UPDATED — NHRA: Leah Pritchett, Dave Connolly back behind wheel at 4-Wide Nationals

(Photos courtesy NHRA)
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UPDATED Thursday, April 21, 12:40 p.m. ET:

Shortly after it was announced that Leah Pritchett and Dave Connolly would once again be racing this weekend, John Force, 16-time Funny Car champion and the winningest driver in NHRA history, exclusively told NBCSports.com  that he’s glad to see the duo back racing just over one week after being released by Bob Vandergriff Racing.

“Losing those two cars and Vandergriff was a big thing,” Force said. “He’s a big name, his dad was there in the early days with me.

“Pruett worked hard to put together a sponsorship and team with Vandergriff and then Connolly coming from Pro Stock, they’re both great drivers. We need them back.”

Force admits that even though things have improved on the sponsorship level, “It is hard times still. A lot of kids will take a sponsorship, even if it’s not enough to run a full season, to run for the championship and to try and find more money. It’s a seven day a week job. We need them in the sport.”

ORIGINAL STORY:

In just over a week’s time, NHRA Top Fuel drivers Leah Pritchett and Dave Connolly have gone from unemployed to back on track.

Pritchett and Connolly began the season racing for Bob Vandergriff Jr. Racing. That is, until April 11, when Vandergriff shocked the drag racing world by immediately folding his entire racing operation and retiring from the sport.

That left Pritchett, who had won her first career Top Fuel race at Phoenix on Feb. 28, and Connolly, who moved to Top Fuel in 2015 after several years in Pro Stock, scrambling for rides.

MORE: NHRA stunner: Bob Vandergriff retires, closes team effective immediately

Fortunately for both drivers, they have new rides heading into this weekend’s NHRA 4-Wide Nationals at zMAX Dragway.

Pritchett took to her web site to reveal the news that she will drive the Nitro Ninja Top Fuel dragster owned by the Lagana family in what for now is a one-time effort.

“It has been a whirlwind of a week, but continuation of my pursuit to compete in Top Fuel has been made possible by FireAde 2000 (primary sponsor), with joint efforts of longtime partners Boninfante Friction, Aerodine Composites (both associate sponsors), and of course the Lagana family.

“Having partners able to come in clutch at the last minute enables me to enter one more race at this time and will help me stay relevant in the NHRA Mello Yello Series Championship Point Standings.

“This will also buy me a bit more time to work on sufficient funding for the rest of the season to compete with a readily available team.

“Beyond working alongside and being close friends with the Laganas, I feel fortunate to bring the proper resources to their operation to compete at this event. Experiencing this portion of my journey with people I know, respect, and trust, makes this quick turnaround of a time, that much more rewarding.”

2016_Dave_Connolly_Action

As for Connolly (photo above), he will return to his Sportsman roots and drive a Top Sportsman dragster in this weekend’s 4-Wide Nationals, as well.

“If it has a steering wheel, the class title doesn’t matter to me,” Connolly told Bobby Bennett of CompetitionPlus.com. “It’s a real good car that I turned into a Big Block Chevy. I was building this car to have as a bracket car toward the end of the year and with the turn of events I get to hit the ignition key on it a little bit sooner than I expected, but that’s how it goes.”

Connolly holds no grudge against Vandergriff for pulling the plug so abruptly.

“Every racer out there has dealt with difficult situations, and I’ve dealt with issues like this before pretty much from 2007 on,” Connolly told Bennett. “I completely understand Bob’s position and the choices that he has made. The guy has done a lot for me, so there are no hard feelings in regards to him at all. He gave me a great opportunity.”

Like Pritchett, Connolly is racing his Sportsman car as a kind of fill-in while looking for a new full-time ride in Top Fuel or potentially any other class if an offer surfaces.

“Racing is what I have done the last 16 years of my life,” Connolly told Bennett. “It’s all I have known and done. I plan on staying involved whether it is tuning a car or driving a car, it doesn’t matter to me.

“You never know what the future holds, and I’m just keeping all doors open at the moment. There’s definitely a few irons in the fire, and we will see if any of them spark.”

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Eli Tomac wins Houston Supercross: Hunter Lawrence takes early 250 East lead

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With his 47th career victory and third of the 2023 season in Houston, Eli Tomac closed to within one win of tying Ricky Carmichael for third on the all-time Monster Energy Supercross list.

Tomac rebounded from last week’s crash by earning the holeshot in both his heat and the Main. At the start of the big show, he couldn’t shake Aaron Plessinger in the first four minutes and actually was in the process of losing the lead as a red flag waved for a crash involving Tomac’s teammate Dylan Ferrandis when he overjumped an obstacle and landed on Ken Roczen’s back fender as they raced for eighth.

