NHRA: Leah Pritchett goes for 3 different wins in this weekend’s Gatornationals

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Typically, drag racers can only go home with one winner’s trophy from a NHRA national event.

But not Top Fuel driver Leah Pritchett. She plans on taking two winner’s trophies – and bragging rights from a third race – back to her Indiana home from this weekend’s Gatornationals in Gainesville, Florida.

Pritchett, both the quickest (3.640 seconds at Brainerd, Minn., in 2017) and fastest (334.15 mph last month in Phoenix) woman in NHRA history, came into this weekend’s event ranked seventh in the Top Fuel standings. So there’s one race to win.

Pritchett’s Factory Stock Showdown car.

Next, she will compete in the Factory Stock Showdown, seeking another “Wally” (winner’s trophy), behind the wheel of a Hoonigan-designed Mopar Dodge Challenger Drag Pak. There’s No. 2 race to win.

And last but not least, Pritchett will challenge Papa John’s Pizza founder John Schnatter in the Papa John’s Charity Challenge on Saturday to benefit the Infinite Hero Foundation and Overcome Academy. There’s No. 3 to win.

“I always dig doing things differently, and to their maximum capabilities,” said Pritchett, a five-time Top Fuel event champion. “This weekend is more about three cars and three events.

“It represents three important aspects of my passion for drag racing: Top Fuel competition, grassroots racing, and charity involvement.”

Pritchett, who grew up drag racing in her native Southern California, has competed in several different classes as she climbed the performance and competition ladder.

Now that she’s one of the stars of the sport’s quickest and fastest racing class, Pritchett talked about why she hopes to go 3-for-3 this weekend, particularly since the Gatornationals are one of the sport’s biggest races of the 24-race national event schedule.

“The Top Fuel competition is a passion to be the quickest and the fastest at the ultimate level,” Pritchett said. “Factory Stock Showdown has brought me back to my Sportsman roots.

“The program is ‘heads up’ and delivers the opportunity to make the combination of what is available from the factory faster than anyone else through tuning and ingenuity within set limitations. It’s all about who can make their hot rod faster, which is something everyone can be a part of without having to be at the Top Fuel level.

“The Charity Challenge, for me, represents growth and integration of a partner who loves this sport and can face off for a great cause while telling an All American story and raising money for returning military heroes and their families.”

All told, Pritchett has the potential of making well over a dozen runs through the weekend:

* In Top Fuel, she’ll have two qualifying rounds each on Friday and Saturday, plus up to four elimination rounds on Sunday.

* Then there’s two qualifying rounds Friday and one other qualifying run Saturday for the Factory Stock Showdown. If she gets past that, there’s the potential of a first-round elimination later in the day. If she wins that, there’s two more elimination rounds on Sunday to potentially win the Challenge.

* And if she beats her boss – Papa John’s is her primary sponsor for the Don Schumacher Racing Top Fuel team – that’s one more run. She’s also expected to have one test run.

Add all those rounds up – and in a perfect weekend if she captures all three events – Pritchett has the potential to make either 15 or 16 different runs over the three days.

“I believe my bandwidth of focus has grown to compartmentalize these opportunities at their maximum without robbing from one another,” Pritchett said. “But I can guarantee you, enjoyment will be at an all-time high.

“The constant variable is always the mindset of being the baddest and fastest no matter what; whether it’s a car I dedicate my life and all hours to, or one that I haven’t even touched before.”

In her second full-time season with DSR, Pritchett seeks her fifth Top Fuel win with the team and sixth overall career Top Fuel win.

“I’m a proud Gemini, whereby nature, I’m good at doing multiple things to the max, and this weekend, it’s all about the trifecta.”

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Lessons learned in three rounds of Extreme E pay huge dividends in the Copper X Prix for Tanner Foust

Foust Copper X Prix
McLaren Racing
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To paraphrase the Grateful Dead, what a long, unique trip it’s been for Tanner Foust in his first season with the Extreme E series as he took his early season lessons to Chile to compete in the Copper X Prix. And he’s learned his lessons well.

In February, McLaren announced they would expand their motorsports program with an Extreme E entry. They signed two talented rally drivers in Foust and Emma Gilmour – and paired them for the opening round in Neom, Saudi Arabia with just a few days of testing under their belts. Baked by the Arabian desert sun, it was trial by fire.

