Leah Pritchett defeats Brittany Force in 2nd all-female final in NHRA history

(Photo courtesy NHRA)
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Fans that came out to Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park in suburban Phoenix hoping to see some history made in this weekend’s NHRA Car Quest Auto Parts Nationals got what they came for.

While there were no national records broken, folks in attendance won’t soon forget how the final round of eliminations played out.

The biggest event was in Top Fuel, where Leah Pritchett roared to her first career win, defeating Brittany Force in only the second all-female final in Top Fuel history.

The only other all-female final came in 1982, when Shirley Muldowney defeated Lucille Lee. Pritchett texted Muldowney prior to the final round to keep her abreast of what was happening.

“The monkey is absolutely off my back,” Pritchett said in the winner’s circle. “There’s no words to describe it. This is the happiest day of my life, obviously, besides getting married.

“This is what dreams are made of. The smile, I think it’s going to take a really long time for it to come off my face. … This isn’t just my (first win), but Mike Guger, this is his first Wally (winner’s trophy), as well, as a crew chief.

“So for all of us, all together, it’s incredible. … This is a day that I’m going to relive in my mind every single day as long as I can.”

Pritchett’s husband, Gary, who is still recovering from second and third degree burns from an incident over a month ago, had a setback and was in a local hospital in the Phoenix area on Friday.

Still, she managed to remain focused at the job at hand – and her husband was able to get out of the hospital to see his wife win in-person on Sunday.

“Honestly, it was pretty tough,” Pritchett said of racing while her spouse was hospitalized. “I like to put on some thick leather skin, but it doesn’t get any harder than that, knowing that the one you love, that shares the passion and competitiveness, can’t be here with you.

“I’m hired with the best of the best to do a job, no matter what goes on in my life, and I was able to do that with an incredible crew, crew chiefs, teams and sponsors.”

Ironically, Gary Pritchett works for Top Fuel driver Steve Torrence, who won the season-opening Top Fuel race at Pomona, California, two weeks ago.

“Just to point out, the two Wally’s in Top Fuel so far (this season) belong in the Pritchett household,” Leah Pritchett said with a smile. “I don’t know how long we can keep that going.”

In Funny Car, Tim Wilkerson held off 16-time NHRA champion John Force in Sunday’s final.

“I’m just happy to be here,” Wilkerson said with a smile. “What a great day for my team. It was a lot of adversity to get over.

“We have this old car and we’re retiring it after this weekend. Like my wife said, it’s like going to the beauty shop to get your hair cut when it’s long. You really don’t want to do that.”

Ever the Ford devotee, Wilkerson took the time for a little good-natured, post-race trash talking after defeating Force, who switched from Ford to Chevrolet prior to the 2015 season.

“He’s got two of my guys (former employees) over there, so I know why his car runs so damn good,” Wilkerson said. “I told him, if I can’t beat a garbage man in a Chevrolet, then I shouldn’t be out here.”

That comment drew a big round of cheers from the fans watching in the winner’s circle.

Lastly, in Pro Stock, Jason Line defeated Chris McGaha.

“The change to EFI (Electronic Fuel Injection) has been a challenge, for sure, but our team did our homework over the winter and we have been fortunate,” Line said. “I looked at it as an obstacle at first – I whined and cried like everybody else did; maybe we did more – but we turned it into an opportunity and we’re very fortunate. It was a fun day today.”

The next NHRA race, the Amalie Motor Oil Gatornationals, will be in three weeks, March 17-20, at Gainesville, Florida.

 

Final finishing order:

TOP FUEL: 1. Leah Pritchett; 2.  Brittany Force; 3.  Doug Kalitta; 4.  Clay Millican; 5.  Antron Brown; 6. Dave Connolly; 7.  Tony Schumacher; 8.  Terry McMillen; 9.  Shawn Langdon; 10.  Steve Torrence; 11. Steven Chrisman; 12.  J.R. Todd; 13.  Scott Palmer; 14.  Richie Crampton; 15.  Troy Buff.

