Warm couch at Pritchett home reflects wins for two sides in Top Fuel

Leah leads Top Fuel points standings; husband Gary works as clutch specialist for rival crew

Top Fuel driver Leah Pritchett. (Chris Neal/The Capital-Journal)

The couch is always an option for sleeping through the night at the Pritchett home.


Married life can get that tense for a couple who compete on rival crews in the Top Fuel division of the National Hot Rod Association.

Leah Pritchett disclosed that little detail about her marriage to husband Gary, which of late has been tested by success in the Mello Yello Series.

“When somebody parties too hard after they win, that’s when the couch thing comes in,’’ Leah said, laughing.

If so, the couch cushions are warm these days.

“The household has five out of seven wins (in 2017),’’ Gary said. “We’re pretty competitive, but to have that is something you might not do ever for your whole career.’’

Leah Pritchett is a three-time winner in Top Fuel in 2017 and the season points leader. Gary Pritchett works on the crew of Steve Torrence, a Top Fuel rival who won the last two races going into this weekend’s Menards NHRA Heartland Nationals at Heartland Park Topeka.

“We’re definitely loving every minute of it,’’ Gary said.

Well, most of the time.

“Sometimes Gary is sleeping on the couch, sometimes I do,’’ Leah said. “Maybe for only five minutes, but being on opposing teams is a good dynamic to have. It’s definitely different.’’

Life in the fast lane started for the Pritchetts while working on different NHRA crews, both as clutch specialists.

That’s the job Gary still fulfills for the Torrence team, which is part of Capco Contractors/Torrence Racing. Leah, meanwhile, started racing Top Fuel for two operations before hooking on last year with Don Schumacher Racing.

Her rise this season, which includes a record elapsed time of 3.658 seconds set Feb. 24 at Phoenix, has been steady, sharp and impressive.

Especially because a year ago she traveled to Topeka while sitting idle. Her deal with DSR had just been finalized, but Pritchett was not entered in the Nationals event at HPT.

“I had already had my plane tickets booked, because we book at the beginning of the season,’’ Leah said. “So on someone else’s dollar, that is no more, I went to the track to support DSR teammates that I was just starting out with. Being at home, there’s nothing that’s going to be accomplished, but it sucked out here (at HPT).

“I remember talking to somebody when I was on a scooter and the cars were running, ‘I’m going to make sure I am not on this scooter watching next year.’ But not like the pity party me part. I was like, I’m here and I’m going to do everything I can to be on the track.’’

Heartland Park happened to be the track where Pritchett enjoyed her first breakthrough in Top Fuel after getting her start with Dote Racing, a family entity that suspended its nitro operation.

In 2013, Pritchett reached the semifinals in Topeka before losing to Tony Schumacher, who is now her teammate and also sitting second in Top Fuel points.

“I had never gone rounds in Top Fuel. That’s all I really wanted to do at that point, as a step to what’s happened now,’’ said Leah, 28. “It took me months to come down from that. When we blew up, we blew up hard, and we were against Tony.

“Just the euphoria of going a couple of rounds on Sunday … that feeling is what we do it for. I still have that same excitement, but it takes winning the whole race. That’s just growing in the sport.’’

Gary, 30, was licensed in Top Fuel in 2015 and remains hopeful for an opportunity to drive at that level.

He grew up as part of a racing family in Virginia, has driven Super Comp and Top Alcohol, and still returns home to help with Bunny and the Boys. That race team features Gary’s godmother, former IHRA world champion Bunny Burkett, and her nostalgic alcohol Funny Car.

Although the NHRA season will be just one-third complete when the Heartland Nationals conclude, a world championship is at least a consideration.

For both Leah and Gary.

Under different tents in the pits and as opponents on the track.

So far, the one final pitting Pritchett against Torrence was won by Leah in Houston.

“We share the same passion. We’re best friends. We do everything together,’’ Gary said. “When we’re not racing, we’re racing.’’

Maybe, someday, for the same team.

“We’d love to be,’’ Gary said, “but not right now because we don’t want to put all our eggs into one basket. We like to be competitive too, obviously.’’

No question. Leah is adamant that her seven-year rise through the NHRA ranks is different than that of other successful women drivers.

After paying her dues by breaking in as a clutch specialist, she has a point. Now that she leads the Top Fuel division, Leah can draw inspiration from many sources — her background, her marriage to someone on the circuit, even the time a year ago when she watched races at HPT from her scooter.

“I like this track a lot, and it means a lot to me,’’ said Pritchett, whose run Friday in the first qualifying round at HPT got scratched. “Hopefully, we swing the pendulum back up and we win on Sunday.’’

If her bid is thwarted, the red-hot Torrence and his clutch mechanic could be responsible.

Either way, the couch is not all bad.

Kevin Haskin can be reached at kevin.haskin@cjonline.com or @KevinHaskin on Twitter.



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