Hometown Girl Pritchett On Pole In Pomona
By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
Californian Leah Pritchett completed her first pass down a drag strip at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona in a Jr. Dragster when she was 8-years-old. Twenty years later, Pritchett raced to her second career Top Fuel pole at her home track as qualifications concluded Saturday afternoon for the 57th annual Circle K NHRA Winternationals.
Pritchett piloted her dragster fielded by Don Schumacher Racing to a career-best 1,000-foot elapsed time of 3.672-seconds at 327.90 mph in the final qualifying session to secure P1 at the season-opener.
“This is exactly a testament to things that I saw in the offseason,” said Pritchett, a native of Redlands, Calif. “We don’t have a whole bunch of different parts than anybody else. Those guys are on our heels 100 percent and if we’re off by two-hundredths on the (Christmas) tree then we’re getting waxed. So the meticulous work that my guys have done in the offseason, the attention to details plus this extra power we’ve been able to create and we showed in Phoenix, we put it all on the track. I could not be more excited.”
Matt Hagan, Pritchett’s DSR Funny Car teammate, and Pro Stock ace Jason Line also emerged as No. 1 qualifiers at the first of 24 races on the 2017 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season schedule.
Pritchett is starting her first full season with DSR after joining the organization midway through last year and competing in 15 of 24 events.
“This is what I consider one of the most prestigious races in the world,” said Pritchett, a graduate of Cal State San Bernardino. “This is not just my home track where I first went down a drag strip in a Jr. Dragster 20 years ago; there’s a world of difference in what we just laid down out there. When (crew chief Todd Okuhara) tells me ‘Hang on!’ I’m like, ‘I’m giving this everything I’ve got.’ If it starts to sashay, so what? If it goes two feet past the finish line, so what? We’ve got brakes, we’ve got parachutes. We are going to get every ounce out of this run.
“We have 15 cars (in the paddock) so the No. 1 one spot is tenfold as important as it is in any full (16-car) field because we start (Sunday) with a bye run.”
Pritchett displaced Doug Kalitta, Friday’s provisional pole-sitter, atop the ladder. Kalitta placed second and will line up against Steve Faria after a pass in 3.686-seconds at 329.58 in his Mac Tools dragster. Three-time/reigning world champion Antron Brown of DSR is third and will race Steve Chrisman.
In Funny Car, Hagan set both ends of Auto Club Raceway at Pomona’s records when he matched the 1,000-foot national elapsed time and speed marks with a 3.822-second pass at 335.57 mph in his Mopar Express Lane Dodge Charger R/T.
“We went out there and just laid out a great number,” said Hagan, a two-time world champion. “That just speaks tons for (crew chief) Dickie Venables. I’m just super-pumped that Dickie’s got a lot of confidence rolling into the first race. Even having a great race car you still have to stay very humble because anything could happen on race day. I’m just really glad we’re starting the year off the way we need to.”
Hagan will line up against Jeff Diehl to start eliminations. Sixteen-time world champion John Force qualified second with a 3.849-second pass at 335.15 mph in his PEAK Coolant & Motor Oil Chevy Camaro SS in the third session and will face Central New Yorker Phil Burkart Jr. in Rob and Lisa Schwab’s Dodge Charger R/T.
Force’s speed was just off the all-time best set by Hagan at 335.57 mph at Heartland Park Topeka in 2016 and tied by his DSR rival during Saturday’s final session. Force will line up against Burkart for the first time since 2007, when “Brute” won at Reading, Pa., to move to 10-9 against his former driver and John Force Racing teammate.
“We really only got one run here but when it did hit a lick, it ran well,” Force said. “We ran a big speed, which really impressed me, because I didn’t mean to drive it that far. It was trucking and it got there quicker than I thought. Overall, we’re doing well at JFR and this year it looks like we can do some damage.”
Force, of Yorba Linda, Calif., will chase his eighth Winternationals and 16th Funny Car victory at his hometown track. “(Sunday) is a whole new ballgame,” Force said. “The weather is going to be good, so we’ll see where it goes. I want to win, but so does everyone else out there. They all want to win, so we wish them all luck and go out and do what we do, which is step on the gas.”
Courtney Force, John’s daughter, qualified third and is paired with Jim Campbell while reigning world champ Ron Capps of DSR is fourth and will race Bob Bode.
Line, the three-time/reigning Pro Stock world champion, covered the quarter-mile in 6.525-seconds at 211.53 mph in his Summit Racing Equipment Chevy Camaro during the final session to earn the 50th No. 1 qualifier of his career and second at the prestigious Winternationals.
