Pritchett Lands Gig At Schumacher

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, May 4 2016
Leah Pritchett will drive a Don Schumacher dragster. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Harold Hinson)

Leah Pritchett will drive a Don Schumacher dragster in Atlanta. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Harold Hinson)

Leah Pritchett’s nomadic journey through the 2016 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season has reunited her with powerhouse Don Schumacher Racing for Round 7 of the schedule at Atlanta Dragway, and beyond.

Pritchett, who won her first Top Fuel event in Race No. 2 of the season near Phoenix on Feb. 28, was left without a ride when team-owner Bob Vandergriff Jr. unexpectedly announced his retirement one month ago.

Pritchett will drive the FireAde Top Fuel dragster during the 36th annual NHRA Summit Racing Equipment Southern Nationals May 13-15 in Commerce, Ga. Pritchett will be the fourth woman to drive for DSR as the team expands its nitro-powered juggernaut to eight cars _ four each in Top Fuel and Funny Car.

Pritchett earned her nitro Funny Car license with DSR eight years ago.

“I am thrilled to finally have Leah in the seat of a DSR race car,” team-owner and drag racing pioneer Don Schumacher said in a statement Wednesday from his corporate headquarters in Brownsburg, Ind. “She showed me a lot when she tested with us and earned her NHRA license. But she is much more than a very good driver; she is an excellent marketer and outstanding representative of our sport.” 

Pritchett, who is ranked eighth in points, also will drive DSR’s FireAde dragster during the prestigious 62nd annual Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals over Labor Day Weekend near Indianapolis. She also is working with Schumacher to secure additional marketing partners to allow her to run the remainder of the 24-race schedule.

Veteran tuners Mike Guger and Joe Barlam will join Pritchett for the Southern Nats, along with some members of her BVR team combined with selected veteran DSR nitro technicians.

“If you would have asked a couple of weeks ago if I’d being running Atlanta I wouldn’t have bet too much on that happening,” said Pritchett, a 27-year-old native of Redlands, Calif., now living in Avon, Ind. “When the door shut on all of us it was not a fend-for-yourself moment. Our goal was to continue to race together and because of that we were able to go to Atlanta.

“These last couple weeks with the support from so many people who have rallied around my team to keep my dream going has just been phenomenal.”

Pritchett posted her breakthrough NHRA Top Fuel victory in an historic all-female final against current point-leader Brittany Force during the 32nd annual CARQUEST Auto Parts NHRA Nationals at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park in Chandler, Ariz., near Phoenix. Pritchett vs. Force took place 34 years after Shirley Muldowney faced Lucille Lee in the first all-female Top Fuel final at the 1982 Springnationals at National Trail Raceway in Columbus, Ohio.

Pritchett was hired during the offseason to replace three-time Top Fuel world champion Larry Dixon, who finished fourth in the point standings in 2015. Pritchett was teamed with former Pro Stock regular Dave Connolly, whose C&J Energy Services dragster team also was shut down by Vandergriff, who retired from the Top Fuel ranks as a driver in 2014. The unexpected death of Josh Comstock, one of Vandergriff’s major sponsors, prompted him to shutter BVR after Round 4 of the schedule at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Pritchett drove for Lagana Racing during the seventh annual NHRA Four-Wide Nationals at zMAX Dragway in Concord, N.C., near Charlotte, in late April and reunited with her BVR team in the Quaker State dragster for last weekend’s 29th annual NHRA SpringNationals at Royal Purple Raceway in Baytown, Texas, near Houston. She advanced to the semifinals and recorded the fastest 1,000-foot run of her career at 329.18 mph at RPR.

Primary backer FireAde provides the world’s most advanced, innovative and environmentally friendly fire-fighting, tank-cleaning and dust control products. A product of Fire Service Plus Inc., FireAde is based in Fayetteville, Ga., near Atlanta. The company was founded by chief executive officer Ron Thames.

“A huge thanks goes to Ron and FireAde for the belief they have in us and making this happen so we can keep racing,” Pritchett said. “What we accomplished in Houston gives us an extra boost of confidence. It’s ironic that it comes full-circle for me that I will be driving for Don Schumacher in a Mello Yello race. He was the first one to see my potential when I was a teen-ager and helped me get my first fuel license. To be able to run under his umbrella is a very proud moment for me.”

DSR has won 14 NHRA world championships and 269 Mello Yello titles. Schumacher decided to bring out a fourth Top Fueler, initially as a part-time program, and make Pritchett his fourth female driver since opening DSR in 1998. Two of the previous women to drive for DSR went on to win multiple NHRA world championships _ Erica Enders in Pro Stock and Angelle Sampey in Pro Stock Motorcycle. Melanie Troxel also won two Top Fuel Wally trophies for DSR.

Pritchett joins a Top Fuel lineup featuring eight-time world champion Tony “The Sarge” Schumacher in the U.S. Army dragster; 2012 and 2015 world champ Antron Brown in the Matco Tools dragster and the Red Fuel/Sandvik Coromant dragster driven by 2013 world champion Shawn Langdon.

DSR’s Funny Car lineup includes two-time world champion Matt Hagan in the Rocky Boots/Mopar Express Lane Dodge Charger R/T; 2012 world champion Jack Beckman in the Infinite Hero Foundation Dodge; the NAPA Auto Parts Charger of Ron Capps and the Make-A-Wish Dodge driver by Tommy Johnson Jr.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, May 4 2016
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