Leah Pritchett NEWS
Redlands native Leah Pritchett driven to succeed in NHRA
Determined to be a successful woman in a man’s world, Redlands native Leah Pritchett has worked her way to the top of the drag racing world.
Born into a speed-loving family, Pritchett, who fell in love with drag racing as an 8-year-old, is a Top Fuel driver for Dote Racing.
At last weekend’s NHRA Mello Yello Series Winternationals in Pomona, Pritchett began her 2015 campaign by qualifying for eliminations, eventually losing to class winner Shawn Langdon of Jurupa Valley in the second round.
Pritchett, in her third season as a top fuel driver, is eighth in points with 52 heading into next weekend’s race in Phoenix. Through one race weekend, Pritchett is ahead of eight-time champion Tony Schumacher and fellow female driver Brittany Force.
Not bad for a woman most notice first for her supermodel looks, missing her competitive drive until she straps into a rail capable of going from 0 to 100 mph in less than a second.
“I really set out to be a ground-breaker,” said Pritchett, formerly Leah Pruett before she married Gary Pritchett, a mechanic for driver Steve Torrance and the Capco Contractors Top Fuel team. “I wanted to blaze a trail so that anybody (who) comes to these races and goes ‘man how do I do that’ or think that they could never be here.
“I’m here to say you can be here, it just takes a lot of hard work and dedication. You have to immerse yourself in the sport.”
Pritchett, who played volleyball for Redlands High, began racing with her father, entrepreneur and land speed driver Ron Pruitt.
“We decided to drag race in the junior drag racing league as a hobby and I grew it into a profession,” said the 26-year-old Pritchett, a tall, slender woman who paid her dues in drag racing, wrenching in Nitro Funny Car driver Brian Thiel’s pits for two years.
Pritchett left Thiel’s team to race Pro Mods for R2B2 racing in 2011-12, finishing her first professional season sixth in the NHRA Pro Mod Racing Series Championship. The following year, she entered the Top Fuel class with Dote Racing.
Pritchett said she found her inspiration from other women who have risen to the top levels of professional drag racing.
Courtney Force (Funny Car), Brittany Force (Top Fuel), Alexis DeJoria (Funny Car) and Erica Enders-Stevens (Pro Stock) all have motivated Pritchett to compete in a male-dominated sport.
Still, it was Melanie Troxel who was the biggest inspiration for Pritchett as she came up in NHRA. Troxel raced more than a decade in NHRA and was the first female driver to win in both Funny Car and Top Fuel, as well as becoming the first female to win in four different classes (Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Modified, Top Alcohol Dragster).
Pritchett points out that although there are only 11 women drivers in the top four racing series (Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycles), drag racing is light years ahead of other motor sports.
“We (the NHRA) are leaps and bounds ahead of any other professional motor sports,” Pritchett said. “When it comes to the diversity of male and female and the caliber of the women that race in it.”
Pritchett looked up to Troxel and thinks of her as a mentor. But, Pritchett still believes her mission is to be a ground-breaker.
And, Pritchett said she feels she, too, has earned her stripes in the drag racing world.
Pritchett said she’s grown in her three years in Top Fuel, developing in performance and on the marketing front. Currently, Pritchett has key sponsorships from Gumout, Sparkling Ice and Spectra Oils.
“We definitely have decreased our elapsed times and been a force to be reckoned with,” said Pritchett, who noted the team currently runs 18 races a year but has an ultimate goal of running in 24. “Now, I think, we are very much a viable contender.
“I don’t think the other teams take us lightly anymore.”
David Zink | Press-Enterprise | 2.13.15