Leah Pritchett NEWS
Drag racer Leah Pritchett is excited for 1st full season in NHRA
When Leah Pritchett launches off the starting line at Auto Club Raceway on Friday to start the 2016 NHRA season at the Winternationals, it will be her 19th consecutive season of racing down the drag strip.
However, this year is altogether different than the previous 18. This will mark the first full season for the 27-year-old from Redlands, who will be driving a Top Fuel dragster for Bob Vandergriff Racing in the Mello Yello Series.
“Everything has definitely come all together. It took me a while, even though I was a very critical and crucial part of having this deal,” Pritchett said during a national teleconference call before a recent test session at Phoenix. “When it finally became real, I have to say I’m above and beyond the moon for sure, and I can’t wait to finally get some nitro,”
Pritchett, who advanced to one final round in her stint with Dole Racing, is anxious to get the next phase of her career started and work with Vandergriff. She’ll be teamed with Dave Connolly on the BVR team.
“Having a teammate is the coolest thing in the world,” she said. “Having Dave, I don’t think I could ask for a better one, and yes, he doesn’t have the most experience in Top Fuel, but that doesn’t matter.
“He is the most hard-core hearted drag racer, and at the end of the day that’s what it takes to put on the win lights, and he’s already shown that.
“So I’m looking forward to the conversations that he and I are going to have from a driving standpoint on the daily, just even if it’s small little talks to really big things of what works for you.”
Vandergriff, a former Top Fuel driver, is also looking forward to racing with his young drivers.
“We have two young drivers with extensive racing backgrounds, so 2016 should be an exciting year for BVR,” said Vandergriff. “Our goal is to put both Dave and Leah in the top 10 and take home the championship this year.”
Pritchett leaves no doubt about her feelings going full-time after three years competing on a part-time basis with the Dole family.
“I wish I could say that it means the world, but I think it really just means the universe, to finally be at the same level competitively and run a full season,” she said. “It is a dream come true professionally, personally, and beyond just the race car itself, which has been proven to be a very competitive car, the crew that I have and I’m able to work with.
“Bob, as the team owner that I’ve known him to be, to be the boss and the leader that I enjoy and am growing to learn under.”
This will not be the first time Pritchett and Vandergriff have worked together.
“Bob and I, we’ve had a good friendship for a number of years, and he was actually the first one to ever teach me what B to B means,” she said. “Maybe eight years ago, business to business, and I enjoy working with him because we share the same mental attitude. We know that the crew members and the team are good at that, and we know what we need to work on to maintain.”
Pritchett, a Cal State San Bernardino graduate, finished 14th in Top Fuel points in 2015 as a part-time performer. She posted a 7-16 elimination mark in 16 national events and recorded both her quickest run (3.736 seconds at Englishtown) and fastest (324.67 mph at Norwalk) in the process.
With Quaker State and Shell as her major sponsors, Pritchett won’t be knocking on as many doors this season.
“It is just in my inherent nature, and because I don’t know anything else, but to continue furthering myself, so just because I finally do get to be with a top-notch team and run all the races, “ she said. “From an ambition standpoint, in my mind it’s always what’s next, and so we do have Quaker State and Shell, and I couldn’t be more proud to represent those brands throughout this season. But at the same time I want to rejuvenate and vitalize Bob Vandergriff racing as a brand, myself as a brand, see what more cool content I can now create for the fans to get them more engaged with our team at the races.”
Pritchett, who started drag racing at 8 years old, is ready for the challenge that lies ahead.
“I’m a hiker, I’m a climber, and in an all positive way. I enjoy challenges. I enjoy moving forward, so definitely more than content isn’t even the word to explain what I feel right now,” she said. “But I think I thrive on pressure. I thrive on performance, and so with my team, with (crew chiefs) Joe Barlam and Mike Guger, they’ve got that down.
“They are professionals and they are going to give me the car that has been proven to be a top-five finishing car. I still do burden myself with making sure that I continue to create the fun stress to do what we know and love.”
Landing with Vandergriff also provided Pritchett an opportunity she didn’t always enjoy with the Doles.
“I live in Avon, Indiana, and the shop is in Brownsburg. My former shop with Dote Racing was about two-and-a-half, three hours away one way, so I get to be there every day,’ she said. “So in the mornings we joke, Mike is like, ‘All right, Leah, I’m spending this money, you keep finding it.’
“So it’s a nice circle that we have, and I’m always happy and I’m always going to be a part of it.”
Louis Brewster | dailynews.com | February 10, 2016