“That was a tough race,” Tomac told NBC Sports’ Will Christien, referencing his loss to Chase Sexton in the heat. “And honestly, I was just beat down after that heat race and was searching quite a bit and was basically losing speed everywhere. I just rode better, straight up in the Main. I felt better.”

In their heat, Sexton passed Tomac at the two-minute mark and then simply rode away from the field. At the end, he had an almost eight-second gap on Tomac.

“It wasn’t great by any means,” Sexton told Jason Thomas. “I feel like the strengths I had all day, I really lagged in the Main event between the whoop and the sand section. I think I could have walked through it faster. It was still a good ride; it wasn’t great. I expected after the heat race he would be fired up.”

RESULTS: How they finished for the 450 Main in Anaheim 2

Jason Anderson scored his second consecutive pole, but he was not happy to finish third behind the two points’ leaders.

“We should be thankful every time we get to be up here,” Anderson said. “They’re making it tough on me, but all I can do is give my best.”

Tomac had to withstand a red flag and the distant second place finish in his heat to win the Houston Supercross race. In the post-race conference, he indicated that he did not make any changes to the bike and simply rode better.

Aaron Plessinger and Cooper Webb rounded out the top five.

Ferrandis was fitted with a neck brace, but still able to walk to the medical cart. He was still being evaluated by the medical staff as the night came to a close.


In 250s Hunter Lawrence entered the 250 East opener as the consensus favorite to win the championship this year with Christian Craig making the move into 450s and his brother Jett Lawrence in the West division. He answered quickly with a huge lead in Heat 1, but it almost went awry in the Main.

Lawrence got a good start, but he was passed early in the race by two-time MXGP champion (2020, 2022) Tom Vialle, who was making his Supercross debut this week. Vialle passed Lawrence on the first lap. When Lawrence tried to pass him back, Vialle scrubbed speed off a jump and pushed Lawrence wide, over the Tuff Blox.

Championships are made out of Lawrence’s response. He kept his composure and did not overcorrect before methodically working his way to the front.

“We had a little off track excursion. I wasn’t sure how hard across Tom was coming so I thought I’ll just go left, but then saw that was the side of the track. Thankfully I didn’t hit the Tuff Blox and got back on track safely. … Good start; put myself in position.”

Click here for full 250 East Main Results

Making a move from the 450 class to 250s, Max Anstie had immediate success. He finished second in his heat behind Jordon Smith and lined up with a great gate pick. He had to overtake Vialle in the opening laps and lost ground on Lawrence, that cost enough time to keep him from pressing Lawrence. This is Anstie’s first podium in the United States

“Honestly, I’ve dreamed of this for a long time to come up on these steps and man it’s a great feeling. I’ve really enjoyed the day and being on this 250, I feel like an 18-year-old kid. Everyday I’m learning.”

Smith backed up his heat win with a podium finish.

“It feels good to be back up here again,” Smith said. “It’s been a long time; a lot of injuries.”

Haiden Deegan proved the hype surrounding his debut in the 250 class was not unfounded. He finished fourth in his heat to advance to directly into the Main. During the early laps, he was circling the track in a podium position until a minor mistake sent him off the box. In the closing laps, he narrowly made an aggressive pass on Jeremy Martin and narrowly missed the podium with a fourth-place finish.

Martin held on to round out the top five.

Vialle was running in a podium position when went down with a 1:30 left on the clock. He ended his night seventh.

Chance Hymas was also making his 250 debut and scored a top-10 in eighth.

2023 Race Recaps

Anaheim 2: Triple Crown produces new winners Chase Sexton, Levi Kitchen
San Diego: Eli Tomac, Jett Lawrence double down
Anaheim 1: Tomac wins opener for the first time

Houston coverage

Houston by the numbers
Supercross unveils 16th edition of a Ricky Carmichael designed Daytona track
Power Rankings after week 3
Malcom Stewart out for “extended duration” after knee surgery
Haiden Deegan makes Supercross debut in Houston, Justin Cooper to 450s
Talon Hawkins set to relieve injured Jalek Swoll in Houston
Jalek Swoll out for an indefinite period with broken arm
Ken Roczen urgently needed a change
Chris Blose joins Pro Circuit Kawasaki in 250 East opener
Seth Hammaker to miss Houston with wrist injury
Jo Shimoda joins Seth Hammaker, Austin Forkner on injured list