Story By: SCOTT SMITH / NHRA – MOHNTON, PA – Leah Pritchett set a high bar for herself at her sponsor’s race earlier this season in Denver, qualifying No. 1 and winning the event in her 10,000-horsepower Mopar Dodge 1320 “Angry Bee” Top Fuel dragster. Heading into the NHRA Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship opener at this weekend’s 34th annual Dodge NHRA Nationals at Maple Grove Raceway, the star driver would love to match that performance to start her title march.
Pritchett is currently fourth in Top Fuel points, putting her in prime position to race for her first NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series championship. Starting on the right foot is an important factor and with the added attention of it being a sponsor’s race, Pritchett readily embraces the spotlight of having to perform at a high level at the first of six NHRA playoff races.
“Some call it pressure to win at a sponsors race, we call it euphoric opportunity,” Pritchett said. “There is no extra pressure because we honestly can’t do or try any better than we already would, especially at the Countdown opening race. So it makes it incredibly easy for us to operate at our highest capacity, at our sponsor’s race, with our enthusiastic fans! All we can work towards is a Denver 2.0. Those are lofty goals, but that is what’s it going to take to excel in this Countdown.”
Brittany Force (Top Fuel), Ron Capps (Funny Car), Bo Butner (Pro Stock), and Eddie Krawiec (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were all winners of an event that will be televised on FOX Sports 1 in 2018, including final eliminations coverage starting at 7:30 p.m. (ET) on Sunday, Sept. 16. It is the 19th of 24 races during the 2018 NHRA season and the first of six in the Countdown to the Championship, and Pritchett is hopeful her team can replicate the performance it had in Denver.
It was the first of back-to-back No. 1 qualifiers for Pritchett, who has seven career wins, and consistent runs led to her second victory of the season. Entering the Countdown to the Championship for a third straight year, Pritchett is ready to tackle the rigors of the NHRA’s championship season. Pritchett finished fifth in points a year ago, but a first-round loss at the playoff opener knocked her out of the title picture, something she wants to avoid in 2018.
“I feel more prepared than ever before because of the performance diversity this racecar and team have shown,” Pritchett said. “I’ve learned that operating out of fear of losing something is not as advantageous as operating our passion for what could be. The biggest difference is I have had such a varied season when it comes to my mental preparation from race to race, be it one car or three. Hopefully it has allowed me to be stronger mentally and define my compartmentalization.”
Pritchett is ready to contend for her first victory at Maple Grove Raceway, but to do so she’ll have to get past Countdown to the Champion competitors Steve Torrence, the current points leader, Clay Millican, Tony Schumacher, Doug Kalitta, Antron Brown, defending world champ Brittany Force, Indy winner Terry McMillen, Mike Salinas and Scott Palmer. But Pritchett and her team, led by crew chief Todd Okuhara, welcome the challenge with the way the team has been performing.
“We’ve never been one for fashion, but we are most definitely trending in the right direction with finding what works and running with it,” Pritchett said. “The key to success will be having a tight and confident grip on how we are running the clutch setup, and of course having a driver that can get it done not just sometimes, but every single time. We are at the point where mediocre will no longer fly. Everything needs an extra level of attentiveness and readiness to go the distance.”
Ron Capps will begin his quest for a second Funny Car world title in three years against points leader Courtney Force, reigning world champ Robert Hight, and Matt Hagan.
Pro Stock’s Bo Butner starts his title defense against points leader Tanner Gray, who has five wins in 2018, and former world champs Greg Anderson, Erica Enders and Jeg Coughlin Jr.
Eddie Krawiec has six Pro Stock Motorcycle wins at the track and the reigning world champ and current points leader will try to add to that against Andrew Hines, LE Tonglet and Hector Arana Jr.
The event also features thrilling competition in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series, showcasing the future stars of the sport. After Nitro qualifying, fans can watch the spectacular Hanna Motorsports First Strike and Top Secret Eastern Raider Jet Funny Cars. Jet cars are thrust driven propelled by jet engines with exciting pre-run flame shows.
Those in attendance will also have the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to interact with some of the biggest names in drag racing during the NHRA Legends Tour. This includes meet-and-greets, autograph sessions, and a variety of other activities. Legends scheduled to attend the Dodge NHRA Nationals include Al Segrini, Frank Manzo and more.
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 1:15 and 4:15 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 14, and the final two rounds of qualifying on Saturday, Sept. 15, at 1:15 and 4:15 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sunday, Sept. 16.
The Mopar Mega Block Party will rev up Dodge NHRA Nationals race weekend for the third consecutive year. The free-admission fan event, set to roll into FirstEnergy Stadium in Reading from 4 -10 p.m. ET on Thursday, September 13, will offer a jam-packed slate of fun activities for Mopar and Dodge//SRT enthusiasts.
NHRA stars and TV personalities will step to the plate and take their cuts in the annual Mopar Mega Block Party home run derby. Mopar Dodge//SRT NHRA drivers Hagan, Pritchett, Jack Beckman, Ron Capps, Tommy Johnson Jr., and Tony Schumacher will slug it out alongside NHRA on Fox play-by-play announcer Dave Rieff (the defending champ), color commentator Tony Pedregon, and pit reporter Bruno Massel Jr. to determine who will wear the home run crown.
NHRA announcer Alan Reinhart will provide the play-by-play. Donations to the Make-A-Wish and Infinite Hero Foundations will be made in the name of the winner of the elimination-style competition. Mopar Mega Block Party attendees can also meet their favorite drivers in a one-hour long autograph session, hop in the cab of the 10-ft. tall Raminator Monster Truck for a once-in-a-lifetime ride and test their virtual racing skills in the “Drag Strip Showdown,” a head-to-head competition in Dodge Challenger SRT Demon simulators. A HEMI-fueled, 100-plus Mopar car show, giveaways, food and drink booths, vendor displays and live concerts by bands Liquid A, Go-Go Gadjet and TJ Bebb are also on tap, with a Mega Fireworks display to close out the night.