The past two seasons at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park have brought out the best in Leah Pritchett and the Top Fuel standout already appears on course to make it a third approaching the upcoming 34th annual NHRA Arizona Nationals, which take place Feb. 23-25.
Pritchett’s first career NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series win came at the track in 2016 and she made it two straight wins a season ago. After another successful test session at the facility earlier this month, where she unofficially made the fastest pass in Top Fuel history with a run of 334.73 mph in her 10,000-horsepower Mopar Dodge dragster, Pritchett is thrilled to return to a track that has quickly hosted a number of memorable moments for the star.
“It’s an awesome facility and it has an incredible sense of home,” Pritchett said. “As soon as you roll in, you do feel something different. I think it comes down to being very well-organized and strategic when we come to Phoenix. It’s knowing what we think will work best and keep chipping away at it, and Phoenix lands at a time where we happen to get a hold of our program very well.”
Pritchett (Top Fuel), Matt Hagan (Funny Car) and Greg Anderson (Pro Stock) were last year’s winners of a race that will once again be televised nationally on Fox Sports 1 (FS1), including finals coverage starting at 6:30 p.m. EST on Sunday, Feb. 25. The race is the second on the 24-race schedule and Pritchett is determined to improve on a breakout 2017 season that included winning four races, advancing to six final rounds and leading in points for eight of the first nine races.
She was in the gym at 5 a.m. at least three days a week this off-season to get in the best shape of her life, part of a collective effort from her entire Don Schumacher Racing team to improve in every way possible. Pritchett lauded the work of her team, led by crew chief Todd Okuhara, last year and she has seen more improvement over the winter as the team works to become more consistent.
“I really got to prove to myself how bad do I really want this,” said Pritchett, who finished fifth in points in 2017. “My efforts complimented the efforts the team made to go quicker. I was more pumped about this Phoenix test (session). It was hotter conditions that we need to get under control. That’s why those numbers (3.664 at 334.73) this year are more important to us. It’s showing us that we are strengthening our weaknesses.”
Pritchett’s fast-paced life stayed at a torrid level in the off-season, with major announcements including joining U.S. Army racing with DSR teammates Tony Schumacher and Antron Brown, and racing at all seven School of Automotive Machinists & Technology NHRA Factory Stock Showdown events. But she believes the busy lifestyle will only help her on the dragstrip and, if anything, it’s only increased her desire to win, even as it comes against a loaded Top Fuel lineup that includes defending world champion Brittany Force, Doug Kalitta, Steve Torrence and Clay Millican.
“The constant hustle and change-up conditions me for when the helmet goes on,” Pritchett said. “It conditions my mind to block everything out and do what I need to do. I started recognizing my ability with that in 2017 and I hope to become better in 2018. I always strive for better, so to do better, we have to do what we did, plus some. For us, we’re really not going to be content.”
Like Pritchett, Hagan won the first two races of 2017 in Funny Car, something he hopes to repeat in the loaded class that includes defending world champion Robert Hight, 2016 world champ Ron Capps, John Force, an eight-time event winner, 2016 event winner Tim Wilkerson, and J.R. Todd.
Anderson won for the second time at the track in Pro Stock a year ago, also finishing second in points to KB Racing teammate Bo Butner, who had five wins in 2017. Other class stars include Tanner Gray, last year’s top rookie, Jason Line, Jeg Coughlin, Drew Skillman and Erica Enders.
The event also will feature thrilling competition in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series, where future stars of the sport hone their skills and the Mickey Thompson Tires NHRA Top Fuel Harley Drag Racing Series.
As always, fans will have the opportunity to interact with their favorite drivers as they’re granted an exclusive pit pass to the most powerful and sensory-filled motorsports attraction on the planet. This unique opportunity in motorsports gives fans direct access to the teams, allowing them to see firsthand the highly-skilled mechanics service their hot rods between rounds, and get autographs from their favorite NHRA drivers.
Fans also will want to visit NHRA’s popular Nitro Alley and Manufacturers Midway, where sponsors and race vendors create a carnival atmosphere, with interactive displays, simulated competitions, merchandise, food and fun for the entire family.
Mello Yello Drag Racing Series qualifying will feature two rounds at 1:30 and 4 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 23 and the final two rounds of qualifying on Saturday, Feb. 24, also at 1:30 and 4 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sunday, Feb. 25.
To purchase general-admission or reserved seats, call (800) 884-NHRA (6472) or visit www.NHRA.com/tickets. Kids 12 and under are free in general admission areas with a paid adult. To honor the Salute to First Responders, military and first responders can save 20 percent on general admission tickets at the gate.