When qualifying for the Dodge NHRA Nationals at Las Vegas Motor Speedway began Friday, four women were front and center in taut title battles with two races left in the Countdown for the Championship.
In any other form of motor sports, that would be a big deal.
In drag racing, it’s pretty much a common occurrence.
“Correct,” said Leah Pritchett, driver of the Mopar Dodge Top Fuel dragster, who sits fifth in championship points and is within striking distance of defending champion and Countdown leader Steve Torrence. “I believe it’s because NHRA doesn’t have to (harp) on diversity in our sport because it naturally is there.
“When a female wins, it’s been happening for a long time.”
It has been happening since 1976, when Shirley Muldowney won her first Top Fuel race. The “First Lady of Drag Racing” earned the first of her three championships a year later.
And it happened again Friday at LVMS when Brittany Force, who in 2017 became the second woman to win the Top Fuel title, set a national record in qualifying with a speed of 338.17 mph.
The list goes on and on. Pro Stock points leader Erica Enders won championships in 2014 and 2015. Angelle Sampey won three in a row in Pro Stock Motorcycle from 2001 to 2003.
A woman has never won the Funny Car championship, but in 2014, Courtney Force beat Cruz Pedregon in the final at Kansas to notch the 100th NHRA victory by a woman.
In Formula One, NASCAR and IndyCar, there has been only one — Danica Patrick’s triumph in an IndyCar race in Japan in 2008.
“Do we emphasize that a little bit? Sure,” said Pritchett, who became a full-time Top Fuel driver in 2016 and notched her eighth career victory this season. “But that’s mainly because it’s emphasized by everybody else, and maybe the other sports are a little bit behind the times.”
Meanwhile, the NHRA continues to set the diversity standard.
The Mello Yello Drag Racing Series has welcomed an Arab sheik (Khalid bin Hamad Al Thani) as a team owner and has witnessed drivers of many persuasions and ethnicities compete for and win championships. This season’s field at the Gatornationals in Florida included a record-tying 11 women.
“I will say as a female driver, I haven’t highlighted it,” said Pritchett, framing her long blond hair between her hands for effect. “(But) I don’t feel bad anymore empowering these little girls to race just because I’m a female. It stands for something.”
Brittany Force was all smiles after earning the provisional pole with her national record speed run, as her elapsed time of 3.659 seconds also was a LVMS record.
“I knew at the other end (of the track) that was freakin’ fast,” said 16-time Funny Car champion John Force’s oldest racing daughter, who also set the national record for fastest Top Fuel E.T. this season in Reading, Pennsylvania. “That was a killer run.”
J.R. Todd, 3.856 at 333.58 in Funny Car; Enders, 6.586 at 208.46 in Pro Stock; and Matt Smith, 6.842 at 198.64 in Pro Stock Motorcycle; were the other pacesetters on an ideal day for fast times and speeds. Smith’s marks were LVMS records, and Jack Beckman’s 335.90 mph pass was a track Funny Car speed record.
Dodge NHRA Nationals
12:45 p.m.: Pro Stock qualifying
1:30: Nitro qualifying
3:30: Pro Stock qualifying
4:15: Nitro qualifying
11 a.m.: Round 1 eliminations
1 p.m.: Round 2 eliminations
2: Semifinal eliminations
3:40: Final eliminations
Tickets: Starting at $44 at lvms.com