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January 27, 2016

Leah Pritchett

SCOTT SPEED: Next up we have Leah Pritchett, new driver of the C&J Energy Services dragster. She enters the season in her first full season of competition and her fifth year on the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Tour. She'll team up with Dave Connolly at the aforementioned Bob Vandergriff Motorsports, and last year she raced to one runner‑up finish along with one semifinal appearance.
Leah, how fulfilling is it coming into this year having it set, having it in place, and being with Vandergriff this season?
LEAH PRITCHETT: Well, thank you I want to say for having me on this teleconference, to everybody that has tuned in.
To answer that question, I wish I could say that it means the world, but I think it really just means the universe, to finally be at the same level competitively and run a full season for my first year finally in Top Fuel. It is a dream come true professionally, personally, and beyond just the race car itself, which has been proven to be a very competitive car, the crew that I have and I'm able to work with, and Bob as the team owner that I've known him to be, as crewman, to be the boss and the leader that I enjoy and am growing to learn under.
Everything has definitely come all together, and you know, it took me a while, even though I was a very critical and crucial part of having this deal come together, when it finally became real, really when the press release came out Thursday of PRI‑‑ I have to say I'm above and beyond the moon for sure, and I can't wait to finally get some nitro, because this has been not only the longest off‑season for me but I think for the entire NHRA Mello Yello series, specifically nitro, it's our longest off‑season because of when our testing happens, not going to West Palm and pushing testing to Phoenix closer to Pomona elongates your off‑season, which makes your on‑season more crucial. You're going out for eventually what you would call a two‑race swing with a full week of testing, so essentially a three‑race swing, instead of going to West Palm, testing out some new things, coming back home, finish branding your items and seeing if your things worked or not. Really when we go out west, you bring it all.

Q. Over the past couple of years, you have been expending a lot of your personal energy on seeking out marketing partners, doing things with a team that was a part‑time team, which were doing a great job for what they had, but now it would seem that you, with a great primary sponsor and a great team like Bob Vandergriff, are going to have more time and energy. How are you going to reallocate that to make your team better, make yourself better, now that you will not be knocking on doors and sending out proposals and doing all the things behind the scenes to try to get this position? Now that you have it, what are you going to do with the extra time and energy?
LEAH PRITCHETT: That is a wonderful question, and I thought the same thing, too, that there would be more time. But it is just in my inherent nature, and because I don't know anything else but to continue furthering myself, so just because I finally do get to be with a top‑notch team and run all the races, just from an ambition standpoint, in my mind it's always what's next, and so we do have Quaker State and Shell, and I couldn't be more proud to represent those brands throughout this season, but at the same time I want to rejuvenate and vitalize Bob Vandergriff racing as a brand, myself as a brand, see what more cool content I can now create for the fans to get them more engaged with our team at the races, see what more I can do with FOX.
I guess that's what I'm doing with my time. At this point I'm focusing on what more new partners that align with myself and our team can we bring on for the season.
As everybody knows, our cars run on nitromethane and we joke all the time they run on dollars, and it's important for me that whatever we give back that our value is for our partners that we created to be so exponential and blow it out of the water that we have partners for life.
For me it's always ‑‑ it seems like when you're climbing a mountain, for instance, right; I don't know if you guys go on hikes and you climb a mountain and you think you see the top of the mountain, and you get there and you hike up it, and you're like, oh, this feels great, just to see there's another mountain behind it just because you were so far back, that's kind of how I see it. I'm a hiker, I'm a climber, and in an all positive way.
I enjoy challenges. I enjoy moving forward, so definitely more than content isn't even the word to explain what I feel right now.
But I think I thrive on pressure. I thrive on performance, and so with my team, with Joe Barlam and Mike Guger they've got that down. They are professionals and they are going to give me the car that has been proven to be a top‑5 finishing car. I still do burden myself with making sure that I continue to create the fun stress to do what we know and love, in addition to Bob and I, we've had a good friendship for a number of years, and he was actually the first one to ever teach me what B‑to‑B means, I don't know, maybe eight years ago, business to business, and I enjoy working with him because we share the same mental attitude, right? We know that the crew members and the team are good at that, and we know what we need to work on to maintain.
We actually‑‑ I'm so fortunate, I get to go in the shop every day. I live in Avon, Indiana. The shop is in Brownsburg. My former shop with Dote Racing was about two and a half, three hours away one way, so I get to be there every day. So in the mornings we joke, Mike Guger is like, all right, Leah, I'm spending this money, you keep finding it. So it's a nice circle that we have, and I'm always happy and I'm always going to be a part of it.