FUNNY CAR: 1.  Tim Wilkerson; 2.  John Force; 3.  Robert Hight; 4.  Courtney Force; 5.  Del Worsham; 6.  Jack Beckman; 7.  Ron Capps; 8.  Tommy Johnson Jr.; 9.  Alexis DeJoria; 10.  Jeff Diehl; 11.  Matt Hagan; 12.  Jim Campbell; 13.  Cruz Pedregon; 14.  John Hale; 15.  Chad Head; 16.  Terry Haddock.

PRO STOCK: 1.  Jason Line; 2.  Chris McGaha; 3.  Bo Butner; 4.  Greg Anderson; 5.  Jeg Coughlin; 6.  Drew Skillman; 7.  Deric Kramer; 8.  Alex Laughlin; 9.  Joey Grose; 10.  Erica Enders; 11.  Vincent Nobile; 12.  V. Gaines; 13.  Allen Johnson; 14.  Matt Hartford.

 

SUNDAY’S FINAL ROUND RESULTS:

Top Fuel — Leah Pritchett, 3.775 seconds, 323.12 mph  def. Brittany Force, 3.774 seconds, 321.35 mph.

Funny Car — Tim Wilkerson, Ford Mustang, 3.937, 320.43  def. John Force, Chevy Camaro, 4.016, 275.34.

Pro Stock — Jason Line, Chevy Camaro, 6.666, 205.16  def. Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.671, 208.75.

 

FINAL ROUND-BY-ROUND RESULTS:

TOP FUEL:

ROUND ONE — Brittany Force, 3.723, 325.45 def. Shawn Langdon, 3.772, 321.65; Tony Schumacher, 3.742, 325.77 def. Scott Palmer, 7.611, 84.19; Doug Kalitta, 3.716, 328.22 was unopposed; Antron Brown, 3.766, 317.64 def. Steven Chrisman, 4.119, 257.04; Terry McMillen, 3.840, 304.53 def. Steve Torrence, 3.851, 312.28; Clay Millican, 3.940, 304.53 def. Troy Buff, 8.780, 84.00; Leah Pritchett, 4.361, 245.54 def. J.R. Todd, 4.612, 168.05; Dave Connolly, 3.765, 324.12 def. Richie Crampton, 8.532, 85.67; QUARTERFINALS — Pritchett, 3.808, 322.19 def. Brown, Foul – Red Light; Millican, 4.747, 223.06 def. Schumacher, 5.874, 124.21; Force, 3.771, 321.04 def. McMillen, 6.641, 105.60; Kalitta, 3.770, 323.19 def. Connolly, 5.070, 139.26; SEMIFINALS — Pritchett, 3.832, 317.05 def. Millican, 3.878, 299.86; Force, 3.760, 319.67 def. Kalitta, 3.794, 322.50; FINAL — Pritchett, 3.775, 323.12 def. Force, 3.774, 321.35.

FUNNY CAR:

ROUND ONE — Courtney Force, Chevy Camaro, 3.930, 326.79 def. Terry Haddock, Toyota Solara, 6.911, 91.55; Ron Capps, Dodge Charger, 3.965, 319.29 def. Jeff Diehl, Solara, Foul – Red Light; John Force, Camaro, 3.955, 322.65 def. John Hale, Charger, 4.398, 231.75; Robert Hight, Camaro, 3.905, 327.11 def. Cruz Pedregon, Toyota Camry, 4.313, 213.87; Del Worsham, Camry, 3.991, 318.24 def. Jim Campbell, Charger, 4.298, 242.41; Jack Beckman, Charger, 3.939, 318.39 def. Alexis DeJoria, Camry, 3.964, 320.74; Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 4.003, 317.64 def. Matt Hagan, Charger, 4.229, 266.32; Tim Wilkerson, Ford Mustang, 3.970, 320.81 def. Chad Head, Camry, 5.554, 158.93; QUARTERFINALS — C. Force, 3.973, 319.67 def. Johnson Jr., 7.998, 92.39; Hight, 3.977, 320.97 def. Worsham, 4.711, 170.82; J. Force, 4.014, 319.07 def. Beckman, 6.082, 110.62; Wilkerson, 4.597, 228.19 def. Capps, 6.168, 115.86; SEMIFINALS — J. Force, 4.006, 318.02 def. C. Force, 9.212, 82.51; Wilkerson, 3.994, 317.19 def. Hight, 8.351, 84.37; FINAL — Wilkerson, 3.937, 320.43 def. J. Force, 4.016, 275.34.

