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Career-best performance in Phoenix for Leah Pritchett

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Leah Pritchett and her Gumout/Dote Racing Top Fuel dragster squad were making impressive progress with their new nitro-fueled, 9,000-horsepower engine this weekend at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park south of Phoenix.

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The personable 25-year-old Pritchett recorded her career best Top Fuel runs Friday and Saturday during qualifying in the second 2014 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series national event, the Carquest Auto Parts Nationals.

On Friday, Leah took the Gumout fueler to 3.810 seconds at 318.54 miles per hour, bettering her previous best of 3.82. Earlier in the day, Pritchett clocked a 3.88. After Friday’s two Top Fuel sessions, Pritchett placed sixth in the 16-car field.

Pritchett returned in Saturday’s two time trials with times of 3.792 and 3.785, as she broke the 3.80-second barrier for the initial time in her brief Top Fuel career with the Doug Kuch-led team. Leah, who was a Top Fuel rookie last year, qualified in the front half of the field with an eighth position in the 16-driver lineup.

“Our Gumout/Dote Racing crew has been doing a superb job with the new equipment this year,” said Pritchett, the former Pro Mod and Nostalgia Funny Car winner. “Despite limited testing this year, the team has clicked off consistently strong runs at Pomona and Phoenix. I’m so excited to run in the 3.70-range for the first time. I really think we are making great gains with the car.”

Pritchett was matched up against the previous event (NHRA Winternationals) Top Fuel winner Khalid alBalooshi in the first round of Sunday’s final eliminations at the Wild Horse Pass racing facility, formerly known as Firebird International Raceway.

A consistently strong starter, Leah again left first off the starting line with a 0.056 reaction time. However, just 300 feet down the track, Pritchett’s dragster spun the rear tires and she had to back off the throttle and alBalooshi took the victory to advance to the next round.

“We knew that alBalooshi would try to hop up his car in the first round,” said Pritchett. “So Doug and the crew hadn’t hit the car’s limit yet and they went more aggressive with the car. We were the first cars down the track in eliminations Sunday. So it was more of an unknown with the track and the traction available. Unfortunately, the tires broke loose and I pedaled the throttle twice but I couldn’t catch Khalid in the other lane. It’s the first time we didn’t make a solid run since Reading last year.”

Pritchett recorded the quickest reaction time of the entire first round Sunday for Top Fuel.

In addition, the smoking performance by Pritchett’s car marked the first time in the 2014 drag racing campaign that the Gumout/Dote Racing machine had not made a full pass down the 1,000-foot pavement including five runs at Pomona two weeks ago and four passes this weekend.

“We’ll get back to our shop in Ohio and look over everything from the two West Coast races,” Leah said. “Despite two first round losses, we learned quite a bit with the Pomona and Phoenix events and we’ll be ready for Gainesville (Fla., NHRA Gatornationals) in March.”

The Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals are set for March 14-16 at the Auto Plus Raceway at Gainesville with nitro qualifying scheduled for 12:45 p.m. and 3 p.m. on Friday, March 14, and Saturday, March 15. Final eliminations at the Gatornationals get underway at 11 a.m. Sunday, March 16. The 45th annual Gatornationals is the third event in the 2014 Mello Yello Series.

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