Part 2: SCHUMACHER RACING TEAM SIGNED REDLANDS ROCKET

Redlands Connection is a concoction of sports memories emanating from a city that once numbered less than 20,000 people. From the Super Bowl to the World Series, from the World Cup to golf’s U.S. Open, plus NCAA Final Four connections, Tour de France cycling, major tennis, NBA and a little NHL, aquatics and quite a bit more, the sparkling little city that sits around halfway between Los Angeles and Palm Springs on Interstate 10 has its share of sports connections. – Obrey Brown

By 2016, one of racing’s premier teams, Don Schumacher Racing, signed her. All of which means Leah Pritchett’s getting top crew support, best chances to win, plus top-level sponsorships.

It costs big bucks every time she makes a pass on a drag racing strip.

As for her spot in the sport, consider that Leah was battling right up to the final month for a season championship. Four wins. 2,452 points. Just 238 points behind series champion Brittany Force.

Force won the title. Gary Pritchett’s team driven by Steve Torrence, took runner-up. Doug Kalitta and 2016 champion Antron Brown took 3-4 in the standings.

Leah’s season was remarkably consistent.

LEAH PRITCHETT (leahpritchett.com)
The Papa John’s-sponsored Redlands Rocket, Leah Pritchett, celebrates another victory. She’s had five Top Fuel triumphs, which is the fastest of the four NHRA divisions. Pritchett has appeared in national commercials for her sponsor. (Photo by LeahPritchett.com).

Langdon, the Mira Loma Meteor, plus eight-time world champion Tony Schumacher, her teammate, finished behind Pritchett in the 2017 driver’s standings.

She’s one of seven women in the top four levels – Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock and Motorcyles – and joins Force as the only two in the sport’s fastest division.

Leah has earned her place in a field where Shirley Muldowney carted away the first championship by a woman back in 1977.

She beat Kalitta in the Winternationals finals to kick off 2017 in Pomona.

Two weeks later in Phoenix at Wild Horse Park, Pritchett edged Force in a speed-filled finale.

In Gainesville, Fla., Leah kept beating all comers until Brown, the series champion one year earlier, knocked her off in the semifinals.

She made it three wins over five events, edging her husband’s team driver, Torrence, at the Spring Nationals in Baytown, Texas.

Torrence got back at her in North Carolina, at the National Four-Wide, but Leah posted a weekend-best 3.747-second E.T.

Torrence beat her in the Southern Nationals semifinals again in Commerce, Ga. Again, however, Pritchett’s 3.699 E.T. was low for the weekend, not to mention the weekend’s best reaction time, 0.23-second.

She’s fast. Quick-triggered. And consistent.

You can’t turn her off, though. She made it past all comers to reach the Heartland Nationals in Topeka, Kan., losing to Brown in the semifinals.

In New England, she posted the best R.T. (0.36), getting beat by Brown in the semifinals. He lost to Force, who has been building up a points reservoir halfway through the season.

At the Summer Nationals at Englishtown, N.J., Schumacher got her in the opening round. Her R.T. (0.46) in that first-round loss, though, was best of the weekend.

The Redlands Connection keeps making a splash at every stop, it seems.

At the Bristol (Conn.) Dragway, her 3.798 E.T. was best of the weekend, knocking off Troy Coughlin, Jr., Scott Palmer and Norco’s Langdon to reach the finals against Clay Millican, who won despite Leah’s better 0.58 R.T.

Leah reached the semifinals in Ohio.

At the Mile High Nationals in Bendimere, Colo., Leah beat Coughlin, Millican and Schumacher to square off against Brown in the finals. Brown, but the numbers were eerily similar – Pritchett’s 324 mph was faster, but Brown had the edge on R.T. (0.47 to 0.59) and E.T. (3.792 to 3.816).

Talk about consistency.

On Aug. 20 at Brainerd (Minn.) Raceway, Leah scored season victory No. 4 – Passey, Palmer and Millican – before squaring off against Brown again. She won with a 328 mph pass, notching her fifth career Wally.

At Lucas Raceway in Indianapolis, Torrence beat Leah in the semifinals, but she posted a weekend low 3.711 E.T. after beating Wayne Newby and Pat Dakin.

She posted the top speed (332.75 mph) in Madison, Ill., but she was stopped in the second round by Torrence, the eventual champion.

Force, the eventual Top Fuel champion, beat Leah in the semifinals at The Strip in Las Vegas, but the two put on quite a speed duel – 329 to 323, 0.77 to 0.93 (R.T.) and 3.714 to 3.754.

At the season finale in Pomona, it was a full force of speed with every Top Fuel team gunning for a showcase victory.

Force edged Langdon in the finals at the Auto Club Raceway. Leah was beaten by Langdon in a second round speed showdown in which the Mira Loma Meteor sizzled just past the Redlands Rocket.

The Redlands Connection racer, who turns 30 in May, is still alive on the Top Fuel circuit. The season kicks off this week.

Watch www.redlandsconnection.com for season updates.