Leah Pritchett raced her Mopar Dodge/FireAde Top Fuel dragster to victory on Sunday at the 38th annual NHRA Southern Nationals, earning her first win of the season and first at Atlanta Dragway in Commerce, Georgia, as well as the sixth overall of her Top Fuel career.
The win is the third in seven events this season for a Mopar Dodge//SRT driver in the NHRA Nitro classes (Top Fuel and Funny Car). Pritchett’s Don Schumacher Racing (DSR) teammate, Mopar Express Lane Dodge Charger R/T driver Matt Hagan, added a runner-up finish in Funny Car for the brands, and moved up one spot into the third position in the standings.
Pritchett and her Mopar Dodge Top Fuel team were on point this weekend at Atlanta starting with qualifying, where the DSR driver collected five important bonus points as well as the No. 4 starting position. She was machine-like in recording seven runs in the three-second range out of a possible eight during qualifying and eliminations, including in all four rounds on Sunday starting with a 3.903-second elapsed time (ET) at 293.73 mph to beat Pat Dakin.
In the quarterfinals, Pritchett and Bill Litton had identical reaction times, but the similarities ended there, as the Mopar Dodge zoomed to a stout 3.841/322.50 run while Litton faltered shortly after launch. In the semifinals against Mike Salinas, Pritchett jumped to an early lead and never looked back to advance to her first final round of the year and ninth of her career.
Matched against Blake Alexander in the final round, Pritchett was the picture of consistency, clocking a 3.874/322.42 run to earn her sixth career win. Alexander’s lap of 4.287/199.43 wouldn’t have been enough to break up Pritchett’s dream weekend, but it didn’t matter as he was disqualified for leaving the starting line early.
Hagan, the 2016 event winner at Atlanta Dragway, started in the back half of the field at No. 11, then dispatched a trio of racers ranked higher on the qualifying charts on his march to the final round. The DSR driver recorded the second-quickest pass of the opening round to send home No. 6 qualifier Jonnie Lindberg, setting up the first of two battles with Mopar-powered Dodge DSR teammates.
In the quarterfinals against No. 3 qualifier Tommy Johnson Jr., Hagan and his stablemate were equally matched in reaction time. Hagan trailed early on, but as Johnson Jr. lost traction just before the 330-foot mark, the Virginia cattle rancher was able to surge head for the win. Next up for Hagan was Infinite Hero Dodge Charger R/T driver and No. 10 qualifier Jack Beckman in the semifinals. Beckman had a slight early advantage, but Hagan was able to put his Mopar Express Lane Dodge out front just past the 60-foot mark and hold on for the round win.
In the final round — the 49th of his career and third of the year — Hagan was first off the starting line against No. 1 qualifier Courtney Force, with a superior .047-second reaction time to his opponent’s slower .072. It wasn’t enough to hold up for the win, as Force was able to pass Hagan near the 330-foot mark and pull away for the victory.
Although Beckman also struggled during qualifying, the two-time Southern Nationals champion came alive during eliminations, ousting the higher qualified J.R. Todd in round one, defeating Bob Tasca III in the quarterfinals and giving Hagan a run for his money before ultimately coming up short in the semis. Johnson Jr. and the Make-A-Wish Dodge Funny Car team followed up their solid No. 3 qualifying spot with a victory over Dodge Charger R/T driver Jim Campbell before falling to Hagan in round two.
Mopar-powered NAPA Dodge Charger R/T Funny Car pilot Ron Capps, a two-time Atlanta race winner and the defending event champ, opened eliminations by facing off with longtime rival John Force. In the 92nd meeting between the past Funny Car World Champions, No. 12 qualifier Capps was first out of the gate but hazed the tires, allowing No. 5 starter Force to make up ground by the 330-foot mark. Capps maintained control and was able to pedal his racecar, and when Force struck the tires at about 500 feet, Capps pointed his Dodge down the strip to claim the round win.
Capps’ bid for an Atlanta repeat ended in the quarterfinals. First off the line once again against Cruz Pedregon, he smoked the tires early in the run. This time Capps was unable to recover, slowing to a 5.792/119.76 pass as Pedregon drove away for the victory.
Mopar-powered U.S. Army Top Fuel driver Tony Schumacher added to his remarkable list of career accomplishment’s this weekend, qualifying for his 350th consecutive race, a streak dating back to the 2003 Topeka event. The eight-time Top Fuel World Champion and 83-time event winner started No. 5 in seeking to check off one of the few career milestones he doesn’t own – a victory at Atlanta.
The runner-up last year at the Southern Nationals, and five times overall at the venue, Schumacher matched up against No. 12 qualifier Litton in round one. Unfortunately, Schumacher will continue to chase that elusive Atlanta victory, as Litton recorded a winning 3.915/315.56 pass to the DSR’s driver’s losing 3.925/311.27 effort.