NHRA’s Leah Pritchett trying to prove 1st win was no fluke

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) Leah Pritchett hustled through her garage stall Saturday, bouncing from her dragster to her hauler and back again.

She helped tear down the engine, packed the parachute and did a number of other little things to get ready for her next qualifying run at Gainesville Raceway.

She had no time to relax.

And she had no plans to let up – even though she’s coming off a breakthrough victory in Phoenix last month.

Pritchett became the first woman to win in the NHRA’s Top Fuel class since Hillary Will in 2008. Pritchett edged Brittany Force in the title bout, the first all-female final since 1982.

Now, three weeks later, Pritchett is trying to show it was no fluke.

“I still have a lot to prove,” she said at the Gatornationals. “Phoenix was just the beginning.”

Pritchett has the talent, team and sponsorship to become the next big thing in drag racing. The 27-year-old is in her 19th consecutive year of NHRA competition, a career that began when she was an 8-year-old in Summit Racing Jr. Drag Racing League.

She has been working her way up ever since.

She stepped into the big leagues in 2013, driving part time for Dote Family Racing, and then got a full-time ride when she replaced three-time Top Fuel champion Larry Dixon at Bob Vandergriff Racing this season.

“The Dotes was really my very big break where they saw my potential … and to be able to run for the majority of three years on NHRA Mello Yello Series with them is what put me on the map,” she said.

She made one final in three years with Dote. She topped that in two races with BVR, and joined a growing list of women with NHRA victories.

Pritchett became the 16th woman to win an NHRA event since Shirley Muldowney broke the gender barrier in 1976 and just the eighth to win in the ultra-competitive Top Fuel class.

“It’s absolutely incredible,” Pritchett said. “It’s a very small list. What I do know is that that list is going to grow exponentially with the amount of female racers that are coming up through the ranks at this moment in time.”

Muldowney, who beat Lucille Lee in the last all-female finale in Columbus, was one of the first to text Pritchett after her Phoenix win.

“Her interview was one of the best interviews I have heard in years,” said Muldowney, who coincidentally served as honorary starter for the Gatornationals. “It wasn’t full of product names. I thought it was so genuine. She did it right. I was very impressed.”

Muldowney has some advice for Pritchett, too, although she hasn’t shared it with the latest female winner.

“I don’t want to say anything; I try not to do that,” Muldowney said. “I don’t give tips, you should’ve, could’ve, would’ve, but I hope she doesn’t get relaxed. That’s what usually happens. You don’t do it intentionally, but you can get really complacent after that first win.”

Pritchett, whose primary sponsor is Quaker State, has shown no signs of complacency in Gainesville. She was fifth after three qualifying runs, squarely focused on getting to another final and winning it.

“It would be incredible,” Pritchett said. “Honestly, in my situation, to do that, that would be back-to-back wins and that’s that would be unheard of, especially for me. So it has a little bit more meaning there, too. I couldn’t ask for anything more, but that’s our focus obviously to win but our strategy is round by round.”

Force could stand in the way and would welcome a rematch, preferably in another all-female final.

“We’re the only two ladies in Top Fuel, so I thought it was pretty (expletive) in Phoenix that we took down all the boys and it was two ladies in the final,” Force said. “We’ll have to do it again somewhere else. I’m hoping we’ll have more all-female finals.”

IndyCar Power Rankings: Pato O’Ward moves to the top entering Texas Motor Speedway


The NBC Sports IndyCar power rankings naturally were as jumbled as the action on the streets of St. Petersburg after a chaotic opener to the 2023 season.

Pato O’Ward, who finished second because of an engine blip that cost him the lead with a few laps remaining, moves into the top spot ahead of St. Pete winner Marcus Ericsson and Alexander Rossi, who finished fourth in his Arrow McLaren debut. Scott Dixon and St. Pete pole-sitter Romain Grosjean (who led 31 laps) rounded out the top five.

St. Pete pole-sitter Romain Grosjean (who started first at St. Pete after capturing his second career pole position) Callum Ilott (a career-best fifth) and Graham Rahal entered the power rankings entering the season’s second race.

Three drivers fell out of the preseason top 10 after the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg – including previously top-ranked Josef Newgarden, who finished 17th after qualifying 14th.

Heading into Sunday’s race at Texas Motor Speedway, here’s NBC Sports’ assessment of the current top 10 drivers through the first of 17 races this year (with previous preseason rankings in parenthesis):

NBC Sports’ IndyCar Power Rankings

1. Pato O’Ward (5) – If not for the dreaded “plenum event” in the No. 5 Chevrolet, the Arrow McLaren driver is opening the season with a victory capping a strong race weekend.

2. Marcus Ericsson (7) – He might be the most opportunistic driver in IndyCar, but that’s because the 2022 Indy 500 winner has become one of the series’ fastest and most consistent stars.

3. Alexander Rossi (10) – He overcame a frustrating Friday and mediocre qualifying to open his Arrow McLaren career with the sort of hard-earned top five missing in his last years at Andretti.

4. Scott Dixon (3) – Put aside his opening-lap skirmish with former teammate Felix Rosenqvist, and it was a typically stealthily good result for the six-time champion.

5. Romain Grosjean (NR) – The St. Petersburg pole-sitter consistently was fastest on the streets of St. Petersburg over the course of the race weekend, which he couldn’t say once last year.

6. Scott McLaughlin (6) – Easily the best of the Team Penske drivers before his crash with Grosjean, McLaughlin drove like a legitimate 2023 championship contender.

7. Callum Ilott (NR) – A quietly impressive top five for the confident Brit in Juncos Hollinger Racing’s first race as a two-car team. Texas will be a big oval litmus test.

8. Graham Rahal (NR) – Sixth at St. Pete, Rahal still has the goods on street courses, and Rahal Letterman Lanigan remains headed in the right direction.

9. Alex Palou (4) – He seemed a step behind Ericsson and Dixon in the race after just missing the Fast Six in qualifying, but this was a solid start for Palou.

10. Will Power (2) – An uncharacteristic mistake that crashed Colton Herta put a blemish on the type of steady weekend that helped him win the 2022 title.

Falling out (last week): Josef Newgarden (1), Colton Herta (8), Christian Lundgaard (9)