PRO STOCK:

ROUND ONE — Jeg Coughlin, Dodge Dart, 6.653, 206.89 def. Alex Laughlin, Chevy Camaro, 6.684, 208.71; Drew Skillman, Camaro, 6.633, 208.33 def. Erica Enders, Dart, 6.705, 207.53; Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.634, 209.14 def. Joey Grose, Camaro, Foul – Red Light; Deric Kramer, Dart, 6.747, 206.95 def. Allen Johnson, Dart, 6.711, 206.16; Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.611, 207.69 def. Vincent Nobile, Camaro, 6.710, 207.78; Jason Line, Camaro, 6.595, 208.07 def. Matt Hartford, Camaro, 6.713, 206.99; Bo Butner, Camaro, 6.590, 209.30 def. V. Gaines, Dart, 6.710, 206.61; QUARTERFINALS — McGaha, 6.664, 208.78 def. Kramer, 22.660, 34.45; Anderson, 6.630, 207.85 def. Skillman, 6.684, 207.46; Line, 6.641, 207.78 def. Coughlin, 6.670, 206.76; Butner, 6.638, 208.52 was unopposed; SEMIFINALS — McGaha, 6.692, 208.07 def. Butner, 6.690, 208.10; Line, 6.650, 207.53 def. Anderson, 13.587, 63.30; FINAL — Line, 6.666, 205.16 def. McGaha, 6.671, 208.75.

 

POINT STANDINGS:

Top Fuel: 1.  Doug Kalitta, 171; 2.  Steve Torrence, 163; 3.  Brittany Force, 133; 4.  Clay Millican, 131; 5. Leah Pritchett, 129; 6.  Antron Brown, 110; 7.  Richie Crampton, 109; 8.  J.R. Todd, 105; 9.  Tony Schumacher, 98; 10.  Terry McMillen, 97.

Funny Car: 1.  Ron Capps, 183; 2.  John Force, 168; 3.  Robert Hight, 158; 4.  Del Worsham, 154; 5.  Tim Wilkerson, 147; 6.  Courtney Force, 141; 7.  Jack Beckman, 121; 8.  Alexis DeJoria, 87; 9.  Chad Head, 86; 10.  Tommy Johnson Jr., 85.

Pro Stock: 1.  Jason Line, 227; 2.  Greg Anderson, 209; 3.  Bo Butner, 171; 4.  Drew Skillman, 131; 5.  Chris McGaha, 129; 6.  Jeg Coughlin, 106; 7.  Allen Johnson, 87; 8.  Vincent Nobile, 86; 9.  Deric Kramer, 83; 10.  Alex Laughlin, 66.

 

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IndyCar’s ‘Phoenix’ flying into 2023 season: Romain Grosjean enjoying the pilot’s life

IndyCar Romain Grosjean pilot
Chris Owens/Penske Entertainment
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PALM SPRINGS, Calif. – The IndyCar driver known as “The Phoenix” already has taken flight before the 2023 season, and newly licensed pilot Romain Grosjean also got a head start on the opener.

Fulfilling a dream several years in the making, the Andretti Autosport plunged into aviation training over the offseason. Since beginning with online studying last August, Grosjean quickly progressed to earning his licenses for multiengine planes and instrument ratings while completing 115 hours of flight time.