The duo performed well in their debut, advancing into the final round and finishing fifth. As Extreme E headed to another desert halfway across the globe for Round 4, it was a good time to catch up with Foust and ask about McLaren’s progress. The Copper X Prix was held this past weekend in one of the most extreme regions in the world: the Atacama Desert.

MORE: McLaren considering Kyle Busch for Indy 500

“The shock going into the first race was the speed,” Foust told NBC Sports. “It was much higher than we had tested. We spent a lot of time around 100 miles per hour [in race trim] and our testing speeds were more in the 60 to 70-mile range. Then, once we sort of got around that, the car got updated so you can drive it even faster.”

In rally racing, some incidents are out of a driver’s control. Even peeking around another car can be dangerous because of potholes that have recently been gouged in the ground or large bushes that seem to sprout up between laps. A couple of rollovers brought Foust back to earth – but the pace was there and that was important.

“We had some challenges this season,” Foust said prior to the Copper X Prix. “We had a good start; made the final, which is a difficult thing to do in this series. I had two rolls in the first three events, but I have improved each time. Now we come into Round 4 in Chile in a pretty strong position. We have competitive times as a team. We are communicating really well and have our heads around this Odyssey vehicle.”

Foust’s words proved to be prophetic.

He won the Crazy Race – Extreme E’s version of a Last Chance Qualifier – and did so after passing the field. It was the same manner in which he qualified for Saudi Arabia’s finale, but this time things would be better. There were those hard-earned lessons on which to lean – and Foust had reps under his belt. He was not going to be caught off guard by any random obstacles.

Tanner Foust passed Sebastien Loeb heading to the Switch Zone in the Copper X Prix. (Photo by Sam Bagnall / LAT Images)

In the Copper X Prix finale, he pressured one of the best rally drivers in the history of the sport.

Pitching sideways through a tight left-hander late in his stint, Foust put his McLaren Extreme E Odyssey at the head of the pack in front of Sebastien Loeb as they headed to the Switch Zone. There, he would turn the car over to his co-driver Gilmour.

The Extreme E series pairs male and female drivers with both taking a turn behind the wheel.

After the driver change, Gilmour lost the lead momentarily to Loeb’s teammate Cristina Gutierrez, but as they charged toward the finish line, she surged ahead and crossed under the checkers first.

“What an improvement for the team over this year,” Foust said after the race. “We have struggled through some of the events, being in our first year in competition. We showed true pace this weekend; overtaking Sebastien Loeb was a highlight.

“Emma put in a great run in the Final. I was fortunate to go from last to first in the Crazy Race and then first in the Final but with some flag penalties, we had 20 seconds added to our time, which put us into fifth. It was a great feeling crossing the line first, I love this wide style track and the NEOM McLaren Odyssey was fantastic here.

“Hopefully we can continue that momentum into Uruguay.”

Loeb and Gutierrez were elevated to the top of the podium, but no one can take away the feeling of crossing under the checkers first.


Racing Responsibly

Since cars were first invented, racing has played a socially responsible role by improving safety. As Earth reaches a tipping point with climate change, racing needs to adapt to these new needs and requirements, which is where Extreme E’s unique strategy becomes increasingly important.

The Extreme E experience is more than simple racing. Each race is accompanied by a legacy program designed to offset damage done by climate change and to erase the footprint caused by the events.

Foust, a biology major from the University of Colorado, was given the chance to rekindle his interest and give back to the environment ahead of the Copper X Prix.

The Atacama is the oldest desert in the world at 150 million years. It is the driest place on earth and has the highest degree of ultraviolet light. And yet somehow life perseveres through underground rivers with oases dating back to Incan times. Foust participated in preparing a local habitat for the reintroduction of a critically endangered water frog to Chile’s longest river, the Loa, which snakes its way through the desert.

“I’m loving the experience,” Foust said. “I’m putting on a lot of Chapstick, a lot of sunscreen. What a fascinating part of the world. I never would have come here otherwise.

“I honestly am very honored to be a part of this sport. I am a huge believer in the fact that motorsports has done us good in the last 100 years. I think we benefit every single time we put our seatbelts on and drive down the road to the lessons learned in racing since the turn of the century. And I really hope motorsports continues that tradition.

“I think that motorsports like [Extreme E] does it in a responsible way, a gender-neutral way and a carbon-neutral way.”