GEORGE YARDLEY WAS NBA’S FIRST 2,000-POINT KING

Curiously, there was a direct link from the NBA to the University of Redlands basketball program.

He came in the form of a role player in the late 1979s, early 1980s. His name was Rob Yardley, an outgoing, intelligent and seemingly Christian-living soul. Basketball historians, incidentally, might recognize the name of Yardley.

It was George Yardley who was the first player in history to score 2,000 points in a season. Newport Harbor High School. Stanford. Seventh pick, NBA draft, 1950.

George_Yardley, 1959
George Yardley, wearing the NBA uniform of the old Syracuse Nats, was the league’s top scoring threat until Wilt Chamberlain came into the league. Yardley was the first NBA player to surpass the 2,000-point milestone. (Photo by Wikipedia Commons).

In 1958, Yardley, then of the Detroit Pistons, scored 2,001 points. At 6-5, Yardley was a good-sized forward in 1950’s basketball, and was “an offensive-minded player with a knack for scoring,” he said in his basketball Hall of Fame biography.

Described as a “flamboyant” and “gregarious” player who “never did anything without flair,” Yardley had a stellar seven-year career, making the NBA All-Star team every year except for his rookie season.

He led the Fort Wayne Pistons to two NBA Finals before the team moved to Detroit in 1957.

In 1957-58, the Pistons’ first year in Detroit, Yardley led the league in scoring, averaging 27.8 points, thus surpassing George Mikan’s previous record of 1,932 points in 1958.

That year, Yardley also set NBA records for most free throws attempted (808), most free throws made (655), and was named All-NBA First Team for the first and only time in his career.

Following a sixth all-star season in 1959-60, averaging 20.2 points, George Yardley retired from basketball at the age of 31. He was the first player in NBA history to retire after averaging at least 20 points in his final year.

Although Alex Groza had a 21.7 scoring average in his final NBA season in 1951, his career ended as a result of a lifelong ban for point shaving, instead of a voluntary retirement like that of Yardley’s.

A year later, 1959, St. Louis Hawks’ center Bob Pettitt broke Yardley’s mark. By 1962, Chamberlain’s single-season total in 1962 eclipsed that of Yardley and Pettitt combined. Chamberlain wiped every scoring record off the books, averaging a shade over 50 points a game.

Who was this Yardley guy again?

George Yardley, incidentally, was Rob’s dad.

Rob Yardley (Photo credit, LinkedIn)
Rob Yardley, looking a little older and grayer than in his University of Redlands days in the early 1980s, was the son of an NBA great (Photo credit: LinkedIn.)

“No,” said the younger Yardley, who stood 6-foot-6, “he never did (pressure me) to play basketball. I thought I was going to be a tennis star, and he introduced me to tennis. I think he likes tennis more than basketball, anyway.”

One night, Yardley came off the bench to score eight points – hardly in Chamberlain’s class, or that of Pettitt, or even his dad – in a 63-52 win at Occidental College, a campus located just outside Pasadena.

But he did hit all four of his shots, eventually fouling out. He said, “I was a butcher out there. I kept leaning. Coach (Gary) Smith has told me a thousand times to keep my hands off the guy on the baseline.”

George was in Eagle Rock, Occidental’s home city, to watch his son play that night. In fact, the former NBA star was often seen at Currier Gym.

Think about it: George Yardley played against the likes of Chamberlain, Pettitt, Bill Russell, Bob Cousy and Elgin Baylor. There were wire service photos of George Yardley going up against Russell and Cousy. At 31, he retired. He played a little in 1961-62 with the Los Angeles Jets, a much-forgotten team from the old American Basketball League.

By contrast, Rob Yardley was neither an NBA player or even an All-Conference player at Redlands. Like his dad, it was Newport Harbor High. Then it was off to Orange County Junior College, then a two-year stint at Redlands.

For locals, it was an interesting Redlands Connection.

 

PART 1: VILLANOVA PLAYED TEMPLE, GEORGETOWN, SIENA … AND REDLANDS?

