Photo courtesy LeahPritchett.com

Leah Pritchett, husband Gary have great marriage — but are fierce rivals on the drag strip

Leave a comment

Leah and Gary Pritchett love each other – except for less than four seconds every now and then.

The Pritchett’s are one of the most unique couples in NHRA drag racing.

Leah is in her first full season as a Top Fuel driver with Don Schumacher Racing and primary sponsor Papa John’s Pizza. She’s had a spectacular breakthrough season already, capturing wins in three of the first 12 races.

She will try to kick off the second half of the 24-race NHRA national event schedule this weekend with yet another win this season in the Route 66 NHRA Nationals at Route 66 Raceway in Joliet, Illinois, about 50 miles southwest of Chicago.

Then there’s Gary – and that’s where the less than four seconds deal comes to the fore.

You see, Gary is a crew member on the Top Fuel dragster of Steve Torrence, who has quickly become Leah’s No. 1 rival.

“This year has definitely brought its challenges,” Leah said. “Before, it was all fun and games, joking matters and all of that (between both teams).

“But then our teams have turned into pretty serious rivals since the beginning of this season.”

Torrence leads the Top Fuel ranks with four wins and is also No. 1 in the standings, where Leah was after eight races thus far in 2017 (she’s dropped to No. 2 heading into this weekend).

And when Torrence and Leah meet on the starting line and run down a drag strip at less than four seconds and more than 325 mph, you might think things have the potential to get a little tense in the Pritchett household.

But that isn’t necessarily the case.

“I think it’s unusual for everybody else but us,” Leah said. “Since we’ve been together six years, we’ve never been on the same team. So, that’s how we know it to work.”

Sure, Gary wants his wife to succeed, but not necessarily at the expense of Torrence. Loyalties are pretty well defined when both teams are side-by-side on a drag strip.

“That’s a great question and I cannot answer that for him, I can guarantee you that,” Leah said with a laugh during Thursday’s Media Day in downtown Chicago. “I think because of the success we’ve had this year, he can’t do anything but want to beat us.

“Say if we were down in 15th place and they’re No. 1, I’m sure he would be hoping for our team much more.

“But we operate completely independent. I know nothing about what happens under his canopy, I mean nothing. It’s like living in Detroit and the wife works for Ford and the husband works for Chevy.”

Only 50 points separate No. 1 Torrence and No. 2 Leah Pritchett heading into this weekend’s race. If weather conditions are optimal, there’s expectations that a number of track – if not national – speed and elapsed time records could fall, and don’t be surprised to see Leah and Torrence meeting each other in Sunday’s final round.

And given the way the season has gone so far for both teams, it’s not out of the question that Leah and Torrence could fight it out for the Top Fuel championship at season’s end.

“If we’re neck-and-neck like we are now come Pomona (the final race of the season and likely the championship-deciding race), we will probably have completely separate hotel rooms – if not completely different hotels,” Leah said with another laugh.

“I’m staying where my team stays and he’ll stay where his team stays.”

Follow @JerryBonkowski

Toyota No. 8 car wins the 24 Hours of Le Mans for third consecutive year

24 Hours of Le Mans
JEAN-FRANCOIS MONIER/AFP via Getty Images
3 Comments

LE MANS, France — Toyota Gazoo’s No. 8 car comfortably won the 24 Hours of Le Mans by five laps Sunday to secure a third straight victory in the prestigious endurance race.

It was also a third consecutive win for Swiss driver Sebastien Buemi and Japan’s Kazuki Nakajima driving. Brendon Hartley was the other driver, having replaced two-time Formula One champion Fernando Alonso.

Buemi and Hartley sat on the side of the car as Nakajima drove toward the podium. Hartley won for a second time after tasting success with the Porsche LMP Team in 2017 before an unhappy season in Formula One.

The Swiss team’s Rebellion No. 1 featured American driver Gustavo Menezes and Brazilian Bruno Senna – the nephew of late F1 great Ayrton Senna.

It finished one lap ahead of Toyota Gazoo’s No. 7, with Rebellion’s No. 3 finishing in fourth place.

For much of the race it looked like Toyota’s No. 7 would win after leading comfortably from pole position. But late into the night the car encountered an engine problem and the 30-minute stop in the stands proved costly.

The race was first held in 1923. A total of 252,500 spectators attended in 2019, but there were none this year when the race started three months late because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

“We miss the fans,” New Zealander Hartley said. “I look forward to seeing all the fans again.”

In other divisions:

United Autosports won the LMP2 division with the entry of Filipe Albuquerque, Paul Di Resta and Phil Hanson.

–In LMGTE Pro, the victory was claimed by Aston Martin Vantage AMR of Maxime Martin, Alex Lynn and Harry Tincknell (who drives for Mazda in the DPi division of IMSA).

–TF Sport won the LMGTE Am class.

The Toyota No. 7 took pole after former F1 driver Kamui Kobayashi narrowly edged out the Rebellion No. 1 team in qualifying.

In damp and humid conditions Mike Conway got away cleanly from the start, while Senna held off Buemi.

After nearly seven hours, Toyota’s No. 8 fell back after a 10-minute stop in the stands to fix a brake-cooling problem on Kazuki Nakajima’s car. Rebellion’s No. 1, driven by Frenchman Norman Nato, took advantage to move into second place behind Toyota’s No. 7.

Then came the decisive moment at 2:40 a.m. as the No. 7 – also featuring Argentine Jose Maria Lopez – encountered a turbo problem. When the car came back out it was back in fourth.

“We had a few problems early in the race,” Nakajima said. “Later they had a bigger issue than us.”

Rebellion’s No. 1 encountered a problem on the hood at around 9 a.m. and the change took six minutes, allowing the Rebellion No. 3 (Nathanael Berthon-Louis Deletraz-Romain Dumas) to close the gap.

It was becoming a tight battle between the two Rebellion cars behind Toyota’s No. 8.

At 12 p.m. Rebellion No. 3 with Dumas behind the wheel was only one second ahead of No. 1 driven by Menezes. Then both cars came in for a driver change with Deletraz swapping for Dumas on a lengthy stop, and Nato for Menezes as Rebellion No. 1 suddenly moved ahead of its team rival.

Dumas, a winner in 2016 with Porsche, appeared unhappy at the strategy decision to bring his car in first and the length of the stop. There were tense explanations in the team garage.

Colombian Tatiana Calderon, an F1 test driver with Alfa Romeo, was in the Richard Mille Racing Team in the LMP2 category. She was joined by German Sophia Florsch – an F3 driver – and Dutchwoman Beitske Visser. They placed ninth out of 24 in their category.