30-year-old Leah Pritchett closed out her second full season as a member of Don Schumacher Racing with a championship title in the Factory Stock Showdown Series, and a top-five finish in the Top Fuel class.
Throughout 2018, Pritchett pulled double-duty, competing in the full seven-event Factory Stock Showdown Series schedule while simultaneously competing in the 24-race NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series. She clinched the 2018 SAM Tech NHRA Factory Stock Showdown Series championship in her Mopar Dodge Challenger Drag Pak at the Texas NHRA FallNationals when she raced to her third consecutive win during her first full year competing in the class. Her first win came at the prestigious NHRA U.S. Nationals where she raced to victory from her second Factory Stock No. 1 qualifier. At the very next event, she became the first Factory Stock driver to make a seven second pass.
The 2018 Factory Stock Showdown crown was the fourth title for Pritchett, who previously captured the 2000 and 2001 Jr. Dragster division 7 championships, and the 2010 NHRA Hot Rod Heritage Series championship in the Nostalgia Funny Car class. By securing the Factory Stock title, Pritchett was the only professional driver to contend for two world titles during the 2018 NHRA season.
Category: Top Fuel
Crew chief: Todd Okuhara/assistant Neal Strausbaugh
2018 wins/runner-up finishes: 2/3
Career wins/runner-up finishes: 7/6
No. 1 Qualifiers: 10
2018 points finish: 4th
Best points finish: 4th (2018)
Playoff appearances: Three (2016 – 2018)
Career-best elapsed time: 3.631-seconds (Pomona II, 2018)
Career-best speed: 334.15-mph (Phoenix, 2018)
Category: Factory Stock Showdown Series
Crew chief: Kevin Helms
2018 wins/runner-up finishes: 3/0
Career wins/runner-up finishes: 3/0
No. 1 Qualifiers: Two
2018 points finish: 1st
Best points finish: 1st (2018)
Career-best elapsed time: 7.936-seconds (St. Louis, 2018)
Career-best speed: 172.98-mph (St. Louis, 2018)
Residence: Avon, Ind.
Hometown: Redlands, Calif.
Date of birth: May 26, 1988
Husband: Gary Pritchett (clutch specialist for Torrence Racing)
Height/weight: 5-foot-9, 125 pounds
Hobbies: Wake surfing, snowboarding, fitness, bracket drag racing, volleyball, motocross
Social media: @LeahPritchettTF, Twitter; LeahPritchettTF, Facebook; leahpritchett_TF, Instagram
Behind the wheel of her Top Fuel dragster, Pritchett raced to the final round five times in 2018, twice emerging victorious. She qualified for her third consecutive NHRA Countdown to the championship playoff appearance and finished the season fourth, her best Mello Yello Series points finish to date. At the final event of the season, Pritchett unleashed a monster 3.631-second pass, which tied for the second quickest run in the history of the sport and cemented Pritchett’s position as the quickest female in NHRA history.
Pritchett’s tenure with DSR began in 2016. She started the year driving for Bob Vandergriff Racing with the promise of her first full-time season competing in the Top Fuel category. After winning her first Mello Yello Top Fuel title in the season’s second event, the organization folded just two races later when the team’s primary sponsor died unexpectedly at a young age.
The Southern California native who lives in the Indianapolis suburb of Avon worked to find ways to compete in the next few races to keep her dream alive of qualifying for the six-race Countdown to the Championship playoffs at the end of the year.
Ron Thames and the FireAde 2000 Personal Fire Suppression System stepped in and supported her for four events. Pennzoil and Mopar joined in with support for three others, and Albrecht’s Fast Track motorcycle shop backed her at Chicago.
A major jolt to her career happened in August at Seattle when Papa John’s Pizza joined Pritchett and DSR for its first foray into professional motorsports with a five-race sponsorship that helped to fulfill her dream of competing in her first Countdown to the Championship.
Joining DSR in 2016 brought Pritchett’s nitro career full circle, as she had earned her nitro Funny Car license with DSR 10 years prior.
Pritchett’s journey to the pinnacle of drag racing began when she and her family joined the NHRA Jr. Dragster youth racing program where she won 37 trophies between the ages of eight and 16.
As soon as she was old enough, Pritchett got behind the wheel of a full-size drag race car, and continued to light up the scoreboard in 190-mph NHRA Sportsman categories. At 18, she built a Nostalgia nitro Funny car with her father Ron, a former Bonneville Salt Flats record holder, and became the first woman to run in the 5-second range in a Nostalgia Funny Car.
She also set the record for fastest Nostalgia nitro Funny Car, being the first to exceed 250-mph. In 2010, she branched off from her family’s racing operation and began driving for Steve Plueger, where she became the Hot Rod Heritage Series champion, winning multiple prestigious races and setting records.
It wasn’t too long before her success was noticed by professional Funny Car and Pro Mod team owner Roger Burgess. In 2011, she moved to Atlanta to begin driving Pro Modified cars for his R2B2 racing operation, where she won three national events in two seasons.
Two years later, she joined Dote Racing in the ranks of Top Fuel and finished the year ranked 15th despite competing in only half of the 24-race schedule. She was a finalist for NHRA Road to The Future rookie award despite missing 12 races.