Villanova University basketball coach Jay Wright seemed perfectly content to discuss why the Wildcats were playing at Redlands – a major college program with full-ride scholarships against a small-college team that isn’t allowed to offer athletic scholarships.

As open-minded as anyone, Wright spoke openly and honestly about the Wildcats’ trip to Redlands.

Jay Wright
Villanova University coach Jay Wright brought his Wildcats to small University of Redlands in Nov. 2003 to clear his team for the Maui Tournament (Photo by Wikipedia Commons.)

Philadelphia-based Villanova, ranked No. 3 on this date – Feb. 20, 2018 – might be an interesting topic for A Redlands Connection. Back in November 2003, the Wildcats showed up to play a 10 a.m. matchup at Currier Gymnasium.

That was the home court of the University of Redlands.

In a rare duel between a major-college, scholarship-backed program against a small-college, non-scholarship team, Villanova beat the Bulldogs in that Saturday morning match-up. That game had since taken on additional significance. Four of the Wildcats’ current starting five – seeded third in the 2005 NCAA Tournament – played prominent roles in that game at Currier Gymnasium.

The Wildcats, No. 1 seed in that year’s Minneapolis Region, seemingly had a strong shot at a national championship. For a Redlands-Villanova game to have taken place was an unlikely scenario.

“It was,” said Bulldog senior Carson Sofro, then a sophomore, “the craziest, most memorable time I’ve ever had in basketball.”

“That was my first college game,” said Amir Mazarei, who scored 15 against Villanova, third highest among the Bulldogs. “I didn’t know what to expect going in.”

“I’ve played in a few big games,” said Bulldog player Donald Brady, “and I’ve been to The (Anaheim) Pond (site of high school’s championship games). But nothing compared to playing Villanova.”

Adding to the flavor was major media coverage – TV, radio and large daily newspapers.

“We brought eight kids,” said Wright. “Five were on scholarship. The other three were walk-ons (non-scholarship players).”

At Redlands, every Bulldog player is a “walk-on.” There are no scholarships.

Yes, it was a game completely out of the ordinary, a middle-of-the-road small college team taking on a powerful presence in college basketball.

For visiting Villanova, it was a glance at small college basketball. Mazerai himself noted that Redlands plays in a 1,100-seat gymnasium – “nowhere close” to the 10,000-plus seat arenas that normally house Wildcat games.

For Redlands, it was a chance to rub elbows against a major college, Big East Conference program.

“They needed to dial up a win,” said Bulldogs’ longtime coach Gary Smith. “Originally, they were going to play Claremont (one of Redlands’ conference rivals) on Friday and then us the next day. But Temple was on their schedule and they forced Villanova to play that game. Claremont got aced out of a chance to play them.”

The game had come about due to a strange set of circumstances. Some Villanova players had unauthorized use of a telephone, making calls that were deemed “extra benefits” by an NCAA ruling. Sanctions were imposed. Some players had been suspended for six games. The school chose to take those suspensions over a six-game stretch – the final three of 2002-2003 and the first three games to start 2003-2004.

Wright spoke to me as if we were old friends – charming, personable, honest, you name it. If there’d been classes for dealing with the media, he probably got an A-plus.

“They had asked us to bring a representative team to Maui,” said Wright. “A lot of our alumni and boosters had bought tickets to that. It was up to us to field a decent team.

“All because of the phone issue.”

In order to carry its full roster in Maui, Villanova needed to get rid of that six-game sanction and clear its players.

When Villanova’s undermanned roster blasted Temple in a late Thursday night game back east, it seemed as if Redlands might be in for a worse beating early on Saturday.

Gary Smith (Photo by NorCal WIldcats)
Former University of Redlands basketball coach Gary Smith — wearing a Wildcats’ T-shirt — led his Bulldogs up against powerhouse Villanova at Currier Gymnasium in Nov. 2003. Redlands lost, but it wasn’t an easy win for the eventual NCAA champions. (Photo courtesy of the NorCal Wildcats.)

