Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper The Spokesman-Review

Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
Clear Day 66° Clear

Keeping Pace

Leah Pritchett knows pivotal performance awaits at Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals

Leah Pritchett advanced to her first career final round in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series earlier this year and her next goal is to win her first career Top Fuel race. (Photo courtesy of NHRA) (National Dragster)
Leah Pritchett advanced to her first career final round in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series earlier this year and her next goal is to win her first career Top Fuel race. (Photo courtesy of NHRA) (National Dragster)

Courtesy: NHRA Media Relations

NORWALK, Ohio — In the midst of the best season in her young Top Fuel career, Leah Pritchett has continued to set the bar higher and higher regarding her performance.


Pritchett advanced to her first career final round in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series earlier this year and her next goal is to win her first career Top Fuel race. But another major goal Pritchett and her Dote Racing team set before the season is looming and centers around the ninth annual Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals at Summit Racing Equipment Motorsports Park, July 2-5.


The team circled this race as one of the major events for Pritchett’s 2015 racing schedule and after not qualifying at the event the past two years, Pritchett is ready to show how far she and her Dote Racing/Gumout dragster have come this season.


“Norwalk is a huge one for us,” Pritchett said. “This stretch is kind of our prime time. We’ve struggled in Norwalk and we feel like we have a lot to prove. We know how to be fast and now we have to learn more on being consistent. That’s one of the big keys, getting that consistency. A lot of cars are going to be there and we have to go out there and do what we know how to do.”


Antron Brown (Top Fuel), John Force (Funny Car), Erica Enders (Pro Stock) and Andrew Hines (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were last year’s winners of the event that will once again be televised nationally on ESPN2. It is the 12th event of the season and marks the halfway point of the 2015 campaign, with only six races following Norwalk until the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship begins.


It could also be the location of another breakout performance for Pritchett, who advanced to her first career final round in Atlanta. That has been the obvious benchmark in what has been a solid season, but Pritchett and her team, led by crew chiefs Doug Kuch and Rob Flynn have shown other strong moments throughout 2015.

They have qualified fifth or better at three different events, a sign that the team has the potential to perform at a high level.


“We’re making clean and fast runs and I couldn’t ask for more,” Pritchett said. “We just want to take it a step further of bringing the consistency with it. We’re taking it one step at a time and that’s the next step. We met one of our expectations this year and that’s going to a final round, but another one is a win and that’s what we’re looking for.”

Pritchett said the team made a decision to run more aggressively and the strategy has been beneficial, namely during qualifying. She qualified third in Atlanta and fourth in Topeka in a loaded Top Fuel field. Consistency during eliminations remains a work in progress, but showing the ability to run fast, going 3.736 at 321.04 mph in Englishtown, and qualifying for every event has been extremely beneficial.


“This has been incredibly huge for every single one of us,” Pritchett said. “To show the results we have, it just gives a sense of confidence for all of us. It reassures us that we’re doing our job and that’s what we need. It’s big for us but we have to keep working hard. We have to make sure every run we have is for a purpose.”


That will certainly be the emphasis in Norwalk, where Pritchett hopes to make a strong impression. She will once again face off against a talented Top Fuel class headed by points leader Antron Brown, who beat Pritchett in the finals at Atlanta and has three victories in 2015. He also beat Shawn Langdon in the Norwalk final last year, while other standouts include Richie Crampton, who has three wins this season, two-time Norwalk winner Larry Dixon, Doug Kalitta, defending world champion Tony Schumacher, Brittany Force, J.R. Todd, class newcomer Dave Connolly, Steve Torrence, Spencer Massey and Clay Millican.


“The season has gone well,” Pritchett said. “Maybe not as well as we would have liked and we want some more round wins, but we’re headed in the right direction and we’re making quicker runs. From a learning standpoint, we’re making the right choices and we found out we needed to push it a little more (during qualifying). We haven’t had it all come together, but it’s getting closer.”


The NHRA J&A Service Pro Mod Drag Racing Series will take to the track for its sixth stop of the 2015 season. The Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals also will feature thrilling side-by-side competition in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series.


As always, fans will have the opportunity to interact with their favorite drivers as they’re granted an exclusive pit pass to the most powerful and sensory-filled motorsports attraction on the planet. This unique opportunity in motorsports gives fans direct access to the teams, allowing them to see firsthand the highly-skilled mechanics service their hot rods between rounds, and get autographs from their favorite NHRA drivers.


Mello Yello Drag Racing Series qualifying begins Friday, July 3, with sessions at 5 and 7:45 p.m. The final two qualifying sessions will take place Saturday, July 4, at 5 and 7:45 p.m., followed by a fireworks show at 9:45 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sunday, July 5.

Keeping Pace

Motorsports correspondent Doug Pace keeps up with motorsports news and notes from around the region.