Leah Pruett, who began her racing career in Jr. Dragsters at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona, scored a morale-boosting first win of the season and her second at the fabled Winternationals after opponent Justin Ashley was unable to run the final round due to heat-related issues. Pruett made a single run of 4.021 in her Sparkling Ice Spiked dragster after Ashley was pulled from his car prior to start up.
“I first want to say that I hope Justin is doing well because we know how big of a competitor that he is, and for anybody to get out of the car, at a final round at an event like this shows that he was being smart for what is best for him," said Pruett. “And I think it also shows how much to a degree of athletes that we are and how important it is to take care of our bodies and our mind and everything of that sort.
“I don't think I've seen as any win lights in my life as I've seen here on this racetrack from the Jr. days to the number of times that we've won in the years previous, but the most impressive part for me today was how our team has continued to persist and persevere and grow into the success region that we have right now.”
Pruett, who lost to Steve Torrence in the final round last weekend in Sonoma, got the shot at her ninth Top Fuel Wally and 15th overall after defeating blower-banging Mike Salinas with a 3.92 to earn her lane choice.
Pruett, who had qualified her Todd Okuhara-wrenched dragster No. 1 on Friday but slipped to No. 2 on the charts by qualifying’s end, nonetheless still benefitted with a second-round 3.93 bye after defeating Steve Chrisman in round one with a 3.90.
Ashley qualified his Mike Green-tuned Smart Sanitizer machine in the No. 7 spot and took down fire-spewing Buddy Hull in round one with a 3.90 and then upset low qualifier Brittany Force in the second frame with a 3.91 on a very hot racetrack to reach the semifinals for the first time since the season opener in Gainesville. Ashley then advanced to the final round with a 3.94 that stopped three-time world champ Antron Brown.
It was Ashley's first final-round appearance since the third of last year’s special Indy events –- ironically, the event was also sponsored by Lucas Oil and known as the Summernationals -– where he collected his first career Top Fuel win to go with two previous wins in the Top Alcohol Dragster class in 2017.
“These race cars are too powerful to drive if you aren’t 100 percent,” said Ashley, from his hauler after the event. “I was drinking water throughout the day but before the final round I just didn’t feel right. I talked with my crew chief Mike Green and my father (Mike Ashley) and they encouraged me to do what was in my personal best interest. There will be more races and I take this as a learning experience. I congratulate Leah and look forward to racing her in a final very soon.”