CHARLOTTE, NC – September 12, 2016 – (Motor Sports Newswire) – Through numerous trials and tribulations, Leah Pritchett persevered and accomplished her goal of reaching the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Countdown to the Championship for the first time in her career.
But now that the NHRA’s six-race playoffs are here, the rising Top Fuel star has no plans of slowing down. Pritchett advanced to the Countdown to the Championship by a single point and will start from the 10th position against a loaded Top Fuel field, but Pritchett’s entire 2016 season has been about overcoming odds.
To stay in the championship mix, Pritchett knows a good start will be necessary and that includes a strong performance in her 10,000-horsepower FireAde dragster at the Countdown to the Championship opener, this weekend’s ninth annual NHRA Carolina Nationals at zMAX Dragway.
“I definitely have had to reset my brain but it’s all for the better,” said Pritchett, who won her first career Top Fuel race earlier this season in Phoenix. “Our new goals are to challenge for a championship to the best of our ability. It is realistic to potentially be in the hunt and I know the race car we have is a contender.
“We also know that Charlotte probably counts as one of the most important races of the Countdown with the momentum that can be gained there. The possibility of jumping from 10th to sixth or seventh is there with a great weekend. You can really get up there. It’s a big race and we want to do well for everyone, and I am going to be sure to enjoy it.”
Antron Brown (Top Fuel), Del Worsham (Funny Car), Erica Enders (Pro Stock) and Andrew Hines (Pro Stock Motorcycle) bettered the competition a year ago for a race that will be broadcast on FS1 for the first time. Those four winners ended up as world champions a year ago, something Pritchett would love to see happen again in 2016.
Starting from the 10th position makes it an uphill climb, but Pritchett has had to overcome obstacles that have been just as big in 2016. She lost her full-time ride and sponsor early in the season when Bob Vandergriff Racing shut its doors, but Pritchett has continued to keep fighting in what has been a roller-coaster of a season.
She raced a handful of times with the Lagana Racing team, including, coincidentally, driving with the FireAde sponsorship for them at the first Charlotte race this season in April. Pritchett has since joined the Don Schumacher Racing team, joining a Top Fuel stable that already includes world champions Antron Brown, Tony Schumacher and Shawn Langdon.
In the process, Pritchett has learned a great deal about herself and her team, lessons that could be beneficial during the pressure-packed Countdown to the Championship.
“I think what we’ve learned about our team is adaptability and having each other’s back,” Pritchett said. “This was a new team at the beginning of the year and we learned that absolutely anything is possible if you don’t give up on each other. That’s something we’ve seen happen before our eyes. I’ve learned to embrace some leadership skills I’ve never thought I’ve had, as well as being a student of a team. From a driving standpoint, it comes back to adaptability and doing whatever it takes to help the team succeed.”
Pritchett also knows she has a car capable of delivering impressive results, even in the midst of a difficult stretch that has included five straight first-round losses. Her Countdown to the Championship competition will make breaking that frustrating string difficult, and it starts with points leader and reining world champion Antron Brown.
Pritchett will also face off against championship hopefuls Schumacher, an eight-time world champ, Langdon, Doug Kalitta, who is currently second in points, Steve Torrence, three-time 2016 winner Brittany Force, J.R. Todd, Clay Millican and Richie Crampton, but she remains confident in what her team is capable of, even as the pressure mounts.
“We just have to focus on doing what we know how to do,” Pritchett said. “We’ve been slightly off, but I think we’ve found our footing on the balance beam. We just need to stick the landing. I feel good about it.”
Pritchett has made her own impressive strides as a driver during her 2016 season, but she is also aiming even higher over the next six races in hopes of finishing the year on a high note.
“We have had a lot of team meetings and conversations amongst ourselves about how we can improve and these last couple races have really unified us,” Pritchett said. “But you’ve seen it before from Antron and Tony, where they’ll go into that headspace where an (0.30) light is the norm (for a reaction time). It’s something I’m trying to find and hone in during those high-pressure situations.”
