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Pritchett Wins Historic Matchup With Force

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, February 29 2016
Leah Pritchett got her first-ever Top Fuel victory on Sunday when she beat Brittany Force in the finals at Wild Horse.

Leah Pritchett got her first-ever Top Fuel victory on Sunday when she beat Brittany Force in the finals at Wild Horse.

Leah Pritchett defeated Brittany Force in the first all-female Top Fuel final in over 30 years to record her first national event victory Sunday at the 32nd annual CARQUEST Auto Parts NHRA Nationals.

“It’s the happiest day of my life, besides getting married of course,” Pritchett said after her historic victory at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park in Chandler, Ariz., near Phoenix. “This is what dreams are made of.”

Pritchett, of Bob Vandergriff Racing, used a quicker reaction time and a 1,000-foot performance of 3.775-seconds at 323.12 mph in her Quaker State dragster to finish ahead of Force’s 3.774-second pass at 321.35 mph in the Monster Energy dragster. It was the first all-female Top Fuel final since three-time world champion Shirley Muldowney defeated Lucille Lee in 1982 at Columbus, Ohio. Muldowney, the “First Lady of Drag Racing,” claimed the last of her world championships in ’82.

Neither Force, 29, nor Pritchett, 27, were born when Muldowney and Lee squared-off for their quarter-mile match. Pritchett vs. Force marked only the fourth time two women have decided a professional class victory in the Mello Yello Drag Racing Series. Angelle Sampey and Karen Stoffer have met twice in Pro Stock Motorcycle finals, most recently at Norwalk, Ohio, last season.

Pritchett _ who posted a runnerup finish in her only other Top Fuel final last season at Commerce, Ga. _ outran J.R. Todd, Clay Millican and two-time/reigning world champ Antron Brown in the first three rounds. She is the 16th woman to win a Mello Yello Series race and the eighth female to win in Top Fuel.

Meanwhile, Tim Wilkerson (Funny Car) and Jason Line (Pro Stock) also posted victories during the second event of the 24-race schedule.

“I feel like I just won the Super Bowl, even though it’s only the second race and it’s not the U.S. Nationals,” said Pritchett, a native of Redlands, Calif. “For me it’s an incredible personal and professional victory to be able to compete with the team that I’m with.”

The 2016 season is the first fulltime NHRA gig for Pritchett, who joined NHRA’s Top Fuel ranks in 2013. Like two-time/reigning Pro Stock world champion Erica Enders, Pritchett began her career in Jr. Dragsters before moving onto rides in the Nostalgia Funny Car and Pro Mod ranks.

Pritchett is teammate to Dave Connolly in the organization owned by former Top Fuel driver Bob Vandergriff Jr. In a bid to earn his first win as an owner, Vandergriff hired Pritchett to replace three-time world champion Larry Dixon in mid-January after Dixon and Connolly went a combined 0-for-9 in final-round appearances in 2015.

Pritchett, who became the 101st different winner in Top Fuel history, moved to fifth in the point standings with her win.  Doug Kalitta, who qualified No. 1 but lost a close race to Force in the semis, is the point-leader, eight ahead of Winternationals winner Steve Torrence, who was upset in the opening round.

Force had to give up lane choice to Kalitta in the semis, but crew chief Brian Husen had a solid tune-up dialed into the Monster Energy car and Force raced to her seventh career final and second final in Arizona. Force’s winning elapsed time of 3.760-seconds gave her lane choice over Pritchett’s winning 3.832-second time.

Force, who moved to No. 4 in the standings, took an upbeat attitude away from a successful albeit non-victorious weekend. “It feels good when you consider this is our second race into the season and we’re already in a final,” said Force, of John Force Racing. “That’s pretty outstanding especially with all the changes we made in the offseason. Getting to that final makes us feel really good. We have a long season ahead of us but I know it’ll be a good one.

