BROWNSBURG, Ind. (Oct. 11, 2017) - Not long ago, boxing was an integral part of Leah Pritchett's training program.
The 29-year-old Top Fuel pilot for Don Schumacher Racing doesn't plan to put on the gloves when she arrives Friday at the Texas Motorplex near Dallas for the NHRA Fall Nationals, but she's ready for a fight with no plans of throwing in the towel.
Pritchett with crew chief Todd Okuhara and assistant Joe Barlam and the Papa John's Pizza dragster team Powered by Pennzoil expected to be much higher than seventh in the Countdown to the Championship at the midway point of the six-race playoff.
But a variety of problematic performance gremlins have kept Pritchett from getting past the second round in three Countdown eliminations rounds on Sunday.
When qualifying opens Friday afternoon, she will be 152 points out of first place.
"We're behind, no doubt about it, but we have the capability of finishing out the season in a spectacular and marvelous fashion," she said. "This is a time where we have to show we're champions on and off the track.
"Everybody talks about digging deep and our whole team wants to shine our brightest. We see the cup as half-full and not half empty."
The Papa John's cup has been overflowing for most of the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season.
Pritchett's team was atop the standings for the first half of the year after winning three of the first five event titles. Through the 18-race regular season, DSR's newest team won four titles in six final rounds along with earning six No. 1 qualifying positions and resetting the world time record twice.
The penultimate race of the season is at Las Vegas two weeks after Dallas with the Nov. 10-12 finale set for Pomona, Calif. For the first the first time at Pomona, maximum points a driver can earn will be enhanced from the normal 130 to 191.
"We're going to go to Dallas and put up a fight like we have done all year if not stronger. We want to be the best this weekend, then be the best at Vegas and be able to take advantage of the extras points at Pomona.
"We'll finish the season strong and are still chasing the championship," she said. "We're not mathematically out of it, and there are still races to win. That's what we're focused on . We're not going to these last three races just to show up.
The last of five Charity Challenge races between Pritchett and Papa John's founder and chairman John H. Schnatter in his classic 1971 Chevrolet Camaro Z28 will be Friday afternoon at 5:10 pm (CT). Pritchett is undefeated with hersupercharged Gen III HEMI in a 2017 Dodge Challenger configured for drag racing.
DSR owner Don Schumacher and Schnatter each contributed $20,000 at each Charity Challenge and the total raised for the Infinite Hero Foundation will be $100,000 after Friday's race.
LEAH PRITCHETT, Papa John's Pizza
Crew chief: Todd Okuhara; Assistant: Joe Barlam
Pts Events Wins Rup Semi Qtr 1st rd Poles DNQ W/L
2017 7th 21 4 2 8 5 2 6 0 43-17
CAREER 91 5 3 15 18 44 7 6 77-80
Career best time, speed: 3.640 sec. (2017 Brainerd); 331.53 (2017 Brainerd)
BY THE NUMBERS
Last event: Sept. 29-Oct. 1: Qualified No. 2, lost in second round to Steve Torrence
A year ago at Dallas: Qualified No. 2, lost in second round to Steve Torrence
Career at Dallas: Wins 0, Runner-ups 0, Poles 0
COUNTDOWN TO THE CHAMPIONSHIP STANDINGS
(Official standings through St. Louis; 21 of 24 events; DSR drivers in CAPS)
1. Steve Torrence (8) 2376 -----
2. Doug Kalitta (1) 2334 -42
3. Brittany Force (2) 2293 -83
4. ANTRON BROWN (4) 2282 -94
5. Clay Millican (1) 2235 -141
6. TONY SCHUMACHER (1) 2234 -142
7. LEAH PRITCHETT (4) 2224 -152
8. Terry McMillen 2115 -261
9. Scott Palmer 2105 -271
10. Shawn Langdon 2100 -276