Leah Pritchett is going for three strikes in this weekend’s NHRA Arizona Nationals in suburban Phoenix.
It’s not a matter of three strikes and Pritchett is out. On the contrary, it’s the complete opposite.
She’s looking to strike again in dominating fashion, seeking her third consecutive Top Fuel victory at the annual late winter race at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park in Chandler, Arizona.
In addition to going for three in a row, Pritchett three weeks ago set the unofficial fastest run in NHRA Top Fuel history during a preseason test at the same Arizona track, going 334.73 mph at a track-best 3.664 seconds.
To say Pritchett likes racing in the Valley of the Sun, and particularly at Wild Horse Pass, is an understatement.
“(Wild Horse Pass) has actually climbed up the ladder to my No. 1 spot,” Pritchett said of her list of favorite tracks. “Pomona used to be my No. 1 track because it’s my hometown track.
“Given the success I have had at Phoenix, the records that we’ve set both officially and unofficially there, and it’s where I won my first race and have the most wins.
“Every track we go to has an aura of the fan base. It’s no different in Phoenix, where you see a lot of people who have escaped the cold to be out in the sun and they are just as excited as we are to get the season started. It’s heightened excitement all the way around. The fans really bring it and the teams feed off that energy.”
Don’t be surprised if Pritchett – and potentially some of her competitors if weather conditions are ideal – put down speeds that rival her 334.73 mph run earlier in the month.
And since this is a national event, everything will count as a national record.
“The testing we did a few weeks back will certainly help us,” she said. “You know that 3.664 did not come easily. That took three solid days to figure out that combination.
“And we’re happy to have some knowns when we get started Friday. We know the 3.664 solidifies that Phoenix has been good to us and we like to be good to it. However, we were not oblivious to the early numbers our competition was laying down consistently.
“Where our competition had good numbers at half-track, we were right on par with our end numbers. So, yes, it’s a good feeling that we put up a 3.66, but yet we know the competition is close.”
Last year, Pritchett jumped out to a great start, winning the season-opening race at Pomona, including setting a national elapsed time record, and then doubling up with a win two weeks later at Phoenix. Ironically, both of her last two wins at Phoenix have come vs. Brittany Force, who returns this weekend after the hardest crash of her career two weeks ago in the season-opening race at Pomona.
This year, Pritchett is coming off a disappointing first-round elimination following a mechanical failure during her pre-run burnout.
The parachute on her Don Schumacher Racing/Mopar/U.S. Army Top Fuel dragster inexplicably deployed on the burnout, leaving Pritchett disqualified.
“Right now, we are definitely on the offense and defense at the same time,” Pritchett said. “We are much more focused on our own racecar and the mechanics behind it to get to that place where winning for the third consecutive time is possible.
“But that’s not a conversation base for our team, it’s about doing what we know how to do. Come Sunday night, if everything goes right and I have to answer questions about winning three in a row, that would be great.”