“A Big East team, of all things,” said Smith. “For them to be (competitive) in the game (against Temple), I think, was just amazing.”

Smith, said Sofro, “had warned us we could blown out of the gym.”

They played at Currier Gymnasium on Nov. 22, 2003. It was, said Smith, “the first time we’d ever played a D-1 (Division 1) school in our gym.”

Fifteen years after that, Villanova’s still the only D-1 team to show up and play Redlands.

Part 2 tomorrow … Villanova’s short team beat full-rostered Redlands.

BOB KARSTENS: A HARLEM GLOBETROTTER … IN REDLANDS?

When the Harlem Globetrotters tip off for their Feb. 17, 2018 appearance at Ontario-based Citizen’s Bank Arena, probably few people know the full history of Abe Saperstein’s creation from the 1920s. There were two shows, one at 2 p.m., the other at 7.

The ‘Trotters are nearly a full century old. Part of their rich history surfaced eastbound from Ontario, about 30 miles away, in Redlands – a long way from Harlem, a New York City suburb.

Around 20 years ago, a man was spotted shooting baskets at the outdoors court at Redlands High School.

The man, who looked to be in his 70s (he was actually in his 80s), was shooting hook shots from half court. If they didn’t swish through the net, his shots at least hit the rim.

There he was, hiking the ball through his legs – in the manner of a football center – at the hoop. Again, if his shots didn’t go in, they were close.

He broke out three basketballs, dribbling them simultaneously, as if he were hoops-playing magician. I was waiting to cover a high school baseball game a couple hundred feet away. Something was up with this guy, though.

Friendly. White. Outgoing. Gentle. The man spoke in respectful terms.

“I’m Obrey Brown. I write for the local newspaper, covering that baseball game over there. Saw what you were doing and decided to come over.”

BOb Karstens - 2
Bob Karstens, photographed around 1942 and ’43, during which time he was one of three white men to play for the all-Black Harlem Globetrotters. (Photo by Harlem Globetrotters.)

“I’m Bob Karstens,” he said.

“Bob, it’s nice to meet you.”

“Thanks. Likewise.”

There was something about this guy that was a little different. I have an inner sense about things like these. As we continued to chat, this smallish man who stood a couple inches shorter than my 5-foot-10 height, seemed to brighten up when I told him I was from the local newspaper.

“You might be interested in this …” he started saying.

After three decades in the newspaper business, it’s a phrase I heard often enough. Usually, it might come from a pushy parent, or a publicity-seeking coach, or a public relations/Sports Information Director informing me about a once-in-a-lifetime story that I just couldn’t miss. Hey, I came after him, though. Okay, Bob, finish what you were saying. “I might be interested in this – in what, Bob?”

Karstens, who was standing in front of me, was not black. As a matter of fact, without his shirt on, I could tell that he needed a little sun. It pays to listen, though.

“I spent a year with them back in the 1940s,” he explained, “during the war. When Reece “Goose” Tatum was taken into the Army, the Globetrotters needed a clown prince.”

Goose Tatum
Harlem Globetrotters’ Clown Prince Reece “Goose” Tatum went into the military in 1942, opening up a spot for Bob Karstens, who became one of three white players ever to suit up for basketball’s magicians. (Photo by Blackthen.com.)

Saperstein, the Hall of Fame orchestrator of the ‘Trotters, apparently tapped Bob on the shoulder and said, “You’re it.”

Abe_Saperstein
Abe Saperstein, the Hall of Fame founder of the Harlem Globetrotters, was the man who signed Bob Karstens to fill in for Goose Tatum during the 1942-43 season. (Photo by Wikipedia Commons.)

Karstens himself had been a gifted ball handler from the House of David, the famous traveling bearded baseball team that barnstormed the country. Not known for anything in sports beyond baseball, Karstens told me, but the House of David had dabbled in some hoops during the late 1930s and into the 1940s.

