be the presenting sponsor of the penultimate weekend of INDYCAR racing this season.

“We can’t wait to see fans come through our gates for the first time in 2020,” IMS President J. Douglas Boles said. “They’ll be greeted by a vastly improved facility, featuring significant upgrades to the spectator experience. We’re also extremely grateful to have a presenting sponsor with the expertise and resources of GMR as we look to implement our detailed and comprehensive health and safety plan.”

The plan, which includes each attendee receiving a mask and a bottle of hand sanitizer upon entering the track, was developed in consultation with state and local health officials.

This event weekend is highlighted by an NTT INDYCAR SERIES doubleheader, with races Friday, Oct. 2 and Saturday, Oct. 3. It will be the penultimate event of the series’ season as the field pursues the champion’s prestigious Astor Challenge Cup to be awarded Sunday, Oct. 25 at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

The INDYCAR Harvest GP will pay tribute to a storied IMS event, the Harvest Classic in September 1916. The Harvest Classic was the only racing event held outside of May at IMS from 1911 through 1993. The event featured three races, all won by legendary driver Johnny Aitken.

Fans also will see a host of facility improvements during the event weekend, including more than 30 new LED video boards, refreshed concession stands and restrooms, and 5G wireless connectivity throughout the facility.

The first race will air at 3:30 p.m. (ET) Friday, Oct. 2 on the USA Network. NBC will broadcast the second race at 2:30 p.m. (ET) Saturday, Oct. 3, with WTHR-13 airing the action live in Central Indiana.

Also racing that weekend will be the first pairing of two major sports car series — the Intercontinental GT Challenge Powered by Pirelli and its North American counterpart, GT World Challenge America Powered by AWS. Former Indianapolis 500 pole winner Ryan Briscoe is among the drivers in the Indianapolis 8 Hour event held Sunday, Oct. 4.

The event also will showcase drivers in SRO America’s Pirelli GT4 America, GT Sports Club America and the TC America series.

The full on-track schedule is available at IMS.com.