Leah Pritchett and Don Schumacher Racing's new Papa John's Pizza Top Fuel team headed west for three days of testing last week in preparation for the 2017 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series that opens this Friday.
It would be an understatement to say the test session at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park near Phoenix was successful. The team led by crew chief Todd Okuhara and assistant Joe Barlam were focused on making as many shakedown runs as possible.
Pritchett and her Papa John's team were not planning on an historic run.
On Saturday, Pritchett was not only the quickest among the sport's top NHRA Mello Yello nitro teams at the test, but she recorded the unofficial quickest elapsed time in drag racing history with a run of 3.654 seconds at 331.85 mph. It was the first time she exceeded 330.
"I have to be totally honest, we didn't come out here to be the quickest," said Pritchett, who won her first Top Fuel event at Wild Horse Pass in 2016. "That wasn't the goal. The goal was to get the power that we created in the offseason to the track. We exceeded our expectations (Friday and Saturday). Man, I'm stoked for (my team). That's a lot of hard work and they just put it on the track."
The milestone run certainly wasn't a fluke as the Papa John's team had the three of the four best runs over three days including 3.677 and 3.685 runs on Friday. The team added a 3.691 on Saturday's last run.
Pritchett, a native of Redlands, Calif., and graduate of Cal State San Bernardino, returns to her home track at Pomona, Calif., to compete in the NHRA Winternationals and begin the 24-race season.
She joined Don Schumacher Racing midway through last summer and drove for DSR at 15 events. When she arrives at Pomona it will be a full-time DSR driver funded for 20 of the 24 races by Papa John's International Inc. (NASDAQ: PZZA).
Papa John's Pizza founder and chairman John Schnatter was instrumental in helping Pritchett advance into last year's NHRA Countdown to the Championship playoff by sponsoring her Don Schumacher Racing Top Fuel dragster for five races in the last half the season.
"This means so much to me, our team and the sport of NHRA drag racing," she said of DSR's growing partnership with Papa John's. "We are huge fans of Papa John's Pizza and are confident it will help fuel us to more victories."
Schnatter added, "I am excited to add another quality ingredient to our Papa John's team with our sponsorship of Don Schumacher Racing and Leah Pritchett. Leah's passion for racing is like my passion for pizzamaking; always looking for ways to improve and get better."
Today, Papa John'sis the world's third largest pizza delivery company with over 5,000locations in 50 states and 40 countries and territories.
Papa John's is the Official Pizza Sponsor of the National Football League and Super Bowl, and Official Pizza of Major League Baseball.
NHRA Winternationals Event Schedule (times are PT)
Friday: 1, 4 p.m., nitro qualifying
Saturday: 1, 4 p.m., nitro qualifying
Sunday: 11 a.m., championship eliminations
ON FS1/FOX (times are ET)
Friday: 7-8 p.m. ET, qualifying
Saturday: 1-2 p.m. ET, live qualifying on FS1
Sunday: 4-7 p.m. ET, live eliminations on FOX
LEAH PRITCHETT: Papa John's Pizza Top Fuel Dragster
Pts Events Wins Rup Semi Qtr 1st rd Poles DNQ W/L
2016 7th 23 1 0 4 7 11 1 0 18-21
CAREER 70 1 1 7 13 42 1 6 33-63
Best Time, Speed: 3.698 sec. (2016, Dallas), 329.75 mph (2016, Indy)
Last event (Nov. 11-13, 2016, at Pomona): Qualified No.5 , lost in second round to Antron Brown
2016 Pomona 1: Qualified No. 12, lost in first round to Clay Millican
Career at Pomona 1: Wins 0; Runner-ups 0; Poles 0
Career at Pomona: Wins 0; Runner-ups 0; Poles 0
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