Leah Pritchett has raced the quarter-mile at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway countless times in her drag-racing career, but none will be more special than her first pass on Friday in the NHRA Toyota Nationals (Photo credit: Jeff Speer).
Although she has won Junior Dragster, Nostalgia Funny Car and ProMod titles in Las Vegas, Pritchett will pilot the Gumout/Dote Racing Top Fuel Dragster for the first time at The Strip in a national event.
“(The Strip) has been my secondary home track after Pomona since it was closer to my home in Redlands,” Pritchett, a 26-year-old Southern California native, said. “I think I have raced at LVMS some 18 years going back to my first year in Junior Dragsters at age eight. So this race is exciting for me since it’s my first race at Las Vegas in the highest class the Top Fuel Dragsters.
“I have raced and won in nearly every class I have raced at Las Vegas, dating back to Junior Dragsters. But I won the NHRA national event in ProMod at Las Vegas in 2011. Winning the ‘Wally’ (trophy) was a big deal and very thrilling. I won in Nostalgia Funny Car in Las Vegas, too. And I won the world championship in Nostalgia Funny Car, so that win was important. Las Vegas has been a very good track for me and I hope I have been good to it, too. It doesn’t hurt that my NHRA number is 777; I hope that brings good luck to me there, too.”
Although she has yet to run her Gumout Dragster at The Strip in an NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series event, Pritchett was able to test here in February. She said she hopes that the information her team gained in that test will pay dividends this weekend in the NHRA Toyota Nationals.
“Our test session in February was excellent for us with the new Gumout livery and the Dote Racing team,” she said. “It was right before the Pomona season opener and it was a strong start for us to get all of our equipment ready. The conditions were good back then and we learned a lot, so we can use that data coming into the Las Vegas race this week. We didn’t run the first Las Vegas race this year but the things we discovered at the test can translate over to this event.”
Pritchett has raced in 15 national events this season and scored two round wins at Houston in April and at Charlotte last month. She said she believes her experience at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway will help her this weekend.
“I don’t know if the track surface has changed that much over the years,” Pritchett said of The Strip. “But there is a characteristic with the Las Vegas track and you have to be careful as a driver. The strong cross winds at the top end of the track can move you around. The grandstands are big and beautiful but the wind really kicks up when you are past the stands. I haven’t experienced that wind in a race in a Top Fueler but I have in other cars and I know what to expect at the far end of the track.
“It’s a world-class facility and the views of the mountain and the desert are spectacular. It’s fun to take that all in at the track. It’s great to have the uphill shutoff area too. I think the cooler track conditions will be good for our car, too, so I’m very excited to get back to LVMS.”
Pritchett will be among 24 drivers taking part in an NHRA fanfest on the Third Street Stage at the Fremont Street Experience on Thursday from 5-7 p.m. An autograph session with the drivers will take place from 5:30 to 6:30 and there will be ticket giveaways from 5 to 5:30.
The 14th annual NHRA Toyota Nationals will begin Friday with pro qualifying sessions at 1 and 4 p.m. The final two qualifying sessions will be at 1 and 4 p.m. Saturday and final eliminations are scheduled to begin at 11 a.m. Sunday.
For tickets and additional information, please call LVMS at (702) 644-4444 or visit www.LVMS.com. Be sure to follow Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Facebook and Twitter.