Q. Something similar asked to Erica, for the casual channel flippers that we are all hoping tune into NHRA Mello Yello drag racing on FOX Sports in these live broadcasts here in the 2016 season, what do you think off the top of your head may be the least understood or appreciated aspect of the sport of NHRA drag racing that maybe those people as they come on board and flip by and watch the sport need to understand?
LEAH PRITCHETT: What is it that they need to understand? Well, first, when they flip through and they see NHRA Mello Yello Series on this channel that has never been there before, it is my hope that from the production side of things that we create the content that's going to keep them on that channel within, what, we'll have five seconds for them to grasp it? And for me, it's the cars. It doesn't get any more just real than the competition of the race cars and showing from a dynamic technical aspect how difficult it is for us to do what we do.
When you see two dragsters go side by side 330 miles an hour and you have a tenth of a thousandth of a second splitting the win light, that is what I hope for them to see and appreciate and understand, and that does fall on FOX and NHRA's new production, which I'm very confident that they're going to be able to relate that, but that's what I hope that they see.
And of course in addition to the dramatics that we have at the races. There's so much that the fans don't get to see of what happens. Yes, we all pride ourselves on making it to the line and doing our 55‑minute turnarounds when we have to when it comes in the clutch of our live TV, but that's not the prettiest thing all the time. Not everything goes perfect, and we shouldn't be afraid or ashamed to show it, that we might have had a problem or a little bit of a setback or something might not have gone the way that it's going to because that's real, that's life, and that's what I think fans want to see is that it's the struggles and the challenges that it takes, and not everything is perfect all the time.
That's what I hope, and I think if we gave a first quarter‑‑ to be realistic, if we give the first quarter of the year, there's a lot of wrinkles to bubble out, for teams, for getting fans to understand it and find the channel and if they need to change their programming from DirecTV to DISH TV to AT&T or whatever it is, that they find it, and then from there I think we'll be able to better analyze what the health situation is from our TV standpoint.

Q. Leah, as far as you've really kind of touched on this, but as far as adjusting I think probably what race car drivers do best is adjusting, and you're adjusting to new cars, new classes, everything. You're adjusting. Talk a little bit about the adjusting you're going to be doing here, and then to be working with Dave Connolly, who also has done some adjustment in the past at a good rate.
LEAH PRITCHETT: I'm definitely looking forward to the adjustment of adding races. The maximum number of races that I've done in any series was 16 in last year. Having a teammate is the coolest thing in the world. The last time I had one was at R2B2 in Pro Mod where we only ran we 10 races a year, and then the year before that with Melanie. Having Dave, I don't think I could ask for a better one, and yes, he doesn't have the most experience in Top Fuel, but that doesn't matter. He is the most hard‑core hearted drag racer, and at the end of the day, that's what it takes to put on the win lights, and he's already shown that.
So I'm looking forward to the conversations that he and I are going to have from a driving standpoint on the daily, just even if it's small little talks to really big things of what works for you, this is what I find works for me, well, what about you.
You know what was cool is a couple weeks ago I got in his car just because we were seeing how different our cars are, and he has an MLR chassis, I have a Hadman chassis, and we're in the works of a backup car, and we need to make sure that potentially both of us fit in it, so it's small details. I got in his car, and I fell in love with the way that he had his pedals set up, and I said, that's what I've been searching for for the past three years was the angle he had, the mounting location, his spring setup. Everything I loved, and so right then and there, we talked about it with Jake and my crew chiefs Joe and Mike Guger, and I said, you know, I really feel like this is what's going to work for me. We turned it around, and I never would have been able to do that if I didn't have a team car to sit in and see what I really want.
Now, I have yet to hit the throttle with the motor turning yet, but I felt like that's what I'm going to need, and it's very cool to be able to have a teammate again and to root for somebody and to have a whole other team, as well, not just one other driver, but the nine, ten crew members that he has work collaboratively together, that really brings home the whole team atmosphere.