The stout Funny Car field is led by Ron Capps, who has five victories this season and will start the Countdown to the Championship with the points lead. But Capps will have to ward off plenty of other superstars, including defending event winner and world champion Worsham, who won four races in the Countdown last year, Courtney Force, Robert Hight, John Force, two-time world champion Matt Hagan, Jack Beckman, Tommy Johnson Jr., Tim Wilkerson and Alexis DeJoria.
Enders raced past Vincent Nobile in the final round in Charlotte last year and earned her second consecutive world championship at the end of the season. But Enders starts the Countdown in ninth this year and will need a strong turnaround to catch the likes of points leader Jason Line and Greg Anderson, who both have seven wins this season. Others to watch include four-time 2016 runner-up Bo Butner, Denver winner Allen Johnson, Brainerd winner Drew Skillman, Nobile, Shane Gray, Jeg Coughlin and Chris McGaha, who won in Indy.
In Pro Stock Motorcycle, Hines rode past Matt Smith for the win, earning his fourth world championship at the final race of the season. Hines, a three-time NHRA Carolina Nationals winner, is red-hot with four victories and the points lead, taking the win in Indy. Teammate Eddie Krawiec, who has three wins this year, is second in points, while Englishtown winner Angelle Sampey, alligator farmer Jerry Savoie, Sonoma winner LE Tonglet, Hector Arana, Chip Ellis, Smith, Hector Arana Jr. and Cody Reed round out the Countdown field.
The NHRA Carolina Nationals will also feature thrilling competition in the NHRA J&A Service Pro Mod Drag Racing Series as well as the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series, where the future stars of the sport earn their racing stripes.
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 how the highly-skilled mechanics service their hot rods between rounds, and get autographs from their favorite NHRA drivers.
Mello Yello Drag Racing Series qualifying will feature two rounds at 3:15 and 5:30 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 16, and the final two rounds of qualifying on Saturday, Sept. 17, at 12:45 and 3 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for noon on Sunday, Sept. 18.
To purchase general-admission or reserved seats, call 800-455-FANS (3267). Tickets also are available online at www.zmaxdragway.com. Kids 12 and under are free in general admission areas with a paid adult. For more information about the NHRA visit www.NHRA.com.
NHRA CAROLINA NATIONALS FACT SHEET
WHAT: Ninth annual NHRA Carolina Nationals, the 19th of 24 events in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series and the first of six races in the NHRA Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship playoffs. Drivers in four categories – Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle – earn points leading to 2016 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series world championships.
WHERE: zMAX Dragway – Track is located on Hwy 29 off I-85 at exit 49 (Speedway Blvd.) in the Concord, N.C. area.
COURSE: Championship drag strip; Track elevation is 630 feet above sea level.
WHEN: Friday through Sunday, Sept. 16-18
FRIDAY, Sept. 16 – LUCAS OIL SERIES qualifying
NHRA J&A SERVICE PRO MOD SERIES qualifying at 2:30 and 5 p.m.
MELLO YELLO SERIES qualifying at 3:15 and 5:30 p.m.
SATURDAY, Sept. 17 – LUCAS OIL SERIES qualifying and eliminations
NHRA J&A SERVICE PRO MOD SERIES qualifying at 12:15 p.m.; first round of eliminations at 2:30 p.m.
MELLO YELLO SERIES qualifying at 12:45 and 3 p.m.
SUNDAY, Sept. 18 – Pre-race ceremonies, 11 a.m.
MELLO YELLO SERIES eliminations begin at noon
Friday, Sept. 16, FS1 will televise one hour of qualifying coverage at 6 p.m. (ET).
Sunday, Sept. 18, FS1 will televise one hour of qualifying coverage at 11 a.m. (ET).
Sunday, Sept. 18, FS1 will televise three hours of live finals coverage starting at 2:30 p.m. (ET).
2015 EVENT WINNERS:
Antron Brown, Top Fuel; Del Worsham, Funny Car; Erica Enders, Pro Stock; Andrew Hines, Pro Stock Motorcycle.