“Going rounds definitely gives you confidence. When you have guys like Brian Husen and Alan Johnson working on your car it also really pushes you to make sure you are on your game. Now I have a car and I have to perform well and do the job as a driver. It adds some pressure but I think it adds pressure in a good way.”

In Funny Car, Wilkerson earned his 19th career victory and first in Arizona, taking out long-time rival and 16-time world champion John Force with a 1,000-foot run of 3.937-seconds at 320.43 mph in his Levi, Ray & Shoup Shelby Ford Mustang. Force trailed at 4.016/275.34 in his Peak Antifreeze/Republic Services Chevy Camaro SS.

Wilkerson made it past 2009 world champion Robert Hight in the semis after knocking off Chad Head in the opening round. Wilkerson also trailered series point-leader and event top qualifier Ron Capps in Round 2.

“I am just happy to be here,” said Wilkerson, who moved to fifth in the standings. “We’re very excited about what happened here today. That’s the best run we had all weekend.”

In Pro Stock, Line beat Chris McGaha in the final via a quarter-mile pass in 6.666-seconds at 205.16 mph in his Summit Racing Equipment Chevrolet Camaro SS. McGaha’s Harlow Sammons of Odessa Camaro posted numbers of 6.671/208.75. Line’s second consecutive final-round appearance allowed the two-time world champ to take the class point-lead.

“It all comes down to effort,” said Line, alluding to a KB Racing lineup featuring four-time world champion Greg Anderson and Bo Butner, who earned his first pole Saturday. “There are things that we can see we’re doing wrong, what we’re not doing well enough so we have to work on those things. And we have to make more power.”

Line began the march to his 38th career victory by defeating Matt Hartford and five-time world champ Jeg Coughlin Jr. in the first two rounds, and then grabbed KB Racing bragging rights by outrunning Anderson in the semis. Line was beaten by Anderson in the season-opening Winternationals final at Pomona, Calif., two weeks ago.

“The last two races (to start the season) have been awesome,” said Line, referring to the first events run under the NHRA’s new EFI rules package for the “Factory Hot Rod” class. “The change to fuel injection has been a challenge for all of us, but we’ve had a lot of great help from GM, Roger Allen and Jim Campbell.

“The Summit team did its homework over the weekend and we’ve been very fortunate. We’re in our infancy as far as learning about fuel injection and how to tune this. I don’t know if we did the greatest job today, but it was good enough to win. It was a fun day and a great way to start the year. Last year for me was kind of a dismal year, and we’re off to a much better start this year. I think everybody is kind of refocused and we’re on a mission.”

The NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series continues March 17-20 with the Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals at Florida’s Gainesville Raceway.

Final finishing order (1-16) at the 32nd annual CARQUEST Auto Parts NHRA Nationals at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park in Chandler, Ariz. The race is the second of 24 events in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series:

Top Fuel _1. Leah Pritchett; 2. Brittany Force; 3. Doug Kalitta; 4. Clay Millican; 5. Antron Brown; 6. Dave Connolly; 7. Tony Schumacher; 8. Terry McMillen; 9. Shawn Langdon; 10. Steve Torrence; 11. Steven Chrisman; 12. J.R. Todd; 13. Scott Palmer; 14. Richie Crampton; 15. Troy Buff.

Funny Car _1. Tim Wilkerson; 2. John Force; 3. Robert Hight; 4. Courtney Force; 5. Del Worsham; 6. Jack Beckman; 7. Ron Capps; 8. Tommy Johnson Jr.; 9. Alexis DeJoria; 10. Jeff Diehl; 11. Matt Hagan; 12. Jim Campbell; 13. Cruz Pedregon; 14. John Hale; 15. Chad Head; 16. Terry Haddock.

Pro Stock _1. Jason Line; 2. Chris McGaha; 3. Bo Butner; 4. Greg Anderson; 5. Jeg Coughlin Jr.; 6. Drew Skillman; 7. Deric Kramer; 8. Alex Laughlin; 9. Joey Grose; 10. Erica Enders; 11. Vincent Nobile; 12. V. Gaines; 13. Allen Johnson; 14. Matt Hartford.