Here’s the rub: I didn’t believe him – at first. In my business, you’ve got to hold people at arm’s length when they tell you stories like this. I could, literally, tell you stories. He invited over to his house a couple blocks away – down Roosevelt, across Cypress, over on Lytle. When he opened his garage door, he led me to three huge boxes full of stuff.

It was Harlem Globetrotters’ memorabilia. Karstens was seen in photos with Saperstein, Tatum, Meadowlark Lemon … Wilt Chamberlain!

Suddenly, my notebook was produced. Pen, in hand, scribbling madly, all the ramblings and utterings he’d voiced over at the high school – you know, when I didn’t believe him. I had a lot of catch-up to do, including a bunch more questions.

“How long have you lived in Redlands?”

“Where’d you learn to play basketball?”

“What kind of money did you make?”

“Did you really start that pre-game Magic Circle routine?”

Truthfully, I didn’t have to ask many questions. Bob was spinning tale after tale. I could pick and choose. What a story – and I had it! My pen just had to keep up with his stories.

Karstens, who was from Davenport, Iowa, took over for Tatum on the ‘Trotters’ 1942-43 roster while he served in the military. When the ‘Trotters took the court in Ontario, they probably met at mid-court, pre-game, for the Magic Circle routine.

It’s recorded: This was Karstens’ invention. He organized this ritual. He played on the all-black ‘Trotters eight years before the NBA was integrated. Part of the ‘Trotters’ history is that by playing doubleheaders with those early NBA teams, it allowed the league to grow into prosperity.

Karstens invented the “goof” ball, the ball that bounces in all different directions because of various weights placed inside, not to mention the “yo-yo” ball. ‘Trotter fans know the routines well.

This guy lived in Redlands?

He loaned me some photos from his stash for my next day’s sports section. I had gold mine of a notebook – quotes, stories and prime history. I sent our photographer, Lee Calkins, over to Bob’s house for an updated mug shot of my new best friend; the guy I had cynically, though silently, doubted. I made up with myself, though.

Karstens. The Globetrotters. Tatum. Saperstein. Chamberlain.

Hook shots from half court! You name it.

Karstens, for his part, stayed on his ‘Trotters’ team manager until 1954, having coached the infamous Washington Generals along the way. After the ‘Trotters, Karstens went into construction. By 1994, he was inducted into the ‘Trotters’ Hall of Fame. At 89, Karstens died on Dec. 31, 2004. I covered his Redlands funeral that was attended by former ‘Trotters Geese Ausbie and Govonor Vaughn.

It was another Redlands Connection.

 

ANDRIESE, CHATWOOD: REV-BASED MLB PITCHERS IN TAMPA, CHICAGO

All talk of trading Chris Archer might be music to the ears of Tampa Bay Rays’ pitcher Matt Andriese.

Tyler Chatwood, meanwhile, could be in for a stunning summer in Chicago.

Andriese and Chatwood, a pair of former teammates on some very strong Redlands East Valley High School teams, are headed for spring training with one thought in mind:

Claiming a spot in the starting rotation with their current teams.

Both seem destined for mound duty when the 2018 season opens. Both will be in Florida on March 28 when the season opens. Tampa hosts the Boston Red Sox and the Cubs will be in Miami.

Former Redlands East Valley pitcher Matt Andriese, drafted originally by the San Diego Padres, is now toiling for the Tampa Bay Rays. (Photo by Wikipedia Commons)
Former Redlands East Valley pitcher Matt Andriese, drafted originally by the San Diego Padres, is now toiling for the Tampa Bay Rays. (Photo by Wikipedia Commons)

Andriese, an original draft pick by San Diego, was dealt to the Rays in a Jan. 22, 2014 deal that sent southpaw reliever Alex Torres and right-handed starter Jesse Hahn to the Padres. Andriese was joined by second baseman Logan Forsythe (now with the Dodgers), plus right-handers Matt Lollis and Brad Boxberger.

The onetime REV star, who was drafted out of UC Riverside in the third round of the 2011 draft, is a career 16-18 over 72 games with a shutout, four saves and a lifetime 4.35 earned run average.

