World's Fastest Women Eye Countdown to the Championship
It's that time of year again, when only a couple of races remain on the 2019 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing calendar before the Countdown to the Championship begins. No doubt, female athletes have broken into the mainstream of the National Hot Rod Association's premiere divisions and they are here to stay.
Whereas other motorsports have seemingly lagged behind, the NHRA has seen female drivers rise to the top in NHRA Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle. One thing is for certain, nothing is going to hold these women back as each seek to build upon her own racing legend in the exciting sport of drag racing.
TOP FUEL NITRO
Top Fuel dragsters are 25 feet long, weigh 2320 pounds in race-ready trim, put out nearly 11,000 H.P. and burn methanol with 90% nitromethane as the standard racing fuel. Also called diggers, Leah Pritchett driver of the MOPAR Top Fuel dragster claimed her first victory of 2019 in the 17th round of 24 events scheduled for the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series. Pitchett, whose father chased land-speed records at Bonneville Salt Flats, had numerous rides before landing with the legendary Don Schumacher Racing.
In addition to Pritchett, Brittany Force, who became the second female racer to win an NHRA Top Fuel title in 2017, has qualified for the 2019 Countdown. The other female to win a Top Fuel championship was the legendary Shirley Muldowney who claimed three NHRA NItro titles. Known as the "First Lady of Drag Racing", Muldowney was the first woman to secure an NHRA license in the 70s and went on to become one of the stars of the sport regardless of gender. A member of the Motorsports Hall of Fame, ESPN ranked her twenty-first on its list of Top 25 Drivers of All Time.
FUNNY CAR NITRO
The winningest female Funny Car driver in NHRA history, Courtney Force announced early this year that she was climbing out of the driver’s seat of her 11,000-hp, 330-mph John Force Racing Advance Auto Parts Chevy Camaro SS Funny Car. A Top 10 finisher in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series in six of her seven professional seasons, Courtney claimed twelve Wallys and was runner-up seventeen times with twenty-eight Number One qualifiers to her credit in 167 NHRA Funny Car events.
Courtney was the second of John Force's daughters to step out of a Funny Car early in her career. Ashley Force Hood retired prior to the 2011 season. After winning the NHRA U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis to become the first woman to win the Funny Car class there, Ashley retired after two seasons. In 2007, however, she was voted the Hottest Athlete by an AOL Sports Poll, beating out the likes of Tom Brady and Danica Patrick.
PRO STOCK & PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE
The 2019 NHRA Mello Yellow Drag Racing Series hasn't gone exactly like two-time Pro Stock Champion Erica Enders had hoped. After the first ten Pro Stock races this season, there have been six different winners but Enders was not one of them. Off of the "Tree", Enders is as fast or faster than she has ever been. Mechanical demons have plagued the team's efforts in Pro Stock. Enders has clinched her spot in the Countdown, however.
You cannot talk about the fastest women in the NHRA without including Angelle Sampey with 42 National wins and 73 Final Round appearances. The Louisiana native returned to the NHRA after a five-year hiatus and currently sits ninth in points. Angie Smith, wife of world champion Matt Smith, has one career win and sits in sixth place but has not clinched her berth. Nevada-resident Karen Stoffer is currently fifth in points with eight career wins in twenty-one Pro Stock Motorcycle finals.
The National Hot Rod Association has truly set the bar for gender-equal competition that would have otherwise been considered "too macho" for female competitors. That's not to say all the opportunities are the same for men and women. There is still work to be done in that area. Nonetheless, it does break the traditional mold that men have a much faster reaction time or that female drivers would never be able to handle the explosive speed in NHRA's premiere division. Leah Pritchett's win in Top Fuel at Brainerd brings the total win count for women drivers to 147 races at 17 different National events. Nine different women drivers have claimed Top Fuel titles, and nine NHRA Championships have been won by female drivers.
Photo courtesy of Leah Pritchett Facebook