“Starting the year off this way, that’s what you hope for,” said Line, of Ken Black Racing. “Team Summit is pretty happy right now. Honestly, I don’t think we’re any faster (than last year). I think we’re the same and everyone has improved a lot. It’s going to be tight racing but that’s what everyone wants to see.”
Line will face Val Smeland in the first round of eliminations. KB Racing teammate Greg Anderson, a four-time world champion, qualified second at 6.530-seconds and 211.66 mph and will race Kenny Delco. Vincent Nobile qualified third. Meanwhile, two-time world champion Erica Enders qualified sixth in her return to an Elite Motorsports Camaro, while teammate and five-time world champion Jeg Coughlin Jr. will start seventh.
Eliminations are slated to begin at 11 a.m. on Sunday. The FOX national broadcast network’s live broadcast will be aired at 4 p.m. (EST)/1 p.m. (PST).
Sunday’s first-round eliminations pairings for the 57th annual Circle K NHRA Winternationals at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona, the first of 24 events in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series. Pairings based on results in qualifying, which ended Saturday. DNQs listed below pairings:
Top Fuel _ 1. Leah Pritchett, 3.672-seconds, 327.90 mph vs. Bye; 2. Doug Kalitta, 3.686, 329.58 vs. 15. Steve Faria, 8.890, 68.68; 3. Antron Brown, 3.695, 328.06 vs. 14. Steven Chrisman, 6.585, 112.67; 4. Brittany Force, 3.706, 322.42 vs. 13. Terry Haddock, 5.433, 123.04; 5. Tony Schumacher, 3.716, 325.06 vs. 12. Scott Palmer, 3.845, 321.50; 6. Troy Coughlin Jr., 3.730, 323.89 vs. 11. Shawn Reed, 3.815, 313.95; 7. Terry McMillen, 3.734, 322.88 vs. 10. Clay Millican, 3.815, 321.58; 8. Steve Torrence, 3.745, 327.90 vs. 9. Troy Buff, 3.795, 311.56.
Funny Car _ 1. Matt Hagan, Dodge Charger, 3.822, 335.57 vs. 16. Jeff Diehl, Toyota Solara, 4.564, 187.94; 2. John Force, Chevy Camaro, 3.849, 335.15 vs. 15. Phil Burkart, Charger, 4.470, 280.66; 3. Courtney Force, Camaro, 3.849, 330.23 vs. 14. Jim Campbell, Charger, 4.451, 219.79; 4. Ron Capps, Charger, 3.850, 325.85 vs. 13. Bob Bode, Charger, 4.142, 285.29; 5. Robert Hight, Camaro, 3.853, 327.43 vs. 12. Del Worsham, Toyota Camry, 3.940, 323.89; 6. Tim Wilkerson, Ford Mustang, 3.857, 322.65 vs. 11. J.R. Todd, Camry, 3.936, 329.42; 7. Alexis DeJoria, Camry, 3.879, 330.39 vs. 10. Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 3.933, 323.97; 8. Jack Beckman, Charger, 3.894, 333.99 vs. 9. Cruz Pedregon, Camry, 3.906, 319.98.
Did Not Qualify _ 17. Jeff Arend, 4.955, 157.08; 18. Gary Densham, 5.160, 161.25.
Pro Stock _ 1. Jason Line, Chevy Camaro, 6.525, 211.53 vs. 16. Val Smeland, Camaro, 6.840, 202.94; 2. Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.530, 211.66 vs. 15. Kenny Delco, Camaro, 6.642, 208.62; 3. Vincent Nobile, Camaro, 6.547, 211.10 vs. 14. Alan Prusiensky, Dodge Dart, 6.638, 208.49; 4. Shane Gray, Camaro, 6.547, 210.97 vs. 13. Allen Johnson, Dart, 6.621, 208.52; 5. Bo Butner, Camaro, 6.550, 210.93 vs. 12. Drew Skillman, Camaro, 6.617, 210.21; 6. Erica Enders, Camaro, 6.553, 210.90 vs. 11. Matt Hartford, Camaro, 6.596, 210.44; 7. Jeg Coughlin Jr., Camaro, 6.553, 210.64 vs. 10. Deric Kramer, Dart, 6.594, 209.52; 8. Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.572, 210.54 vs. 9. Tanner Gray, Camaro, 6.578, 211.10.
Did Not Qualify _ 17. Tom Huggins, 6.882, 202.03.