Leah Pritchett lit the candles on her Top Fuel dragster Friday evening and piloted to the top of the category for both qualifying sessions at the 54th annual Auto Club NHRA Finals at Auto Club Raceway.
Tommy Johnson Jr. (Funny Car), Jeg Coughlin Jr. (Pro Stock) and Matt Smith (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were also preliminary qualifiers in their respective categories at the final event of the 2018 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season.
Southern California native Pritchett raced to the top of the Top Fuel class with her 3.649-second pass at 329.34 mph in her Mopar Dodge dragster during the second session. She is seeking to secure her fourth No. 1 qualifying position of the season and 11th of her career.
“When you have this horsepower weather and this time of day you can just feel the energy,” Pritchett stated. “The reason why there’s a smile on our faces is that we were able to execute what we wanted to do. Tomorrow we’re not going to have these same conditions so that’s why we’re excited we were able to capitalize on it tonight.”
Clay Millican is qualified second with his pass of 3.702sec at 327.19 mph in his Great Clips / Parts Plus dragster and three-time world champion Antron Brown is third with his run of 3.704sec at 329.50 mph. 2018 Top Fuel world champion Steve Torrence is qualified fourth as he seeks to make history by sweeping the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Countdown to the Championship events.
Two-time defending event champion Johnson Jr.’s second qualifying run of 3.881sec at 328.54 mph in his Make-A-Wish Dodge Charger R/T locked in the top spot. He is seeking to secure his fourth consecutive No. 1 qualifying position this season.
“It’s incredible they have had such a handle on the car,” said Johnson. “I wish we could get that handle on Sunday but we are pretty close. I’m disappointed we didn’t get it done quick enough in the Countdown but at the same time I’m excited because it is such a good car now. If we can carry that on to next year I would love it.”
Teammate Jack Beckman is in the second spot with his pass of 3.901sec at 323.35 mph while reigning Funny Car world champion Robert Hight sits in the third position. Current points leader J.R. Todd is in the No. 11 spot.
Coughlin Jr., who is currently No. 2 in the Pro Stock points standings, raced his JEGS.com/Elite Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro to a 6.527sec pass at 211.39 mph in the second round of qualifying.
“We made two really nice runs today,” Coughlin Jr. stated. “After Q1 we were on the poll and seeing some of our competitors bettering that mark ahead of us during the last three pair of Pro Stock were lower in the boom. I was concerned with the right lane because a lot of cars were getting loose out there and thought it was going to be tough to improve. When I let the clutch out the car just went singing down the track and it felt great.”
Teammate Erica Enders is currently in the second spot after racing a 6.530sec at 211.39 mph in her Melling Performance/Elite Performance Chevrolet Camaro. Championship points leader Tanner Gray is currently qualified fourth.
In Pro Stock Motorcycle, Smith rode to a track record speed at 200.65 mph at 6.774sec to lead the field on his Elite Motorsports DENSO Auto Parts EBR. Smith was the quickest in both qualifying sessions. Smith is the current category points leader and seeking to extend his lead.
“All in all, it was a good day for us,” Smith said. “We made two passes and were No. 1 for both runs. I got eight bonus points. We just have to go and win the race now and win the championship; no matter what anybody else tell us.”
Hector Arana Jr. qualified second with his pass of 6.824sec at 198.96 mph on his Lucas Oil TV EBR and LE Tonglet is third with his run of 6.828sec at 196.39 mph.
Qualifying at the 54th annual Auto Club NHRA Finals continues Saturday at 12:00 p.m.