The only obstacle standing between Leah Pruett and her Top Fuel license is one run.
Pruett made three runs earlier this week behind the wheel of the Dote Racing dragster. Two were impressive and one not so impressive when the engine dropped a cylinder early in the run forcing her to abort the attempt. She ran a 4.08 best on a shut-off run.
Pruett has proven her worth over the last three years as a driver of the most volatile breeds of drag racing vehicles. She has a series championship behind the wheel of a Nostalgia Nitro Funny Car, established herself as a multi-time event winner in Pro Modified and is currently a licensed Full Throttle Funny Car driver.
Driving a dragster presented a different kind of challenge for Pruett, whose dragster experience is limited to a Super Comp rail while training at Frank Hawley’s Drag Racing School.
Monday in St. Louis, Pruett experienced a new way to drive a nitro car.
“The key word right there is definitely finesse,” said Pruett. “You can talk to multiple drivers and ask all day long what it’s like to drive it, but at the end of the day it is definitely the most finessed car that I’ve driven. The front end … it’s just real light, and it’s really just a world’s difference from Funny Car.”
Pruett admits before she made the first pass she was mentally prepared for the extreme difference between driving a Funny Car and a dragster.
“I told myself if it makes any movement [the steering has] just got to be real slight and as soon as I left the line it kind of washed out right,” said Pruett describing her 4.08 planned early shut-off run.
Pruett continued, “Then went back into the groove left, and got about half-track. It’s just exhilarating. There’s no other word to put it except exhilarating. It’s been a full year, probably like 355 days since I’ve been in a Fuel car, since Redding [last year] was the last time I was in a nitro car, with a Funny Car … and it really is, they really are a lot different. But I’ve got to say I absolutely loved it and I can’t wait for my next run.”
Days after the experience, Pruett still found herself reveling in what appears to be a freer cockpit than she’s experienced before in her career.
“It’s definitely different being so low to the ground,” Pruett said. “Pro Mods very low, but even a Nitro car sits inches away from the ground and ‘seeing everything through just a big windshield and then if you look up a little bit you can see everything that’s not vibrating but everything through the windshield’s vibrating and you can definitely see a lot more.
“I’m not quite sure if that’s good or bad; because all you really need to see is the groove and the hand that’s in front of you telling you to move forward.”
Racing with the engine behind her is likewise something she’s very excited about as she prepares for a new career path. Instead of detecting problems as she sees them appear in her line of sight, she’s having to rely on the seat of the pants and feel to be her gauge.
“Everything, from the warm up you’re not sure exactly what they’re doing behind you,” said Pruett. “You know what they’re doing. You just can’t see it, the same with everything else. You’re staring down the track. It gives you more time, I think, to really focus on the groove and to focus on your surroundings and how far you have to move forward to the tree and the poles and everything because that’s all you have to look at.”
Pruett said Larry Dixon, the current Dote Racing driver, was extremely helpful in her licensing procedures.
“He offered a few pointers,” said Pruett.
The most informative, she conveyed, was in reminding her the lessons she learned in a Funny car will still be applicable.
“As soon as you get in the car you’ll know what to do, 'it’s just like a funny car just bigger and everything’ he goes and the clutch comes in the same and you’ll get it,” Pruett recalled from the conversation. “And he seemed real confident. I thought it was pretty cool he paused to come out and he had a flight later that morning, but he made sure to come out for my first run.”
Weather permitting on Monday; she hopes the past NHRA champion will return to watch her seal the deal.
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