Sunday’s final results from the 32nd annual CARQUEST Auto Parts NHRA Nationals:

Top Fuel _ Leah Pritchett, 3.775-seconds, 323.12 mph def. Brittany Force, 3.774 seconds, 321.35 mph.

Funny Car _ Tim Wilkerson, Ford Mustang, 3.937, 320.43 def. John Force, Chevy Camaro, 4.016, 275.34.

Pro Stock _ Jason Line, Chevy Camaro, 6.666, 205.16 def. Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.671, 208.75.

Super Stock _ Gary McGlasson, Chevy Camaro, 9.825, 129.53 def. Bernie Cunningham, Pontiac Firebird, 10.867, 120.77.

Stock Eliminator _ Randi Lyn Shipp, Pontiac Firebird, 10.349, 120.09 def. Jerry Hatch, Plymouth Duster, 10.717, 110.31.

Super Comp _ Chandler Meziere, Dragster, 8.956, 155.85 def. Steve Williams, Dragster, 9.424, 165.15.

Super Gas _ Brad Pierce, Chevy Corvette, 10.100, 121.68 def. Clint Fishel, Chevy Beretta, 10.282, 145.00.

Super Street _ Frank Kohutek, Chevy Vega, 10.917, 137.93 def. Joe Greco, AMX, 10.929, 146.54.

Top Dragster _ Bobby Ray McMahan, Dragster, 6.551, 206.95 def. Phil Unruh, Dragster, 6.362, 215.41.

Top Sportsman _ Chris Newman, Chevy Cobalt, 6.878, 194.94 def. Jeff Gillette, Pontiac GTO, 6.986, 200.32.

Top Fuel Harley _ Jay Turner, Dixie, 6.295, 228.96 def. Tii Tharpe, Dixie, 6.496, 219.83.

Final round-by-round results from the 32nd annual CARQUEST Auto Parts NHRA Nationals:

TOP FUEL

ROUND ONE _ Brittany Force, 3.723, 325.45 def. Shawn Langdon, 3.772, 321.65; Tony Schumacher, 3.742, 325.77 def. Scott Palmer, 7.611, 84.19; Doug Kalitta, 3.716, 328.22 was unopposed; Antron Brown, 3.766, 317.64 def. Steven Chrisman, 4.119, 257.04; Terry McMillen, 3.840, 304.53 def. Steve Torrence, 3.851, 312.28; Clay Millican, 3.940, 304.53 def. Troy Buff, 8.780, 84.00; Leah Pritchett, 4.361, 245.54 def. J.R. Todd, 4.612, 168.05; Dave Connolly, 3.765, 324.12 def. Richie Crampton, 8.532, 85.67;

QUARTERFINALS  _ Pritchett, 3.808, 322.19 def. Brown, Foul/Red Light; Millican, 4.747, 223.06 def. Schumacher, 5.874, 124.21; Force, 3.771, 321.04 def. McMillen, 6.641, 105.60; Kalitta, 3.770, 323.19 def. Connolly, 5.070, 139.26;

SEMIFINALS _ Pritchett, 3.832, 317.05 def. Millican, 3.878, 299.86; Force, 3.760, 319.67 def. Kalitta, 3.794, 322.50;

FINAL _ Pritchett, 3.775, 323.12 def. Force, 3.774, 321.35.

