The latest addition to Team Mopar® talks about taking the reins of a 10,000+ horsepower Top Fuel dragster for renowned team owner Don Schumacher and what it means to carry on the legacy of Mopar in NHRA drag racing.
MOPAR® MAGAZINE: How long have you been competing in NHRA’s Mello Yello Drag Racing Series and in which categories?
Leah Pritchett: 2016 marks my 20th year in NHRA. I started when I was 8 years old in the Jr. Drag Racing League, stepped up to a blown alcohol ‘32 Bantam roadster to bracket race a 7.00 index in Nostalgia Eliminator 1, raced Nitro Nostalgia Funny Car, competed in Pro Mod, obtained an NHRA Funny Car license through DSR years prior and entered one race, and Top Fuel.
MM: What was your reaction when you learned that you would be driving the Mopar®/ Pennzoil Top Fuel dragster?
LP: I was honored – and respectfully proud. I’m honored because Mopar. has always been such an elite brand in my eyes. I’m proud because the brand is a staple of power and performance, which speaks volumes, and to be the one to re-introduce Mopar to the highest level of professional drag racing is a reflection of how they perceive both Don Schumacher Racing and me.
MM: The Don Schumacher Racing (DSR) group is one of the most successful in NHRA competition; what’s it like working with DSR and team owner Don Schumacher?
LP: I’ve worn dozens of different hats in order to propel my career forward, but with DSR, there are personnel for everything. It makes the machine run extremely efficient, and that is something I’m learning to get used to. The unwavering support of the other DSR teams to materialize ours is a product of Don’s leadership and vision. He has been tremendously encouraging and fair, and working together for the common goal of winning at the highest level has been very rewarding, educational, and strengthening.
MM: “Big Daddy” Don Garlits is one of the most notable drivers in NHRA history and broke numerous speed and performance barriers in his Mopar®-themed Top Fuel dragsters. Is it intimidating to have such big shoes to fill?
LP: It’s intimidating, naturally, but it is propelling more than anything. It is a challenging opportunity, no doubt, but one that I am ready for. I may not be able to mirror his success in the way he did it as an owner, tuner, and driver, but my goals are the same – to ultimately win, over and over again, lock in Top Fuel championships for Mopar, and play an integral role in revolutionizing the sport through success on the track.
MM: You earned your first Top Fuel win in 2016 in Phoenix. Will wins come easier now that the first one is in the books?
LP: By no means will the second win be easy, but it might be easier because I know what it took to get there. I didn’t win my first final, but when I got there the second time, I could refer back to the first experience and what I learned from it. Now it’s a matter of mirroring that mindset and perfecting it. That’s what I work on every race.