Even though it’s just a two-race deal for now, Top Fuel driver Leah Pritchett will have one of the biggest and most successful drag racing organizations behind her.
Pritchett will compete for Don Schumacher Racing in next weekend’s NHRA Southern Nationals in Commerce, Georgia, where she finished runner-up in last year’s race. She’ll also compete in the prestigious U.S. Nationals on Labor Day weekend for DSR, as well.
It’s been a wild last few months for Pritchett. She won her first Top Fuel event at Phoenix in late February.
Then, early last month, she and the rest of the NHRA world were shocked when team owner Bob Vandergriff unexpectedly retired and immediately closed up his two-car Top Fuel team of Pritchett and Dave Connolly four races into the 24-race NHRA national event season.
Pritchett was able to race for Lagana Racing at Charlotte and then was able to convince Vandergriff to bring out her Quaker State-sponsored dragster for an encore performance last weekend at Houston.
Now, she’ll go to one of the season’s most popular races and will call 8-time Top Fuel champ Tony Schumacher, 2012 and 2015 Top Fuel champ Antron Brown and 2013 Top Fuel champ Shawn Langdon her teammates.
She’ll be in good hands at DSR with her former crew chiefs at BVR, Mike Gruger and Joe Barlam, bringing familiarity and consistency to keep Pritchett on the racetrack.
The deal between DSR and Pruett was struck last Monday, just before she headed to Houston. It makes sense for both sides. Pritchett lives in suburban Indianapolis and is less than 10 miles from DSR’s headquarters in Brownsburg, Indiana.
She competed at Houston for Quaker State Oil, which was her primary sponsor while with BVR. Plus, Quaker State’s headquarters is in Houston, so it was a natural fit.
It’s unknown whether Quaker State will return to sponsor Pritchett for more races, but don’t be surprised if it does. She’s one of the bright young faces on the NHRA scene, is a fan favorite, is very media and marketing savvy and has paid her dues.
While with BVR, and especially after her win at Phoenix, Pritchett appeared ready to become the sport’s next new star. With a team like DSR behind her, she can certainly continue on that route, indeed.
Admittedly, Pritchett still wonders what she could have accomplished if Vandergriff hadn’t folded up shop so abruptly.
“I will always wonder what could have been,” she told Bobby Bennett of CompetitionPlus.com. “Unfortunately, we’ll never know.
“In life, there are so many experiences to reflect upon. Life is bigger than a race car. It’s bigger than a win. I do feel we had a team capable of challenging for a championship. What could have been has now been replaced with what could come forth.”
Who knows, Pritchett, who grew up about 50 miles from Hollywood in Redlands, California, may wind up with a script that potentially could be even better than her short stay with BVR if team owner Don Schumacher finds enough sponsorship to keep Pritchett on and makes her a regular full-time member of the team.
Even with the struggles that came out of the BVR collapse, she’s still eight in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Top Fuel class. She’s 173 points behind series leader Brittany Force, is 154 points behind Brown, four points behind Schumacher and is 72 points ahead of Langdon.
Given that performance, she seems to be a perfect fit for DSR long-term. Only time will tell if that takes place.