Story By: SCOTT SMITH / NHRA – DINWIDDIE, VA – With two final round appearances in the past three NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series races, Top Fuel standout Leah Pritchett is eager to continue that momentum at this weekend’s inaugural Virginia NHRA Nationals at Virginia Motorsports Park.
It is the first NHRA race at the facility since 2009, which also means it will be Pritchett’s Top Fuel debut at the track in her 10,000-horsepower FireAde dragster. Already sensing the great anticipation for the race from the huge fanbase in the area, Pritchett, who is currently third in Top Fuel points, is looking forward to making the most of that energy and putting on a show she hopes ultimately leads to her second win of the 2018 season.
“When you add a new location, it’s absolutely exciting and I’m looking forward to seeing the Richmond fans,” Pritchett said. “I’ve attended races in that area and I feel like the fans have a ton of life and energy. They really get into the competition and I’m looking forward to seeing that energy and vibe. What impressed me most is how soon the management and staff went to work to prepare for this event when they picked it up. With a new racing surface, I feel like it’s going to be a track where you can put down some really good times.”
The top stars in Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock, and Pro Stock Motorcycle will all try to pick up wins at a race that will be televised on Fox Sports 1 (FS1), including finals coverage beginning at 6 p.m. on Sunday, June 10. It is the 10th of 24 events during the 2018 NHRA season and comes as the second in a rigorous four-race stretch. Pritchett started it strong, driving to a final round appearance on Sunday in Chicago before falling to Clay Millican.
It’s the latest sign of progress from Pritchett and her team, which is led by crew chief Todd Okuhara. She won her first race of 2018 in Atlanta, putting things on a good path heading into summer. Pritchett got off to a hot start a year ago, winning three of the first five races in 2017, but couldn’t keep up that impressive pace in a loaded class, finishing fifth overall. With that under her belt, Pritchett believes her team can work up to something special throughout this summer.
“Obviously we want to see more wins, but that win in Atlanta did a lot for us besides getting some extra cool hardware,” said Pritchett, who has six career Top Fuel wins. “That win really boosted our morale, but we need just more than that one (win) in Atlanta. If we’re making our case towards a strong (Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship), you can’t do that without a strong middle of the season. We’ve got the framework and foundation, now we just have to kick it in gear.”
Pritchett gets to continue that opportunity in Virginia, facing off against a loaded Top Fuel field that includes points leader Steve Torrence, Clay Millican, who has won back-to-back races, defending world champ Brittany Force, and Don Schumacher Racing teammates Antron Brown and Tony Schumacher. But she looks forward to the challenge this stretch presents, which gives Pritchett and her team the opportunity to test themselves in a number of areas.
“I really like being in the groove of that and I love being in the rhythm of races,” Pritchett said. “As you get towards the end of it, it can get tiresome for the crews, but I do look forward to this four-race swing. You have to prepare a little differently for it, too, and this time I feel like I prepared myself better, whether it’s a proper workout regimen or eating right. That’s why I’m looking forward to this four-race swing, hoping this is the time where that mental training will kick into gear.”
John Force has four Funny Car wins at the facility, while Cruz Pedregon, who won in Charlotte this year, also has a Virginia victory. But both are chasing Courtney Force, the current points leader who has two wins in 2018. Others to watch include Jack Beckman, Robert Hight, and Matt Hagan.
Jeg Coughlin and Jason Line have Virginia Pro Stock wins, and Coughlin just won in Chicago to become the eighth winner in nine races in the class. Everyone is chasing points leader Greg Anderson, who is also seeking his first win of the year in Virginia.
Pro Stock Motorcycle will race at the track for the first time since 1998, with the event marking the fifth of 16 for the two-wheeled class in 2018. Everyone is chasing points leader Andrew Hines and defending world champ Eddie Krawiec, who has two wins this season.
The E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series presented by J&A Service makes the fifth of 12 stops in 2018 at Virginia Motorsports Park. The event also features thrilling competition in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series, showcasing the future stars of the sport.
Those in attendance will have the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to interact with a few of the most renowned names in drag racing during the NHRA Legends Tour. This will feature meet-and-greets, autograph sessions, and a variety of other activities. Legends scheduled to attend the NHRA Virginia Nationals include Joe Amato, Jim and Allison Lee, and Jim Yates.
As always, fans can 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 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 2:45 and 5:15 p.m. on Friday, June 8, and the final two rounds of qualifying at 12:45 and 3:15 p.m. on Saturday, June 9. Final eliminations are scheduled for 12 p.m. on Sunday, June 10.