Top Fuel – 3.713 sec. by J.R. Todd, March ’15; 332.18 mph by Spencer Massey, April ’12.
Funny Car – 3.934 sec. by Alexis DeJoria, April ’16; 323.50 mph by Matt Hagan, April ’16.
Pro Stock – 6.455 sec. by Jason Line, March ’15; 215.48 mph by Greg Anderson, March ’15.
Pro Stock Motorcycle – 6.794 sec. and 199.88 mph by Hector Arana Jr., March ’15.
Top Fuel – 3.671 sec. by Steve Torrence, July ’16, Sonoma, Calif.; 332.75 mph by Spencer Massey, Aug. ’15, Brainerd, Minn.
Funny Car – 3.832 by Del Worsham, Aug. ’16, Seattle; 335.57 mph by Matt Hagan, May ’16, Topeka, Kan.
Pro Stock – 6.455 sec. by Jason Line, March ’15, Charlotte, N.C.; 215.55 mph by Erica Enders, May ‘14, Englishtown N.J.
PS Motorcycle – 6.728 sec. by Andrew Hines, Oct. ’12, Reading, Pa.; 199.88 mph by Hector Arana Jr., March ’15, Charlotte, N.C.
TICKETS: Order tickets by phone at (800) 455-FANS. Tickets also are available online at www.zmaxdragway.com.
GLENDORA, CA — Point standings (top 10) entering into the NHRA Carolina Nationals, the first race of the six-race NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Countdown to the Championship.
1. Antron Brown, 2,110; 2. Doug Kalitta, 2,080; 3. Steve Torrence, 2,070; 4. Tony Schumacher, 2,060; 5. Brittany Force, 2,050; 6. J.R. Todd, 2,040; 7. Shawn Langdon, 2,030; 8. Clay Millican, 2,020; 9. Richie Crampton, 2,010; 10. Leah Pritchett, 2,000.
1. Ron Capps, 2,110; 2. Del Worsham, 2,080; 3. Matt Hagan, 2,070; 4. Courtney Force, 2,060; 5. Jack Beckman, 2,050; 6. Robert Hight, 2,040; 7. Tommy Johnson Jr., 2,030; 8. John Force, 2,020; 9. Tim Wilkerson, 2,010; 10. Alexis DeJoria, 2,000.
1. Jason Line, 2,110; 2. Greg Anderson, 2,080; 3. Bo Butner, 2.070; 4. Allen Johnson, 2,060; 5. Vincent Nobile, 2,050 6. Drew Skillman, 2,040; 7. Chris McGaha, 2,030; 8. Shane Gray, 2,020; 9. Erica Enders, 2,010; 10. Jeg Coughlin, 2,000.
Pro Stock Motorcycle
1. Andrew Hines, 2,110; 2. Eddie Krawiec, 2,080; 3. Angelle Sampey, 2,070; 4. Jerry Savoie, 2,060; 5. LE Tonglet, 2,050; 6. Chip Ellis, 2,040; 7. Hector Arana Jr, 2,030; 8. Hector Arana, 2,020; 9. Matt Smith, 2,010; 10. Cory Reed, 2,000.
About National Hot Rod Association
Headquartered in Glendora, Calif., NHRA is the primary sanctioning body for the sport of drag racing in the United States. NHRA presents 23 national events featuring the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series, NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series and NHRA J&A Service Pro Mod Drag Racing Series. NHRA provides competition opportunities for drivers of all levels in the NHRA Summit Racing Series and the NHRA Drags: Street Legal Style presented by AAA. NHRA also offers NHRA Jr. Street for teens and the Summit Racing Jr. Drag Racing League for youth ages 5 to 17. In addition, NHRA owns and operates five racing facilities: Atlanta Dragway in Georgia; Auto-Plus Raceway at Gainesville in Florida; National Trail Raceway in Ohio; Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis; and Auto Club Raceway at Pomona in Southern California. For more information, log on to NHRA.com, or visit the official NHRA pages on Facebook, YouTube and Twitter.
Source: National Hot Rod Association