Andriese heads into spring training as a possible fifth starter in the Rays’ rotation behind Archer, Jake Odorizzi, Blake Snell and Jake Faria.

Both Archer and Odorizzi, meanwhile, have been rumored to be a target of the New York Yankees and Minnesota Twins, among other teams, since the Rays likely have no shot at pennant contention in 2018. Dealing them might be the team’s best chance to land some coveted prospects.

Chatwood, on the other hand, was dealt to the Colorado Rockies by his original team, Anaheim Angels, on Nov. 30, 2011 for catcher Chris Ianetta.

Los Angeles Angels starting pitcher Tyler Chatwood (52)
Tyler Chatwood, the former Redlands East Valley ace, is shown pitching for the Anaheim Angels during his rookie year in 2011. (Photo by Wikipedia Commons.)

When his Rockies’ contract expired following the 2017 season, the 2016 World Series champion Cubs quickly sprung to sign Chatwood on a 3-year, $38 million deal. It could be the under-the-radar signing of the off-season.

Chatwood, 40-46 with a 4.31 ERA between 2011-2017, may be ready to fire on all cylinders. Moving from hitter-friendly Colorado to a more pitcher-friendly Wrigley Field could lift numbers of the the 2008 second-round draft pick.

He’ll follow the likes of Jon Lester, recently-signed Yu Darvish, Kyle Hendricks and Jose Quintana in what appears to be a solid Cubs’ rotation heading into 2018.

REV has produced one other major leaguer. Right-hander Tommy Hansen (49-35, 3.85) spent five seasons in the majors, mostly with Atlanta, plus a season with the Angels. He concluded his 2006-2015 career in the minors with San Francisco’s Class AAA team in Sacramento.

Tragically struck down at age 29 when he died on Nov. 9, 2015, Hansen was the first of REV’s growing list of professional signees. He signed in May 2006 after being taken by the Braves in the 22nd round of the 2005 draft.

The Chatwood-Andriese combination led REV into the 2007 Southern Section Division 2 championship game at Dodger Stadium against El Toro High School. El Toro, buoyed by the presence of future Rockies’ slugging third baseman Nolan Arenado in its lineup, handed Chatwood the loss in a 7-0 win.

Chatwood and Andriese pitched against each other in the majors in 2016 – Chatwood with the Rockies and Andriese with the Rays.

Andriese didn’t start for Tampa Bay and Chatwood lost for Colorado when the Rays beat him badly in a 10-1 outcome on July 20 in Denver.

Long after Chatwood was knocked out by Rays’ hitters – lasting three innings, surrendering seven runs – Andriese entered the game for the final three innings.

Andriese had relieved Snell, pitching three frames of three-hit ball (three strikeouts, no walks) and picked up the save, surrendering a ninth inning home run to Rockies’ rookie sensation Trevor Story.

Snell surrendered just one hit to a Rockies’ lineup featuring All-Stars Carlos Gonzalez and Arenado.

For some reason, the Rays continued to pitch Andriese – who concluded that game with a sparkling 2.78 earned run average – out of the bullpen while most of their starting pitchers had much higher ERAs.

As for Chatwood, he surrendered a home run to Rays’ slugger Evan Longoria, among other hits.

“I didn’t throw any curveballs tonight,” he said, “and it’s always been my best pitch. I threw a lot of fastballs and didn’t miss barrels (of the bat) and kind of put us in a hole.

“I lost the game for us, pretty much. At some point, you’ve got to make an adjustment, and I didn’t make an adjustment.”

 

Part 2: SCHUMACHER RACING TEAM SIGNED REDLANDS ROCKET

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.

 

 

 

Part 1: NHRA SEASON OPENS, DRAGSTER STAR LEAH (PRUETT) PRITCHETT READY

It’s 2018. Super Bowl Sunday means only one thing in the world to National Hot Road Association followers. One week later, it’s the NHRA season opener. In Pomona. Twenty-four showdowns. Every two weeks, it’s on. From the season-opening Winternationals to the drag racing finals in November, both at the Pomona Fairplex, incidentally, speed finds a way to entertain.

