Drag Racing: Pritchett and Dejoria make history at BIR
Top Fuel driver Leah Pritchett and Funny Car driver Alexis Dejoria made history Sunday at Brainerd International Race in the finals of the Lucas Oil Nationals, becoming the first pair of women to stand on the winners podium together as champions.
Pritchett defeated Antron Brown in the Top Fuel final elimination and Dejoria won her finals showdown with Tommy Johnson Jr. It capped off a fantastic weekend with national records being broken along with history being made.
"It is 2017. It is easier than it was for Shirley Muldowney, but there is just a handful of us so it is going to be a big deal when the girls do something like this," said Dejoria of her and Pritchett winning "Wally" trophies. "I just hope more females get into the pro ranks and we are really good drivers. It is a huge honor."
Pritchett was happy that it was Dejoria that joined her up on the winners podium.
"It is absolutely incredible and not just any other woman. Alexis and I go back a long ways and to celebrate a win like that," Pritchett said. "I felt it inside my car. I don't know if it was her Nitro fumes, but when she won I felt that we would double up in our race. NHRA is a family sport and the fans here at Brainerd proved that this weekend."
Pritchett served notice on Friday night this could be her weekend when she set the national elapsed time record, which some would say is the most prestigious speed record out there, of 3.640 seconds to get the top qualifying spot.
She then watched as Clay Millican put down a time of 3.655 in his opening round win over Chris Karamesines.
"For a warm day the 3.65 that Clay put down was incredible," Pritchett said. "And then he does it again (in a second round win over Tony Schumacher with a time of 3.658). The competition is so intense and so tight. We had to go with our setup for our second qualifying session to beat the other car. It was an opportunity for us to bring our best game."
Pritchett scored a time of 3.709 in her opening round win over Rob Passey, and then defeated Scott Palmer to get the matchup with Millican.
On the other side of the bracket Antron Brown defeated Shawn Langdon in the first round and Brittany Force in round two, a race that Brown won on a hole shot. Force had the better ET with a 3.675 to Brown's 3.681, but Brown was a tenth of a second quicker in his reaction time leaving the starting line.
His semi-final opponent was Steve Torrence, who also won his race on a hole shot over Doug Kalitta.
In the semi-final matchup Pritchett ran the lowest ET of the four remaining drivers with a 3.666 which beat Millican's 3.792 to put her in the finals against Brown. Brown defeated Torrence 3.706 to 3.726 to make it to the final round.
Pritchett chose the left lane in her match-up with Brown and she was two-tenths of a second slower off of the starting line, but Brown started to haze his tires and Pritchett powered her way to the win with an ET of 3.682 seconds at a speed of 328.06.
It was her fourth win of the year, which tied her with Muldowney, the "First Lady of Drag Racing," and the first woman to receive her National Hot Rod Association license in 1965.
"That is something to incredibly proud of to do," Pritchett said of the accomplishment. She was an incredible racer and she was tough as nails, and I have a car that is tough as nails. It's not about beating her records, it is about beating our records."
"This is our one year anniversary with Papa John's at the race. Don Schumacher has given us the best team in my opinion and we keep continuing to prove that," Pritchett said.
For Alexis Dejoria there was a lot of emotion after getting her first win of the year. She defeated Tommy Johnson in the final elimination, running at a speed of 330.96 miles per hour with an ET of 3.906 seconds. She did that starting from the 10th spot to begin the day.
"I am very resilient, that is the way I was raised. You never give up and the last two years have been really difficult. Lots of ups and downs with injuries, no wins, and not being able to get up to speed with everyone else," Dejoria said.
"You start to lose yourself in it and you forget why you even came here, and you forget the love that you had at the beginning and that is sad. I never want to lose that but honestly it is times like that that make this so much better."
Dejoria's first round of the day came against No. 7 qualifier Tim Wilkerson. Dejoria ran an ET of 4.46 and she lost traction about at about the 600 foot mark, but Wilkerson did so earlier in the run and wasn't able to catch up. The big upset of the day was No. 15 Cruz Pedregon getting the win over Matt Hagan when Hagan's engine stopped after the burnout.
That matched Dejoria up against Pedregon. Dejoria completed her best pass of the weekend with a time of 3.883, while Pedregon's engine went out about halfway down the track. That brought a semi-final match-up against John Force. In a great side by side race Dejoria won by a margin of 3.892 to 3.909 over force to put her in the final elimination.
