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Pritchett Muscles Challenger Drag Pak To NHRA Factory Showdown World Championship Title

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Text and Photos by David Hakim

The supercharged HEMI powered Mopar Dodge Challenger Drag Paks may have been hauling 50 more pounds than the Cobra Jets and COPOs in the next lane, but you’d never know it. For Don Schumacher Racing (DSR) driver Leah Pritchett and her Dodge/SRT/Mopar backed machine, she came on strong during the last three races of the NHRA SAM Tech Factory Stock Showdown (FSS) to claim the 2018 world championship title during the AAA Texas NHRA FallNationals at the Texas Motorplex.

Even though the ending of the season wasn’t quite like a Cinderella story, Pritchett and the rest of the Mopar Drag Pak camp got hit with that weight penalty immediately following the Chevrolet Performance NHRA U.S. Nationals at Indy in effort to slow the Mopars down and create “parody” among the three brands. When Pritchett and Mopar/DSR teammate Mark Pawuk cut through the field of Cobra Jets and COPOs like a blowtorch through butter during the NHRA US Nats, the factory reps from the opposing camps began to take notice. Forget how well the Mopars ran in qualifying, it was after three rounds of eliminations that saw both DSR Drag Pak drivers facing each other in the finals with Pritchett getting win. The DSR Drag Pak crew, led by former Stock Eliminator champ Kevin Helms, did their intelligence and studied the weakness of the enemy camps. With engineering support from SRT, the Drag Paks went on a search and destroy mission for anything wearing a Bowtie or Blue Oval. This was an unholy terror campaign and retribution for the Challengers for having their butts handed to them during the last two hotly contest seasons of the dog-eat-dog FSS series.

In true drag racing drama, the Factory Stock Showdown championship would come down to the final stop of the seven race schedule that began in Gainesville at the NHRA Gatornationals and concluded in October during the NHRA FallNationals in Dallas. It would be semifinal rounds to determine if Pritchett’s Drag Pak would come from the number-two spot with 327 points in the chase and win the whole shooting match. Standing in her way was a pair of red COPO Camaros driven by Stephen Bell and Arthur Kohn, ready to give their LS powered machines everything they had to stop the charging HEMI’s march through the eliminations. Both Chevy drivers were the current points leaders with 328 and Leah would have to get past one or both Camaros to get the big Wally.

The 16-car qualified FSS field uses a Sportsman ladder to determine eliminations and since the final qualifying session was cancelled due to thunderstorms rolling through central Texas, Pritchett would head into to round-one of eliminations from the number ten spot. Pritchett’s HEMI Drag Pak, nicknamed “El Bandito!”, fire the opening salvo against Aaron Stanfield’s COPO Camaro and put him on the trailer with a stout 8.079-second ET at 169.64 mph. It would be Pritchett’s quickest run of the weekend that saw bi-polar track and weather conditions.

In the quarterfinals, Pritchett’s supercharged HEMI Drag Pak would advance as she faced another COPO, this one driven by Randy Taylor. As both cars lined up and staged Taylor had what appeared to be line-lock issues and rolled the beams, instantly handing the win to Pritchett’s Challenger Drag Pak. That didn’t stop Pritchett from making a stout run of 8.106 but the full-time Top Fuel Dragster driver didn’t run it out the back door and clicked her machine off early well before the stripe.

This would then set up a dramatic semifinal match up with the co-point’s leader Stephen Bell. With Pritchett trailing by a single point, she lined-up against Bell put a holeshot on the COPO with a 0.038-second reaction time. The Drag Pak crossed the finished line first with a 8.107-second run at 169.00 mph to the COPO’s struggling 9.65-second pass at 101.23 as Bell got out the groove before half-track. The nine-inch slicks threw in the towel and begged for mercy as 1000 plus horsepower on a hot drag strip will do that sometimes.

As Pritchett and Bell clear the traps, the next pair lined-up, Arthur Kohn in his COPO Camaro, and number-one qualifier Kevin Skinner in his sinister looking black Cobra Jet Mustang. Kohn needed to win this round to stay in the hunt for the championship because if beaten by Skinner, Pritchett would be the 2018 Factory Stock Showdown world champ. At flash of green, Skinner left the line first with a .027 reaction time to Kohn’s .036 light. The Mustang was ahead but the Camaro’s coming on hard and inhaling real estate really quick. When the top end scoreboards lit up, both cars ran identical 8.13-second times, but it was the Mustang that got the win light due to Skinner’s baby holeshot despite the Camaro running big speed on the top end. The margin of victory between the two was 0.0023-seconds, or approximately seven inches of the Mustang’s nose ahead of the Camaro.

Never in the history of drag racing has the Mopar crowd cheered this much for a Ford to win.

The Factory Stock Showdown world championship declared but there was little time to take it all in as Pritchett and her crew had to get ready for the final round against Skinner. In the final round, Pritchett chose the right lane and was driving like the FSS world title was still on the line even though the big Wally was already hers. As the tree went green, her Mopar Dodge Challenger Drag Pak blasted off the starting line of the Texas Motorplex with a commanding 8.106-second pass at 169.02 mph to Skinner’s 9.697-second effort that saw his Mustang get squirrelly on the greasy track. The win would be Pritchett’s third consecutive victory in the 2018 Factory Stock Showdown series.

“This championship ranks at the top of the list,” said Pritchett. “I might be holding this Wally right now, but 100% this is Dodge, Mopar, Pennzoil and the technology they pour into this class. I just get to drive the car. For Kevin Helms, Terry Snyder, all of Don Schumacher Racing, powered by Pennzoil of course, this is absolutely incredible. We came in with a chance to win the championship, but our mentality was one round, one burnout, one line at a time and that’s what it took, so thank you to everyone that made this happen. I know I probably speak for the whole class, but a huge thank you to SAM Tech for sponsoring the Factory Stock Showdown Series. It’s really become one of the most exciting, grassroots classes out here.  I get to hold it, but this Wally is definitely going home to Mopar.”

The NHRA SAM Tech Factory Stock Showdown series is over but for Pritchett, she’s still in the hunt for the NHRA Mello Yello Top Fuel Championship. Regardless how the rest of the season turns out for her, she’s already a world champion.


Mike Galimi
Mike Galimi
Mike Galimi is the Director of Content & Marketing at ProMedia Publishing and Events with nearly 20 years of experience in motorsport writing and photography.
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