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2017 NHRA Arizona Nationals

Words: Ellen Richardson    Photos courtesy of NHRA

 

Top Fuel driver Leah Pritchett proved that her hard work with the No. 7 Don Schumacher Racing Papa John's Top Fuel Dragster during pre-season testing payed off after picking up her second Wally of the 2017 NHRA season following this weekend’s Arizona Nationals.

After beginning her weekend with a national-record-setting time of 3.658 at 329.34 MPH during the final round of qualifying on Friday, Pritchett proved she would be a force to be reckoned with this season. As the weekend wore on, she would breeze through Sunday’s elimination round by outrunning Clay Millican and Shawn Reed to move on to the final round against fellow Top Fuel feminine fighter Brittany Force.

Despite Force’s fighting off hard-fought runs against two well-known Top Fuel world champions, Antron Brown and Tony Schumacher, it would take more than the backing of the John Force Racing name to fight off an on-fire Pritchett in Sunday’s final round.

As these women pulled to the line, Pritchett would continue her winning ways after pulling off a pass of 3.705 seconds at 328.22 MPH against Force’s 3.704 at 330.39 in her Monster Energy dragster to take home her second win of the season. This is the first time a Top Fuel driver has won the first two races of the season since Gary Scelzi in 1997.

“I’m learning to do what it takes to get into that extreme, severe mindset of what it takes to do what we’re doing,” said Pritchett, who won the season opening event at Pomona, Calif. “Honestly I’m trying to keep up with my team for how well they’re doing and make them proud of me as a driver and do the job that is expected of a Don Schumacher racing team, and I think we’re doing pretty okay with that. We’re blessed with the equipment and the talent capabilities of the people and everyone that it takes to make it. I’m happy I can hold up my end of the bargain.”

Along with Pritchett, Funny Car driver Matt Hagan would also take home his second Wally of the season as well as a follow-up win at the Arizona Nationals after defeating reigning world champion Ron Capps’ with a pass of 3.878 seconds at 330.88 MPH in his Sandvik Coromat Dodge Charger.

 

 

“My lights are on point right now. I’m just feeling it, feeling this race car, this race team,” said Hagan. "We’re just digging. Everybody is working hard. The car is going down the race track every lap. How much more could you ask for? It’s a great feeling to crawl in the car knowing that you have the confidence that it’s going to run strong and then when your lights are good it’s a real hard combination to beat.”

In 2015, Hagan picked-up his first NHRA Arizona Nationals win after taking down Cruz Pedregon, 2016 race winner Tim Wilkerson as well as top-qualifier Tommy Johnson Jr.

Although two drivers would pick up their second Wally of the season, Pro Stock driver Greg Anderson would earn his first win of the 2017 NHRA season after taking down Drew Skillman with a pass of 6.547 seconds at 211.43 MPH in Sunday’s finale.

 

 

“It was brutal today, but I knew it was going to be coming in,” Anderson said. “The class is awesome right now. I think every race that I had was decided by less than a foot. You just don’t get better racing than that. It’s fantastic out there. It’s just a Battle Royale every time you stage the car. Anybody can win and that’s what it’s all about.”

Anderson also defeated Kenny Delco, Shane Gray and rookie driver Tanner Gray in the quarterfinals and semifinals before taking on Skillman.

The NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season will continue March 16-19 at the  Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals, in Gainsville, FL.