Q. You were just talking a second ago about the pedals and everything, and I think it's interesting that something as seemingly minute as that you feel is going to give you a better chance on the racetrack and everything. Is that part of what you guys need to convey, too, in the new TV package is just drag racing looks so simple on its face, but there's so many nuances to it that aren't being brought out all the time, don't you think?
LEAH PRITCHETT: I definitely would think so, but I think where that challenge lies is given no matter what team it is, DSR, JFR, BVR, there are some things maybe they are hesitant to show because they don't want the other team to find out when it comes out on TV. But when it comes, let's just talk about pedals real quick. When it comes to that, I could look at Antron Brown's pedal right now and be like, that won't work for me. It obviously works very, very well for him. So it's about comfort levels, and our driving compartment is very small and there's not a lot you can do. You need to make sure that you're not messing with the throttle cable linkage in movement. We now have Bimba cylinders because of our pan pressure shutoffs, which is new this year. So there's a lot of changes. The way I had my heel cup, probably nobody else runs it in the series, which would be cool to see and highlight. I don't have a problem with it, and that's probably because my number one priority is making sure that the fans can see and appreciate and are involved in our sport as much as possible because I'm a fan, too, of the sport. I'd want to see that stuff.
I definitely think that there's a lot more detail‑oriented things with the race car as well as a drama aspect between racers, and team relations that can be highlighted this year, and I know that FOX and NHRA has already started to do that as they have done a couple different shop visits, including our own.

Q. Does your preparation now focus change this year because you're racing a full season?
LEAH PRITCHETT: You know, I have to say that it's a little uncharted territory, so my preparation has changed a little bit. I am more in tune, more in focus with just my physical ability and mental ability, and something that I've really paid attention to is compartmentalization, so from the aspect of when we're at the races, we're still not just racing. There's a lot going on with media and sponsors and fans, and that's something that I enjoy, and so I guess I'm practicing that as much as possible.
Turning your light switch on and getting in business mode and trying to make deals happen and provide value and plan out marketing campaigns and turning that light switch off to turn on your race car light switch and walk out and start working on the race car with a team and start having race car conversations, which is the absolute funnest part of the day.
So from a mental focus standpoint, I guess that's what I'm working on. And at the end of the day, the thing that really gets me going and gets my blood pumping is just knowing that finally a real shot at the Countdown, a real shot at getting into the Traxxas Shootout, and yes, we have high expectations of our team, but I'm very humble to be in a race car that a former three‑time champion was in, but I'm realistic that I'm going to be showing my capabilities this year, and we hope for the best results, and we do expect to have a couple W's and have Wallies at the end of some of the weekends.
But I don't really know how to explain it except for I'm giving it my all. This team has got my back. They're giving me their all, and that's something I couldn't ask anything more from.

Q. Does that put more or less pressure on you?
LEAH PRITCHETT: Oh, I'm sure more. I put a whole bunch of pressure on my own self.
No, nobody is putting any more pressure on me, and I've always put a lot of pressure on myself to make the most of the limited number of races that I've done before, knowing that I would be looked at or working with partners that were trying to get us to that full‑time schedule. So I think mentally I've always put my pressure on myself.
When I was racing Nostalgia Funny Cars before I ever got into a Fuel car, I would pretend at that time when I was talking with Don Schumacher, I would pretend in my mind when I would do my burnout and back up and stage with the car that Don Schumacher was right behind me looking at me to be a potential driver, and then eventually I did get to get my license with him and I am forever grateful for that, but I always try and up my pressure for this day, so this day has now come, so I guess we'll all just see, including myself, how this season is going to go.
I feel very confident, and that's in large part to what Bob has been able to do from a team owner standpoint, from our sponsors, and of course what Joe Barlam and Mike Guger have proven in the past. They bring a lot of confidence to us, and my plan is to bring my skill set and composure and at the end of the day, like I said, putting on those win lights is number one.
SCOTT SPEED: Leah, thank you very much for taking the time out of your day for joining us and we will see you in Pomona February 11 through the 14th.
LEAH PRITCHETT: Absolutely. Thank you. See you then.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

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