In a season where she should have been one of the leading contenders for the championship, Leah Pritchett admitted that at times she felt like anything but a champion, especially after a frustrating summer stretch that produced a round one exit in six of eight races. Pritchett and her Mopar team struggled to maintain her confidence, but that no longer appears to be an issue after she broke a 26-race winless drought at the Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals in Brainerd, where she used a string of 3.7s to reach the final round, and then took down Mike Salinas for her eighth-career Top Fuel title and 14th win overall including Pro Mod and Factory Stock.
“This feels really good,” said Pritchett, who scored the first Top Fuel win for Schumacher Racing in more than a year. “I was great to see the win light, especially for Don Schumacher Racing. There was a recent story in Autoweek about DSR, and how we’re not going anywhere, and I think we made a statement about that this weekend. Look at our scorecard. We made four incredible runs today and my crew chiefs worked hard to do that. With the Countdown coming up, this is all coming into play at right time.
“I guess you could look at us and not think we’d be [in the championship battle] but look at the Western Swing,” Pritchett said. “We lost close races and we talked a lot about gaining momentum and team morale. If you start to put the pieces of the puzzle together we could see the potential we have even if not everyone else could.”
Starting from the No. 4 spot, Pritchett got to the final by beating Kyle Wurtzel, Billy Torrence, and red-hot rookie Austin Prock. Pritchett’s Mopar dragster, tuned by Todd Okuhara, didn’t run in the 3.6s like Clay Millican and Billy Torrence did, but her low 3.7s proved to be enough. In the final, Pritchett left slightly ahead of Salinas, and powered to a 3.732 while the Scrappers car hazed the tires late and slowed to a 4.06.
“We had a flawless car that made four good runs on race day including the final,” Pritchett said. “Before we fired, I saw AJ [Alan Johnson, Salinas’ crew chief]. He’s extremely successful but he’s not Todd Okuhara. That’s the sort of confidence I have in my team right now. They ran a 3.80 in the semi’s so I was feeling good. I was playing through all of the possible situations in my head as far as how Mike was going to stage and I was comfortable with all of them. At half-track I heard him and then I didn’t’ hear him. We only ran 321 mph so she was definitely not happy going through the lights but when you get to a final you give it all you have.
As much as Pritchett is a championship contender, so is Salinas, who now has two wins in five final rounds this season. For someone who’d never won a drag race of any kind, until earlier this year in Las Vegas, Salinas is quickly making up for lost time and like Pritchett, he’s already clinched his spot in the Countdown to the Championship. In Brainerd, Salinas downed Luigi Novelli, Clay Millican, and Doug Kalitta to reach the final.