Leah Pritchett, known to her Redlands cohorts as Leah Pruett, will be among those in line to try and chase down a season drag racing championship. Fifth place last season, Pritchett notched wins in the first two races in 2017, starting at Pomona – winning four times throughout the season.

Ron, Lindsey Pruett
Ron Pruett, left, and Leah Pruett, now Leah Pritchett, stand alongside the family dragster in the early days of her racing career. (Photo by Pruett family).

She’s a Top Fuel dragster. This is a huge connection to the auto racing world. A queen among speed thrill-seekers. Leah, 29, whose older sister, Lindsey, got first crack on the track when her dad, Ron, started building junior dragsters.

Leah was eight when she started racing. No soccer. No volleyball. No softball. No track & field or cross country.

Think of the cost. You don’t buy those cars in a kit at K-Mart or Sears, folks. Lots of detail, lots of attention, lots of expertise – not to mention expense – goes into each machine.

Ron’s Precision Alignment, located down on Park Street, was headquarters for Pruett’s car-racing dreams. A few years back, he sold out. It left Ron and wife Linda to move back east, to North Carolina – NASCAR country – while Leah sought her career in a Top Fuel speed machine.

The sponsors over the years – Gumout, Papa John’s, Albrecht’s, Mopar, Pennzoil, FireAde 200, among others – have kept her in the cockpit.

At 5-foot-9, Leah’s gorgeous. Married to Gary Pritchett, car chief for Torrence Racing. Leah’s a surfer, really into physical fitness – check out her body on the internet – all balanced by her mind. She’s a Cal State San Bernardino graduate.

Speed? She’s got it to burn.

Leah’s gone from the Sportsmen’s division to Nitro Funny Cars to Pro Mod to winning a Hot Rod Heritage Series and, finally, in 2013, she landed in a Top Fuel dragster for Dote Racing.

I can remember when Ron invited me up to his Redlands home to view the junior dragster he created for Lindsey. At least, I think it was Lindsey’s. Ron, who was a speed demon himself – in Utah, plus various points around Southern California – chose a different sport for his girls.

Drag racing.

Ron fed me all of his daughters’ achievements – Lindsey’s and Leah’s – for publication in the local paper. There were 37 junior wins for Leah at various tracks throughout SoCal.

Ron himself was a star on the circuit – a 12-time land speed record holder. I don’t think he ever reached the speed his youngest daughter ever registered, though.

Ron Pruett
Ron Pruett proudly holds a Wally trophy, which indicates a speed-filled victory on a drag-racing track. (Photo by Pruett family).

Speed, though. Leah was born into the chase.

It would ludicrous to list all of Leah’s achievements from the junior circuit to her Top Fuel days in which she held (as of Jan. 17, 2018) the fastest speed at 332.75 over a thousand yards which brought a 3.64 elapsed time – both world records.

Drag racing underwent a change a few years back when distances were shortened from 1,320 yards, a quarter-mile, to 1,000 yards. It was safer. It probably killed any further hopes of increasing speed milestones.

Then there’s the Wally trophy. Named for Wally Parks, the sport’s founder who took street racing and put it on the track, a Wally goes to each week’s champion.

Ron’s got a few Wallys.

Leah’s got a handful. More are likely to come. She’s got the team, sponsor and experience is gradually growing.

At Pomona, it’s a home track for Leah, especially since she raced there as a kid.

Back in 2014, assigned to cover Winternationals for an area newspaper, my assignment was to land a connection on the locals – Funny Car’s “Fast” Jack Beckman of Norco, plus Top Fuel’s Shawn Langdon from Mira Loma. And Leah.

“Do I remember you, Obrey?” she asked in amazement. “Are you kidding? Of course, I remember you. You’re some of my best memories.”

That brought a nice streak of electricity up my spine.

For my article in the Riverside Press-Enterprise, I got more than I needed from her. Leah brought me up to date on her folks, who’d moved back east. Ron had sold his Redlands business. Lindsey was teaching in Redlands.