FUNNY CAR

ROUND ONE _ Courtney Force, Chevy Camaro, 3.930, 326.79 def. Terry Haddock, Toyota Solara, 6.911, 91.55; Ron Capps, Dodge Charger, 3.965, 319.29 def. Jeff Diehl, Solara, Foul/Red Light; John Force, Camaro, 3.955, 322.65 def. John Hale, Charger, 4.398, 231.75; Robert Hight, Camaro, 3.905, 327.11 def. Cruz Pedregon, Toyota Camry, 4.313, 213.87; Del Worsham, Camry, 3.991, 318.24 def. Jim Campbell, Charger, 4.298, 242.41; Jack Beckman, Charger, 3.939, 318.39 def. Alexis DeJoria, Camry, 3.964, 320.74; Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 4.003, 317.64 def. Matt Hagan, Charger, 4.229, 266.32; Tim Wilkerson, Ford Mustang, 3.970, 320.81 def. Chad Head, Camry, 5.554, 158.93;

QUARTERFINALS _ C. Force, 3.973, 319.67 def. Johnson Jr., 7.998, 92.39; Hight, 3.977, 320.97 def. Worsham, 4.711, 170.82; J. Force, 4.014, 319.07 def. Beckman, 6.082, 110.62; Wilkerson, 4.597, 228.19 def. Capps, 6.168, 115.86;

SEMIFINALS _ J. Force, 4.006, 318.02 def. C. Force, 9.212, 82.51; Wilkerson, 3.994, 317.19 def. Hight, 8.351, 84.37;

FINAL _ Wilkerson, 3.937, 320.43 def. J. Force, 4.016, 275.34.

PRO STOCK

ROUND ONE _ Jeg Coughlin Jr., Dodge Dart, 6.653, 206.89 def. Alex Laughlin, Chevy Camaro, 6.684, 208.71; Drew Skillman, Camaro, 6.633, 208.33 def. Erica Enders, Dart, 6.705, 207.53; Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.634, 209.14 def. Joey Grose, Camaro, Foul/Red Light; Deric Kramer, Dart, 6.747, 206.95 def. Allen Johnson, Dart, 6.711, 206.16; Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.611, 207.69 def. Vincent Nobile, Camaro, 6.710, 207.78; Jason Line, Camaro, 6.595, 208.07 def. Matt Hartford, Camaro, 6.713, 206.99; Bo Butner, Camaro, 6.590, 209.30 def. V. Gaines, Dart, 6.710, 206.61;

QUARTERFINALS _ McGaha, 6.664, 208.78 def. Kramer, 22.660, 34.45; Anderson, 6.630, 207.85 def. Skillman, 6.684, 207.46; Line, 6.641, 207.78 def. Coughlin, 6.670, 206.76; Butner, 6.638, 208.52 was unopposed;

SEMIFINALS _ McGaha, 6.692, 208.07 def. Butner, 6.690, 208.10; Line, 6.650, 207.53 def. Anderson, 13.587, 63.30;

FINAL _ Line, 6.666, 205.16 def. McGaha, 6.671, 208.75.

Point standings (top-10) following the 32nd annual CARQUEST Auto Parts NHRA Nationals:

Top Fuel _1. Doug Kalitta, 171; 2. Steve Torrence, 163; 3. Brittany Force, 133; 4. Clay Millican, 131; 5. Leah Pritchett, 129; 6. Antron Brown, 110; 7. Richie Crampton, 109; 8. J.R. Todd, 105; 9. Tony Schumacher, 98; 10. Terry McMillen, 97.

Funny Car _1. Ron Capps, 183; 2. John Force, 168; 3. Robert Hight, 158; 4. Del Worsham, 154; 5. Tim Wilkerson, 147; 6. Courtney Force, 141; 7. Jack Beckman, 121; 8. Alexis DeJoria, 87; 9. Chad Head, 86; 10. Tommy Johnson Jr., 85.

Pro Stock _ 1. Jason Line, 227; 2. Greg Anderson, 209; 3. Bo Butner, 171; 4. Drew Skillman, 131; 5. Chris McGaha, 129; 6. Jeg Coughlin Jr., 106; 7. Allen Johnson, 87; 8. Vincent Nobile, 86; 9. Deric Kramer, 83; 10. Alex Laughlin, 66.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, February 29 2016
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