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

(Photo courtesy NHRA)

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.



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.




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.


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.


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.



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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Ford unveils a new Mustang for 2024 Le Mans in motorsports ‘lifestyle brand’ retooling

Ford Mustang Le Mans
Ford Performance

LE MANS, France — Ford has planned a return to the 24 Hours of Le Mans with its iconic Mustang muscle car next year under a massive rebranding of Ford Performance aimed at bringing the automotive manufacturer “into the racing business.”

The Friday unveil of the new Mustang Dark Horse-based race car follows Ford’s announcement in February (and a ballyhooed test at Sebring in March) that it will return to Formula One in 2026 in partnership with reigning world champion Red Bull.

The Mustang will enter the GT3 category next year with at least two cars in both IMSA and the World Endurance Championship, and is hopeful to earn an invitation to next year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans. The IMSA entries will be a factory Ford Performance program run by Multimatic, and a customer program in WEC with Proton Competition.

Ford CEO Jim Farley, also an amateur sports car racer, told The Associated Press the Mustang will be available to compete in various GT3 series across the globe to customer teams. But more important, Farley said, is the overall rebranding of Ford Performance – done by renowned motorsports designer Troy Lee – that is aimed at making Ford a lifestyle brand with a sporting mindset.

“It’s kind of like the company finding its own, and rediscovering its icons, and doubling down on them,” Farley told the AP. “And then this motorsports activity is getting serious about connecting enthusiast customers with those rediscovered icons. It’s a big switch for the company – this is really about building strong, iconic vehicles with enthusiasts at the center of our marketing.”

Ford last competed in sports car racing in 2019 as part of a three-year program with Chip Ganassi Racing. The team scored the class win at Le Mans in 2016 in a targeted performance aimed to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Ford snapping Ferrari’s six-year winning streak.

Ford on Friday displayed a Mustang with a Lee-designed livery that showcased the cleaner, simplified look that will soon be featured on all its racing vehicles. The traditional blue oval with Ford Performance in white lettering underneath will now be branded simply FP.

The new mark will be used across car liveries, merchandise and apparel, display assets, parts and accessories and in advertising.

Farley cited Porsche as an automaker that has successfully figured out how to sell cars to consumers and race cars in various series around the world while creating a culture of brand enthusiasts. He believes Ford’s new direction will help the company sell street cars, race cars, boost interest in driving schools, and create a merchandise line that convinces consumers that a stalwart of American automakers is a hip, cool brand.

“We’re going to build a global motorsports business off road and on road,” Farley told the AP, adding that the design of the Mustang is “unapologetically American.”

He lauded the work of Lee, who is considered the top helmet designer among race car drivers.

“We’re in the first inning of a nine inning game, and going to Le Mans is really important,” Farley said. “But for customer cars, getting the graphics right, designing race cars that win at all different levels, and then designing a racing brand for Ford Performance that gets rebranded and elevated is super important.”

He said he’s kept a close eye on how Porsche and Aston Martin have built their motorsports businesses and said Ford will be better.

“We’re going in the exact same direction. We just want to be better than them, that’s all,” Farley said. “Second is the first loser.”

Farley, an avid amateur racer himself, did not travel to Le Mans for the announcement. The race that begins Saturday features an entry from NASCAR, and Ford is the reigning Cup Series champion with Joey Logano and Team Penske.

The NASCAR “Garage 56” entry is a collaboration between Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet and Goodyear, and is being widely celebrated throughout the industry. Farley did feel left out of the party in France – a sentiment NASCAR tried to avoid by inviting many of its partners to attend the race so that it wouldn’t seem like a Chevrolet-only celebration.

“They’re going right and I’m going left – that NASCAR thing is a one-year deal, right? It’s Garage 56 and they can have their NASCAR party, but that’s a one-year party,” Farley said. “We won Le Mans outright four times, we won in the GT class, and we’re coming back with Mustang and it’s not a one-year deal.

“So they can get all excited about Garage 56. I almost see that as a marketing exercise for NASCAR, but for me, that’s a science project,” Farley continued. “I don’t live in a world of science projects. I live in the world of building a vital company that everyone is excited about. To do that, we’re not going to do a Garage 56 – I’ve got to beat Porsche and Aston Martin and Ferrari year after year after year.”

Ford’s announcement comes on the heels of General Motors changing its GT3 strategy next season and ending its factory Corvette program. GM, which unlike Ford competes in the IMSA Grand Touring Prototype division (with its Cadillac brand), will shift fully to a customer model for Corvettes in 2024 (with some factory support in the IMSA GTD Pro category).