Leah was just getting started. Patrons of the sport might tend to overlook what it takes to arrive where Leah was just reaching. This isn’t a sport. It’s a career. Racing just a portion of the 2013 schedule, Leah racked up 15th place.

Leah’s won at tracks in Denver and Indianapolis, which is near her home in Avon, Ind. She’s driven speed cars like Mustangs and Camaros. Speed records came with some of those drives.

Twice, though, she was part of teams that shut down, leaving her without a ride – and those much-needed sponsors.

Leah Pritchett – the Redlands Rocket.

Part 2 tomorrow.

BRIAN DE ROO: NO FOOTBALL. NO WORKOUT. NO REDSKINS!

Brian De Roo? Meet Bobby Beathard.

The year was 1978. De Roo, a senior decathlete from the University of Redlands, had already completed his four-year football-playing career with the Bulldogs the previous November.

But his career wasn’t yet over.

DeR oo was cleaning the bathrooms underneath the home side of what would someday become Ted Runner Stadium – the school’s football and track facility.

“My fun job,” said De Roo, the good-natured multiple sport athlete.

One spring day, De Roo recalled a pink Cadillac rolling up the hill into the parking lot just outside the school’s 7,000-seat stadium.

“Back then,” he said, “the foliage was not so high and thick. You could see through the fencing.”

A curvy blond got out of the car. Another “dude in shorts and a T-shirt got out.”

De Roo watched them come down the hill. “They asked me if I know where they could find me.”

In other words, they were looking for De Roo.

“I obviously told them that they already did.”

VII-25 Bobby Beathard
Bobby Beathard, an NFL Hall of Famer announced on Feb. 3, 2018, once traveled to the University of Redlands to scout Bulldog receiver Brian DeRoo. (Photo by the Washington Redskins.)

That man, who turned out to be Bobby Beathard, introduced himself. The man was there to scout De Roo. The NFL draft was nearing. De Roo’s name had already started surfacing in various scouting services.

Brian DeRoo (Photo by Canadian Football League)
Brian DeRoo, the only player ever drafted into the NFL from the University of Redlands, was unable to work out for future Hall of Famer Bobby Beathard because a track coach wouldn’t open the door to the school’s equipment room.

Beathard asked De Roo if he could find a football to throw around.

Said De Roo: “The equipment room was locked up and the only coach around was Vince Reel.”

Reel, who was the school’s track & field coach, refused the request for a ball.

“Vince didn’t want his decathlete that used to compete in seven or more events during dual meets to be pulling anything running pass patterns during track season,” said De Roo, “so he refused to get me a ball.”

It didn’t take long for Beathard and his blond companion to turn tail and take off.

Beathard, for his part, was announced as an NFL Hall of Famer on Feb. 3, 2018 – forty years after meeting up with De Roo.

As for that year’s draft, consider that Washington – due to the various transactions of former coach George Allen – didn’t have a single pick available until the sixth round. They took running back Tony Green from Florida.

De Roo, meanwhile, was taken in the previous round – one of three picks that round of the New York Giants.

By the eighth round, the Redskins had their second pick. Turned out to be a wide receiver from North Carolina, Walker Lee.

De Roo said his eventual team, the Baltimore Colts, would occasionally scrimmage Beathard’s team, the Washington Redskins, “since they were just down the road.

“We had a good chuckle over his visit a few years later.”

Beathard’s NFL connections were electric – 1972-77 as Director of Player Personnel with two-time Super Bowl champion Miami Dolphins, plus a 1978-89 stint as General Manager with the Redskins, where he was part of two Super Bowl championships.

De Roo said he noted the Hall of Fame announcements, saying he was “happy for (Beathard) and most of the others. (Baltimore Ravens’ linebacker) Ray Lewis was a no-brainer.”

In fact, Beathard’s visit to Redlands in the pink Cadillac with the blond might have been a Hall of Fame move for the Redskins – if only they could’ve found a ball.