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Top Fuel points leader Leah Pritchett looks to maintain impressive consistency at fifth annual NHRA New England Nationals

by Mike Haag | Posted on Wednesday, May 31st, 2017

EPPING, N.H. – A season that started in extraordinary fashion continues to move along at an impressive pace for Leah Pritchett. The NHRA Top Fuel points leader won the first two races of the year in her 10,000-horsepower Papa John’s dragster and has since added a third victory, holding onto the points lead in a star-studded Top Fuel class.

As the 2017 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season heads into a stretch of four straight races, starting with this weekend’s fifth annual NHRA New England Nationals at New England Dragway, Pritchett knows maintaining that early-season consistency will be key. Thus far, the rising star has zero first-round losses and just one second-round exit, a pace Pritchett would love to keep heading to the midway point of the season.

“It’s continuing to show how healthy this car is,” Pritchett said. “For us, it’s not only the consistency, but how healthy the car is. Our team is together on all aspects. I’m figuring out a few things I can improve at the starting line. We’ve made some headway. We have some things to test so hopefully we will see some type of significant difference for the next time we get back on the track. Not to say we’re not happy with what we have delivered this weekend, but we have to get better.”

Antron Brown (Top Fuel), Ron Capps (Funny Car) and Greg Anderson (Pro Stock) were last year’s winners of the event that will be televised on FOX Sports 1, including finals coverage starting at 4:30 p.m. (ET) on Sunday, June 4. It is the ninth of 24 events during a 2017 season that has produced a standout start for Pritchett in her first full year racing for Don Schumacher Racing.

After winning in Houston for her third win of the season, Pritchett was in the final foursome at the NHRA Four-Wide Nationals and followed with back-to-back semifinal performances in Atlanta and Topeka, where she qualified second. Leading the likes of back-to-back world champion Brown, who won in Topeka, and eight-time champ Tony Schumacher, who are both DSR teammates, as well as standouts Steve Torrence, a two-time 2017 winner, and Doug Kalitta is still an adjustment, but Pritchett continues to make strides there as well.

“From a points leader standpoint, it’s much easier to be the underdog,” Prichett said. “It’s much easier to race in the capacity of constantly chasing something. I’ve figured out that I’ve lately been sometimes operating with a fear of losing instead of the aggressiveness of chasing. I walk away from (Topeka) identifying what I personally need to work on and it’s a mindset. And it’s something that we will see come Epping.”

Thoughts of a world championship are off in the distance at the moment, but Pritchett has positioned herself well with the hot start. The Houston victory made her the 10th driver in Top Fuel history to win three of the first five events. Six of the first nine captured the world championship – the other three ended up in second – but Pritchett and her team, led by crew chief Todd Okuhara, know there is still an immense amount of work to be done, starting this weekend in Epping.

“We are a very long way from winning a championship, but it’s very nice to be able look at the standings and think about it,” said Pritchett, who has four career wins. “This team shows me how good they are every day whether we’re at the track or back at our DSR shop. We can still get better, and as tough as the competition is out here, we have to keep working to do that.”

Defending Funny Car winner Capps, who won his first world championship in 2016, is on an incredible roll, having won four straight races heading into Epping.

Anderson won for a second straight year in Pro Stock in 2016 and trails points leader Bo Butner, who has two wins this season. Rookie Tanner Gray also picked up his second win in Topeka.

The event also features thrilling competition in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series, showcasing the future stars of the sport. After Nitro qualifying on Friday, fans can watch the spectacular Hanna Motorsports jet cars. Jet cars are thrust driven propelled by jet engines with exciting pre-run flame shows.

As always, fans will have the opportunity to 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 in motorsports 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 4:30 and 7 p.m. on Friday, June 2 and the final two rounds of qualifying on Saturday, June 3, at 1:30 and 4 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sunday, June 4.

To purchase general-admission or reserved seats, call (800) 884-NHRA (6472) or visit www.NHRA.com/tickets. Kids 12 and under are free in general admission areas with a paid adult. To honor the Salute to First Responders, military and first responders can save 20 percent on general admission tickets at the gate. For more information about the NHRA visit www.NHRA.com.

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NHRA NEW ENGLAND NATIONALS

WHAT: Fifth annual NHRA New England Nationals, the ninth of 24 events in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series. Drivers in three categories – Top Fuel, Funny Car and Pro Stock – earn points leading to 2017 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series world championships. The race also will feature competition in the NHRA Lucas Oil Series.

