Despite a shortened main event, Leah Pritchett’s open wheel debut proved to be a great experience for the NHRA Mello Yello Top Fuel dragster driver this weekend at the Spring Mountain Motorsports Resort Ranch and Country Club during the VARA Racing “Shootout at the Ranch.”
The veteran drag racer had a smooth transition from her 325-miles per hour, nitro-burning dragster to the open-wheel vintage Formula Ford racecar at the Nevada racing facility. Impressive practice sessions on the 3.4-mile, 30-turn permanent road circuit helped Pritchett improved throughout the weekend behind the wheel of her 1979 Gumout Van Dieman racer.
After qualifying for a fourth row start in the event, Pritchett’s road racing feature was cut short with a car issue. The 27-year-old California native was forced to start from pit lane in the 30-minute main event.
“My first official open-wheel race is in the books,” said Leah. “But wasn’t without some adversity and a less than desired result. A car issue resulting in me missing the rolling start. We got the car fired and I had to begin from pit lane while the field took the green at over 100mph, leaving me to hit the track from the back of the field. But I still wanted to run the race and gain experience.
This meant Leah would be taking the green flag in last position, and would not get the advantage of the rolling start. She didn’t let this discourage her, as Leah quickly went to work and gained three positions, looking comfortable behind the wheel of the open-wheeler.
Unfortunately, Pritchett was forced to park her Formula Ford racer early in the event when car issues continued to plague her Gumout open-wheeler. After such a promising start, the Avon, Ind., driver finished the race watching from the pit area for the rest of the Formula Ford event. Though she had problems, Pritchett views her open wheel debut a success.
“I passed three cars in the first lap, but our Formula Ford had a problem later and I couldn’t finish the race. You gotta love racecars sometimes. But overall, I had a great experience in working with a variety of nice people who really helped me with the transition to road racing. While we didn’t finish as we wanted, I would love to give it a try in the near future again.”
Pritchett, driving for Dote Racing, enjoyed her career best Top Fuel qualifying performance recently at Maple Grove Raceway by take the second position in the NHRA Keystone Nationals. Earlier this season, she was the Top Fuel runner-up in the NHRA Southern Nationals race. Pritchett continues to improve, looking for her first Top Fuel victory in an ultra-competitive class.
Leah is scheduled to return with her Gumout Top Fuel dragster at the NHRA Toyota Nationals at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway “Strip” on Oct. 30-Nov. 1. Qualifying will take place Friday (Oct. 30) and Saturday (Oct. 31) with final eliminations set for Sunday (Nov. 1).