PRITCHETT – GARY – EYES FUNNY CAR RIDE
Drag-racing fans, especially throughout last season, have enjoyed the story line about Top Fuel ace Leah Pritchett being married to the man who preps the critical clutches for her chief rival, Steve Torrence. But Gary Pritchett someday could end up racing his wife. Actually, it’s more likely he would be trying with her to score a double championship, for her in a dragster and himself in a Funny Car.
Gary Pritchett has been involved in Top Fuel racing for 11 seasons, and with Torrence’s Capco Contractors Dragster team for seven years. One of his biggest joys was helping Torrence earn his first pro victory, in 2012 at Atlanta. (It wasn’t that long ago, but it was when the Top Fuel class included fulltime drivers Khalid al-Balooshi, Brandon Bernstein, Dave Grubnic, Shawn Langdon, Morgan Lucas, Spencer Massey, Cory McClenathan, JR Todd, Bob Vandergriff, and Hillary Will.)
His hands, literally, are in a Top Fuel dragster, but his heart is in Funny Car. He has a Top Fuel license, and he would drive a dragster if he has the chance, but he said, “I’ve always wanted to do a Funny Car. Actually, I wouldn’t choose. If the opportunity came, I’m not going to pick. I’d drive either one. I’m really pursuing it. Oh yeah. That’s the reason I’ve been out here since I was 19 in fuel racing.”
And he came close to his longtime dream during the offseason. A deal that would have put him on the track this season didn’t materialize. But Pritchett said he’s patient.
“A lot of rumors were going around. There was a rumor about a certain food company [as his sponsor], and that was nothing ever really going to happen. If it’s meant to be, it’s meant to be,” he said. “It’s going to happen one day. I want to drive a nitro Funny Car. That’s all I’ve ever wanted to do. I will one day. Got to have money. Got to find sponsors.
“I still race all the time with [IHRA Funny Car icon] Bunny Burkett,” he said of his godmother. “I’m going home this Easter Sunday and racing at Waynesboro, Virginia, East Side Speedway. We do that every year. It’s like a little family tradition. She always hides a little Easter basket for me. It’s something we do. I ran Jonnie Lindberg’s Alcohol car at that one event, just trying to stay out there. With this, it’s so busy you don’t really have time. That’s the biggest thing.”
Finding funding is particularly tough, considering he’s pursuing it on his own.
Pritchett said he loves his job with the Top Fuel car, and he loves his teammates. That’s why he took it as hard as Torrence when the gritty Texan finished second in the final standings, 81 points behind Brittany Force. (“In Pomona we lost it,” he said of the championship. “Somebody else won it, and it was there for the taking. In 2016, we finished third, in 2017 we finished second, now 2018 might be [the year we’re] meant to finish No. 1.”)
So if he’s successful, such an opportunity would be bittersweet for Pritchett.
“I love it here, you know? If I can’t drive one [a fuel car] I want to work on them. I get the same feeling when the win light comes on, when you’re on the team with a bunch of guys you love and work with. Like, these guys I’ve worked with for like four years solid. The newest guy might have a minimum of 10 years on this team. We like to do burnouts. We like to do golf cart wheelies. We do a lot of fun stuff. The Lagana brothers [Bobby and Dom] are brothers to me. Dom lives with Leah and me when we’re home at the shop. So, we’re all pretty close.
“That’s why for me to leave this team, it would have to be a driving opportunity,” Pritchett said.
He said he might start his driving career in a dragster. “Maybe one day I’ll drive the Ninja [the Laganas’ Nitro Ninja Dragster] at a race or something. You never know.” That could pit him against his wife, making them the first married couple since John “Bode” Smith and wife Rhonda Hartman-Smith to square off against one another in the Top Fuel class. That’s not his goal, though. And for right now, his job and his focus is to help Torrence steamroll through the Top Fuel class at the most opportune time this season.
“We’ve got something to prove this year,” Pritchett said.