WHERE: New England Dragway, Epping, N.H., the track is on Route 101 off Exit 8, an hour north of Boston and just 20 minutes from Manchester and the New Hampshire sea coast. From I-95, take Exit 2 in New Hampshire. Travel west on Route 101 to Exit 8, then turn right. From I-93, take Exit 7 in New Hampshire. Travel east on Route 101 to Exit 8, then turn left, and the track is straight ahead. From I-495, take Exit 51-B to Route 125 north. Travel east on Route 101 to Exit 8, then turn left, and the track is straight ahead.

COURSE:   Championship drag strip; Track elevation is 90 feet above sea level. Track direction is southwest to northeast

WHEN: Friday through Sunday, June 2-4

SCHEDULE:

FRIDAY, June 2 – LUCAS OIL SERIES qualifying

MELLO YELLO SERIES qualifying at 4:30 and 7 p.m.

SATURDAY, June 3- LUCAS OIL SERIES eliminations

MELLO YELLO SERIES qualifying at 1:30 and 4 p.m.

SUNDAY, June 4 – Pre-race ceremonies, 10 a.m.

MELLO YELLO SERIES eliminations begin at 11 a.m.

TELEVISION:

FRIDAY, June 2, FS1 will televise one hour of live qualifying at 7:30 p.m. (ET)

SATURDAY, June 3, FS1 will televise one hour of qualifying highlights at 12:30 a.m.  (ET)

SUNDAY, June 4, FS1 will televise three hours of finals coverage at 4:30 p.m. (ET)

2016 EVENT WINNERS:

Antron Brown, Top Fuel; Ron Capps, Funny Car; Greg Anderson, Pro Stock.

MOST VICTORIES: Tony Schumacher, 2, TF; Ron Capps, 2, FC; Greg Anderson, 2, PS.

TRACK RECORDS:

Top Fuel – 3.701 sec. by Antron Brown, June ’16; 329.26 mph by Doug Kalitta, June ’16.

Funny Car – 3.865 sec. by Ron Capps, June ’16; 330.63 mph Tim Wilkerson, June ’16.

Pro Stock – 6.485 sec. by Shane Gray, June ’14; 214.72 mph by Greg Anderson, June ’15.

NATIONAL RECORDS:

Top Fuel – 3.658 sec. by Leah Pritchett, Feb. ‘17, Phoenix; 333.66 mph by Brittany Force, May ’17, Topeka, Kan.

Funny Car – 3.802 and 338.85 mph by Hagan, May ’17, Topeka, Kan.

Pro Stock – 6.455 sec. by Jason Line, March ’15, Charlotte, N.C.;  215.55 mph by Erica Enders, May ’14, Englishtown N.J.

TICKETS: For tickets call (800) 884-NHRA (6472). Tickets also available online at www.NHRA.com/tickets

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GLENDORA, Calif. — Point standings (top 10) following the 29th annual Menards NHRA Heartland Nationals presented Minties at Heartland Park Topeka, the eighth of 24 events in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series 

Top Fuel 

1.  Leah Pritchett, 721; 2.  Steve Torrence, 691; 3.  Antron Brown, 680; 4.  Tony Schumacher, 673; 5.  Doug Kalitta, 539; 6.  Clay Millican, 433; 7.  Brittany Force, 405; 8.  Terry McMillen, 333; 9.Troy Coughlin Jr., 327; 10.  Scott Palmer, 276.

Funny Car 

1.  Ron Capps, 748; 2.  Matt Hagan, 629; 3.  John Force, 524; 4.  Robert Hight, 518; 5.  Jack Beckman, 502; 6.  Courtney Force, 464; 7.  Tommy Johnson Jr., 461; 8.  J.R. Todd, 378; 9.  Tim Wilkerson, 360; 10.  Jonnie Lindberg, 318.

Pro Stock 

1.  Bo Butner, 670; 2.  Greg Anderson, 646; 3.  Tanner Gray, 610; 4.  Jeg Coughlin, 593; 5.  Jason Line, 576; 6.  Erica Enders, 423; 7.  Chris McGaha, 421; 8.  Vincent Nobile, 414; 9.  Drew Skillman, 392; 10.  Shane Gray, 382.

Story and photos courtesy of the NHRA

About the Author

Mike Haag has covered motorsports in San Antonio and South Texas for more than 30 years. In addition to working for the San Antonio Express-News for nearly 28 years, Mike also has co-hosted TrackSmack with Dawn Murphy for 15 race seasons. In addition to being a writer, Mike also teaches English at Floresville High School.