By Anthony Caruso III | Publisher
Leah Pruett and her future husband Gary Pritchett are in a unique situation.
They are like every future married couple, as they work separate jobs. But unlike normal couples, Gary and Leah have jobs in the fast-paced NHRA.
Pritchett is a crew member on Steve Torrence’s Top Fuel dragster, while Pruett is the driver of the Dote Racing Top Fuel dragster. Yet, the future married couple want to keep it this way for the time being.
“That’s a conversion that we’ve had,” said Pruett. “I would say never say never, because it would be cool if some day if he would become a crew chief and I would be able to drive the car. But, now with our current place in life, it’s best that we’re not on the same team. I really enjoy the time that we have at home. Like any normal family, we go to work and separate work from pleasure. And if we were to ever be on the same team – with the same dynamics – then there’s a conflict of interest.”
Earlier this year, Gary was in a tough situation. At Bristol Dragway for the NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals, he had to be in the middle, as his boss and Leah were on the line together.
They faced off in the first round of eliminations, and Torrence would win the race. He went 3.833 seconds to Pruett’s 4.261 seconds.
“I want a nice safe race, and I want the best car to win,” said Pritchett.
While Leah has been racing her way up to Top Fuel, this is not the first time that Pritchett has seen a loved one race. He added that a family member of his has been racing for years.
He even said that his grandmother used to race, as she is drag racing legend Bunny Burkett. But he doesn’t fear the dangers that could happen to Leah in a race car.
“Bad things do happen out here,” said Pritchett. “But as I have said, I was born and raced in this sport, and I’ve always seen someone I love race. I have friends and other family members, who race. And I’ve always said that I think you can get hurt worse on a regular highway than on a drag strip. In this sport, you wear a lot more safety equipment than you do on the highway. That’s the way I feel about it.”
The couple will tie the knot in Avon, Indiana at Avon Gardens on October 19th. Nearly everybody in the NHRA community will be there at their big day.
“It is going to be our families, along with our racing families,” said Pritchett. “These will include our present teams, including Torrence Racing and Dote Racing, along with the past teams that we were both on. It’s almost the entire NHRA racing community will be there. It’s one big family. When we’re competing, we all want to win, but when we are away from the track, we all get along great. But again, when we’re at the track, it’s game on!”
While the two have to concentrate on their racing jobs, they also have to plan for their big wedding. But, especially for Leah, the wedding planning is tough, because she has to pull a tow vehicle to and from events that she races in.
The couple have yet to decide on a honeymoon. And they will have to push off a honeymoon until after the season ends.
“What we are going to do – since she’ll be racing in Las Vegas and Ponoma – to postpone the honeymoon to allow her to race,” said Pritchett. “Usually, race teams give their employees 10 days off for the Thanksgiving holiday – and we’ll probably do it during that week.”
Those will be the final two races in her up-and-down rookie campaign. She has qualified at 8 races, and there were two races, where she did not qualify. Those races were at Baytown, Texas and Epping, New Hampshire.
She did not compete at the recent Western Swing. She also did not qualify at Norwalk, Ohio, before the teams went on the three-week Western Swing.
She has a 3-8 round record this year. And she is presently sitting in 15th place with 330 points.
Yet, in Topeka at Heartland Park Topeka, she had her best appearance of the season, where she advanced to the semifinal round. She would lose to Tony Schumacher in that round when he ran a 3.774 to her 4.509.
She beat 2012 Top Fuel champion Antron Brown and Doug Kalitta in those first two rounds. With those wins, it would set up her meeting with Schumacher in the semifinal round.
Besides her success in Topeka, she also advanced to the second round only once. In Phoenix, she defeated Shawn Langdon in the first round, before losing to Brown in the second round.
While the season has not gone the way she would have liked, she believes she has a long-term future with Dote Racing. The team has primarily used a female driver, besides a stint with Larry Dixon driving the car for three races during the latter part of the 2012 season.
“I foresee myself being with the Dote family for a very long time,” said Pruett. “They have a vision to make this team a championship-caliber team, and those things take time and money. I want to be a championship contender one day – and I think it’s cool to rise up together. I don’t want to be cherry picked by a large team. Some drivers have been cherry picked into championships, but I don’t want it to be that way, because I believe it is so much more meaningful to win your way up to a championship.”
In order to race for a championship, she would have to race full-time. But right now, the Dote Racing team only competes on a partial schedule.
“Absolutely, I want to race full-time,” said Pruett. “From the beginning of this season, we have made strides – sponsorship wise – to make a full schedule work. That is our goal. We want to go to more races.”
Not only will a full-time schedule increase her chances for a championship, it would also increase her chances of picking up her first win in a Top Fuel dragster. She is no stranger to winning in other NHRA circuits, though.
She has won 37 NHRA Jr. Dragster wins, and won the 1998 NHRA Jr. Dragster Championship. She also won the 2010 NHRA Hot Rod Heritage Championship in a Nitro Funny Car.
She also has won 6 national events in a Pro Mod for R2B2 Racing. Yet, winning a race in a Top Fuel dragster would be special for Pruett.
“For me to win my first Top Fuel race, I would be speechless,” said Pruett. “I’m already getting speechless thinking about it, and I don’t know what I would tell Gary [Gerould, ESPN Motorsports Reporter] at the top end when I do win. I do think we’re capable of doing it, but I also know it’s extremely difficult to do. There have been drivers out here for years, who have never won a race. Plus, if we do win one of these days, it would also be the first win for my team. I would be honored to be an important piece of that puzzle. It is something that I want to be apart of. It’s like if my first race win was with another team – that has championships already behind it – they would support me, but the win might not mean as much. It would be because they already have a winning tradition. But, if we did it with Dote, it would show our progression.”
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