He has landed twice at Albert Whitted Airport, whose primary runway also doubles as the front straightaway on the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg street course.

“Just to land on the start-finish line, that was pretty cool,” Grosjean said during IndyCar Preseason Content Days ahead of the Feb. 2-3 test at The Thermal Club. “The air traffic control guy was like, “Yeah, left on Acre Five, turn, and then back. I was like, ‘Oh, yeah, that’s the last corner of the racetrack, I’ll take it and go back to the pit lane. He was like, ‘Oh, yeah, yeah, that’s true.’ So it was quite funny.”

Grosjean, 36, said he had wanted to become a pilot since he was 30 but was discouraged by Europe’s complicated and time-consuming licensing process (“to go to ground school twice a week, and with our life, it’s impossible”). He was inspired again last year by (now former) teammate Alexander Rossi, who flew to some 2022 races after earning his license a couple of years ago.

“I thought that was pretty cool,” said Grosjean, who had grown “bored of waiting in the airports.”

He plans to fly to nearly all the races this year (“if the weather is good enough, I’ll be flying”) and jokes about being “commercial by the end of the year, so then I can take Roger (Penske). Roger can pay me to fly him around to races if things go bad with racing.”

Grosjean’s social media has been filled with posts about his new hobby, which afforded him the opportunity recently to take his wife to Key West for lunch from their home in the Miami area. The trip took 37 minutes there and 41 minutes on return and highlighted why Grosjean loves flying: “Freedom. Freedom to go anywhere you want, anytime you want. It’s the beauty of it. We can go to the Bahamas for a day if we want to. Anywhere. I think that’s just great to know that you can do whatever you want.”

It’s reminiscent of the cross-country trip across the Midwest in an RV that Grosjean took with his family during the summer of his 2021 rookie season.

“There’s one thing that I told my kids, and I told my friend about America, and for me, that’s the biggest difference between Europe and here, is here everything is possible,” said Grosjean (whose “Phoenix” nickname was derived from a brush with death in his final Formula One start). “If you have the wish, if you give yourself the possibility of doing it, everything is possible. It is different in Europe. Much more boundaries on the way. Much more steps that you need to do in a certain order. But if you want to be extraordinary (in the United States), if you want to do something different, you don’t need to do those steps because you can work through.

“Yeah, I like doing things, and when I do them, I like doing them well. But here I think just the opportunity of driving the RV, flying planes, for my kids to do whatever they want to do, we love that here. Yeah, it’s been the best discovery for us.”

The Swiss-born Frenchman already has flown himself to a race this year, jetting up the Florida coast for his Rolex 24 at Daytona debut last month. It was his debut as a Lamborghini factory driver, and his new deal will continue with the Twelve Hours of Sebring and possibly the Petit Le Mans while he also helps develop the automaker’s new hybrid prototype (LMDh) for next year.

Grosjean, who finished a disappointing 13th in the 2022 points standings with one podium for Andretti in his first full season, said IndyCar will remain his priority in 2024.

But he hopes the IndyCar schedule will afford racing in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship endurance races and perhaps another his longest plane flight yet — a return to the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

“I’ll keep my fingers crossed like that we get the weekend off from IndyCar,” said Grosjean, noting that 10 IndyCar drivers were in the Rolex 24. “I think it would make a lot of sense. I think for both series it’s amazing. If we can get Le Mans, it’s also amazing because it’s just cool.

“I remember Mario flying across the Atlantic doing Monaco and the Indy 500, and those guys, they were racing everywhere, Formula 3, Formula 2, Formula 1. They were doing the races in opening of the Formula 1 race, and I think that’s very cool for us. So yeah, looking forward to the project. There’s going to be a lot of development coming on. By the time we finish the IndyCar season, the LMDh will be here in the States, and that’s when I’m going to spend a lot of time on it.”