POMONA, Calif. (Nov. 12, 2017) - Ten months ago, Leah Pritchett left Auto Club Raceway at Pomona, Calif., on drag racing's most ultimate high having won the season-opening Winternationals with a remarkable performance from the No. 1 qualifying position.
She repeated the feat two weeks later near Phoenix to become the first Top Fuel driver in NHRA history to qualify No. 1 and win the first two races.
Fast forward to mid-November and Pritchett has become arguably the most popular and marketable driver in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series. In her first full season as a Top Fuel driver, Pritchett drove her iconic gold Papa John's Pizza dragster to four wins in six final round appearances along with collecting six No. 1 qualifying awards, a best in Top Fuel.
Pritchett, who started in the top half of the 16-car field a remarkable 21 of 24 races this season, qualified No. 3 this weekend at the famous Southern California track she once raced at in an NHRA Jr. Dragsters. The Redlands, Calif., native advanced to the quarterfinals on Sunday afternoon at Pomona to finish the 2017 NHRA season in the No. 5 position in the NHRA Mello Yello standings.
"Unfortunately it was not the finish we wanted for Sunday but today concludes a dream that I've had for my entire life: to compete at all 24 events in a season, the whole season," said Pritchett. "This is the first time I've been able to do it. To finish in the fifth position for Don Schumacher Racing is incredible. This team has proven they are championship caliber and this season constitutes a very healthy warmup for championship contention in 2018.
"We have no reason to hang our heads. We have a couple of things to work on and couldn't be more excited about this group staying together and fighting it out next year."
Pritchett and her Powered by Pennzoil team led by crew chief Todd Okuhara and Joe Barlam will return to DSR headquarters near Indianapolis for the brief NHRA off season before the 2018 season begins with testing at Chandler, Ariz., on Jan. 31, 2018.
2017 NHRA world champion: Brittany Force (John Force Racing)
Event winner: B. Force
No. 1 qualifier: B. Force, 3.667 sec.-track record, 330.31 mph
LEAH PRITCHETT, Papa John's Pizza
Crew chief: Todd Okuhara; Assistant: Joe Barlam
First round: PRITCHETT (3.712 sec., 329.50 mph) def. Scott Palmer (7.901, 104.87)
Second round: Langdon (3.683, 321.81) def. Pritchett (3.714, 320.20)
Qualified: No. 3
FRIDAY: 3.712 sec., 326.32 mph (Session 1); 7.775, 85.31, (Session 2)
SATURDAY: 3.674, 325.61, (Session 3); 5.134, 129.89, (Session 4)
COUNTDOWN TO THE CHAMPIONSHIP STANDINGS - FINAL
(Official standings after 24th of 24 events; DSR drivers in CAPS)
1. Brittany Force-CHAMPION (5) 2690 -----
2. Steve Torrence (8) 2609 -81
3. Doug Kalitta (1) 2553 -137
4. ANTRON BROWN (4) 2508 -182
5. LEAH PRITCHETT (4) 2452 -238
6. Clay Millican (1) 2419 -271
7. Shawn Langdon 2406 -284
8. TONY SCHUMACHER (1) 2395 -295
9. Terry McMillen (1) 2310 -380
10. Scott Palmer 2218 -472