"We are not trying to rotate the earth we are just trying to get better and better every run," Dejoria said. "When I get confident watch out because I get the blinders on, dead focused. When I went up against John Force (in the semi-finals) I felt like it was Indy 2014 finals all the way. I just had that drive again and nothing could faze me. I just have an incredible team and I can't say enough about them."
Dejoria's opponent in the final elimination was Tommy Johnson Jr., who defeated Jonnnie Lindberg, Courtney Force, and qualifier Robert High to get to the final elimination round.
Starting on the left side, Dejoria trailed off of the starting line, but was in front by a little over a tenth of a second at the 660 foot mark and held on for the win with a margin of 3.906 to 3.933.
The win put Dejoria in the "Countdown for the Championship" in the 10th position with just one race to go. She will need to defend that spot in two weeks at Indianapolis.
"All day long going up against a bunch of bad-ass drivers that have been driving way longer than I have been alive, except for Tommy (Johnson Jr.)," Dejoria said. "There were no gimmees. We got a little lucky against Tim (Wilkerson) in the first round and that was what we needed was a good break."
Eighteen-year-old Tanner Gray is a star on the rise in the Pro Stock class. The No.1 qualifier in the Pro Stock class heading into Sunday is the son of Shane Gray, and grandson of former Funny Car driver Johnny Gray.
Gray is the leading candidate for the rookie of the year honors for 2017 and he did nothing to hurt his chances with a win over points leader Bo Butner. Butner did clinch the top spot in the "Countdown to the Championship" and is attempting to win it with a leased car.
Running at a speed of 208.04 miles per hour, Gray got the jump on Butner at the starting line and never trailed, winning by a margin of 6.610 to 6.629 for his fourth win of the season.
"The guys have a handle on this car the last few races and they are making my job a lot easier and I am just blessed to be sitting in the driver's seat," Gray said of his win.
"I wouldn't be here without my dad, grandpa, and my mom. If you would have told me that I would win four races my first year I would have said you were crazy. We definitely have something clicking and it is coming together at the right time."
Gray defeated Erica Enders in round two after getting a bye in the first round. Enders is now 0-4 against Gray overall. That brought a semi-final match-up against hometown favorite Jason Line. Gray was two-tenths of a second better off the starting line and made it stick for the win to put himself in the final elimination.
The other semi-final had Butner up against Anderson. In a interesting twist, Butner's engine is supplied by Anderson and Line. However, the side-by-side race never happened as Anderson was early leaving the light tree, putting Butner into the finals.
Gray now holds a 4-0 advantage over Butner—all in final elimination races—for the season.
Two weeks from now Johnny Gray will be back racing at Indianapolis, and Tanner is looking forward to being part of a racing weekend for three generations of drivers.
"That will be a lot of fun and the first time getting to race my grandpa," Gray said. "I have raced my dad over the years but I am really looking forward to that. Hopefully we can give my grandpa a good car so he could go out there and win it. I think that would be cooler than me winning it."
Pro Stock Motorcycle
Jerry Savoie and LE Tonglet are part of the same racing team, and the two drivers went up against each other in the Pro Stock Motorcycle final elimination.
Savoie earned his way into the finals with wins over Mike Berry, Angie Smith and Matt Smith.
Tonglet defeated Steve Johnson, Cory Reed and Andrew Hines to make it into the final round.
"Before the final we both wished each other good luck and to go have some fun and be the best we can be," Savoie said. "LE is a great rider so when you can beat him that says a lot."
Savoie led the run from start to finish and defeated Tonglet for the "Wally," running at a speed of 194.80 miles per hour. The time difference was 6.846 to 6.910 in favor of Savoie, who picked up his second win of the season.
"LE is solid as a rock so when you beat him it's kind of rewarding. He has taught me a lot and I have taught him some things and we thrive and bring out the best out of each other."
Savoie also gave credit to their crew chief, Tim Kulungian, who works with both Savoie and Tonglet. Savoice relayed an interesting conversation that the three had before the final race.
"Tim is one humble individual. He takes everything to heart and doesn't take it for granted. He wants to be better," Savoie said. "Before the final round LE was pointing out how good this was that we were both in the finals and Tim asked LE if he was happy how he ran and LE said yes. Tim said, 'Well I'm not.' It is never enough for him. We have a really close family. When you drag race and you are clicking it shows on the track. That is my family away from home and I love them a lot."