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History-making start for Papa John's Pizza/FireAde team will not cloud Pritchett's focus this weekend at Gators

BROWNSBURG, Ind. (March 14, 2017) - It's not easy to stop reflecting on something you've accomplished, especially when it's something no other Top Fuel driver and team have done in 43 years of the NHRA pro drag racing tour. 

Leah Pritchett and Don Schumacher Racing's Papa John's Pizza/FireAde team led by crew chief Todd Okuhara and assistant Joe Barlam started the 2017 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season by winning the first two events and No. 1 qualifying spots including one with a world record time.

And no other Top Fuel driver and team have opened a season by winning the first two trophies from the pole. It's been 20 years since a driver won the first two, and Pritchett can add another chapter to her history book by being the first to ever win the first three dragster titles this weekend in the 48th annual NHRA Gatornationals at Gainesville, Fla.

But Pritchett, the obvious points leader, is looking forward and not behind.

"My mindset going to Gainesville  is the same as when we went to Pomona after we ran the quickest time ever (3.654 seconds) in testing the week before," said the 28-year-old Southern California native who has marketing and communications degrees from Cal State San Bernardino. "We had a nice test session and felt we had to do something to prove that our 3.65 was real when we got to Pomona.

"What we did in the first two races wasn't a fluke. We want to prove that to ourselves and everyone else.

"We'll have the same routine at Gainesville that we had at Pomona and Phoenix, We'll keep our noses to the grindstone and show we are worthy of what we have accomplished so far this year."

The Gatornationals will be the first of four Mello Yello events in which Pritchett will carry the colors of FireAde 2000 Personal Fire Suppression Systems. FireAde owner and developer Ron Thames was instrumental in enabling Pritchett to join DSR last May by committing to sponsor her team.

"If we are able to win our third straight the best part will sharing the winner's circle with Ron and FireAde," she said. "Without Ron's constant support I don't know if we'd be in the position at DSR we are now with Papa John's, Pennzoil, Mopar and Dodge."

Her team's successful run goes back to Reading, Pa., in the second of six races in the Countdown to the Championship playoff when won her first Top Fuel pole and qualified in the top-five at four of the last five races while advancing to the semifinals twice.

Her team's successful run goes back to Reading, Pa., in the second of six races in the Countdown to the Championship playoff when won her first Top Fuel pole and qualified in the top-five at four of the last five races while advancing to the semifinals twice.

"Qualifying is still important, it's the most important. Like (DSR owner Don Schumacher) always says, 'You have to qualify before you can race on Sunday.' Being No. 1 at the first two races enabled us to have bye runs in the first round because we only had 15 cars. I'm sure we'll have 16 this weekend and qualifying always is our top priority.

"Our focus is extending the gap over the field."

LEAH PRITCHETT: FireAde/Papa John's Pizza - two-event winning streak as No. 1 qualifier         

              Pts         Events       Wins       Rup     Semi        Qtr     1st rd       Poles     DNQ             W/L

2017      1st                    2              2            0            0           0            0               2           0              8-0

2016      7th                  23              1            0            4           7            1               1           0           18-21

CAREER                      72              3            1            7         13          42               3           6           41-63

Best Time, Speed: 3.658 sec. (2017, Phoenix-world record), 329.75 mph (2016, Indy)

Last event (Feb. 24-26 at Phoenix): Qualified No. 1, won in the championship round over Brittany Force

2016 at Gainesville: Qualified No. 4, lost in first round to Trip Tatum (with Bob Vandergriff Racing)

Career at Gainesville: Wins 0; Runner-ups 0; Poles 0

 

2017 NHRA MELLO YELLO DRAG RACING SERIES STANDINGS     

 (Official after Phoenix; 2 of 24 events; wins in parenthesis; DSR drivers in CAPS)

TOP FUEL

   1. LEAH PRITCHETT (2)    245     -----

   2. TONY SCHUMACHER   153      -92

   3. Brittany Force                  151      -94

   4. ANTRON BROWN          143    -102

   5. Doug Kalitta                     140    -105

   6. Steve Torrence                110    -135

   7. Shawn Reed                      99    -146

   8. Troy Coughlin Jr.               84    -161

      Scott Palmer                       84    -161

 10. Terry McMillen                   80    -165

      Clay Millican                       80    -165

 

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