Top Fuel drag racer Leah Pritchett is dedicated to her sport—almost too much.
“I feel like I’m probably one of the most competitive people that I’ve ever met, almost to a fault,” she says with a laugh. “Obviously that relates to the sport well.”
Pritchett, who has driven for Don Schumacher Racing since 2017, will bring that spirit this February to the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) Mello Yello Drag Racing Series’ NHRA Arizona Nationals at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park. The event, which will feature drivers in Top Fuel, Funny Car and Pro Stock, will be held from February 23 to February 25.
“It’s a competition to make sure that I leave and have the quickest reaction time possible to get that car off the line,” she says. “That’s my job, that’s my competitiveness—to do whatever it takes to get that.”
Pritchett has been drag racing since she was 8 years old. With a vastly different childhood than most people, Pritchett worked her way up the ranks, winning junior dragster championships, earning sponsorships and eventually becoming the NHRA Top Fuel dragster she is for Don Schumacher Racing.
“I guess one of my favorite parts about drag racing is that there’s just one winner at each event,” she explains. “That’s it. There is no second-place trophy, participation, jumba wumba—none of that. You are the baddest mofo at that particular event, and that’s why we lose with conviction and we win with conviction, because it’s so difficult to do; to win a national event.”
Among her extensive track record, the longtime car lover and racer is a two-time consecutive winner of the NHRA Arizona Nationals at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park. She earned her first career Top Fuel win in 2016, earning the title again last year.
“Coming into this Phoenix race, just to be the two-time defending champion of it from two different teams, two different racecars, multiple different partners, that’s a dream,” she says.
Pritchett also set the first of her two 2017 records at last February’s Arizona Nationals with a 3.658-second pass at 329.34 mph. The second came when she reset that record at the 36th annual Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals at Brainerd International Raceway in Minnesota last August with a 3.640-second pass at 330.63 mph.
“It goes right back into the competition standpoint, where even though we set those two (national) records, it wasn’t a month and a half later that somebody broke our record,” she says.
That somebody is Clay Millican, who earned a 3.631-second pass at 330.39 mph at the AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals at Gateway Motorsports Park in Illinois last September.
“We hope to get our world record back just for ourselves,” Pritchett says. “There’s no room in this sport for noncompetitive people. You’ll get eaten alive.”
To improve her chances, however, Pritchett trains extensively, focusing on strength, core and cardio training.
“I think I’m one of the hardest-training drivers that I compete against, specifically in the off-season,” she says. “Now, in the on-season, I find it more difficult, because I spend a lot of time with my team, my crew members. We do a lot of functions, we work together, we eat together, we do our nightly activities, going out together, because I have always prized that bonding and friendship, and that’s what it takes to create a team.”
But winning won’t come easily at the Arizona Nationals, which serves as the second event of a 24-race schedule this year.
“You can’t be the best on accident,” she explains. “Any athlete is a pure reflection of their conditioning, their skills, their attitude. It means that all of those things are the best. Even if it’s just that one goal and you conquer it, it reflects on so many things, and I think that’s why it’s so gratifying.”
Although she hopes for the best come late February, competition will be stiff and stakes are high to get a third win and new elapsed time record at the track.
“We’ve set our own expectations of being quicker than we were before, and because it was the quickest, it’s pretty high,” she says. “Expectation-wise, for a race win, I never underestimate anything. It would be a blessing, it would be a Godsend for us to be able to make it three in a row, but I don’t consider that an expectation, I consider that a goal.”
NHRA Arizona Nationals, Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park, 20000 S. Maricopa Road, Chandler, 520.796.5601, nhra.com, 9:30 a.m. February 23 and February 24, 9 a.m. February 25, $20-$86, kids 12 and under free with adult ticket purchase.