Leah Pritchett swept the last three NHRA Factory Stock races of the year in her Holley EFI-powered Dodge Challenger Drag Pak, clinching the championship in the penultimate round of the season. Catapulting her way up the standings with back-to-back wins at the sport’s biggest race, Indy, and St. Louis, Pritchett and her DSR team, led by crew chief Kevin Helms, entered the season-ending Dallas event on the verge of a title.
Stephen Bell, whom Pritchett defeated in the St. Louis final, and Arthur Kohn, whom she beat in the semifinals there, were tied for first place, but Pritchett suddenly was just a single point behind them in third. As the rounds wore on and the pressure intensified, all three contenders were still alive as the semifinals loomed. Pritchett erased Bell in the first matchup, eliminating him from title contention, and before she could even climb out of the cockpit, No. 1 qualifier Kevin Skinner knocked off Kohn and the championship was hers.
Right when it seemed things couldn’t get any better, with the title locked up and 11 straight round-wins in the rear-view mirror, Pritchett took out Skinner in the nationally televised final round for a third straight victory. “We came in with a chance to win the championship, but our mentality was one round, one burnout, one run at a time,” said Pritchett, who also drives a 330-mph Top Fuel dragster and finished fourth in the 2018 standings in that category. “In the end, that’s exactly what it took to win.”
Crew chief Kevin Helms, a four-time NHRA world champ and three-time U.S. Nationals winner in the 1990s, 2000s, and 2010s, fine-tuned the entire setup as the year progressed, zeroing in on the winning combination more and more every time out. “I’d never run a supercharged car in my life before this year, but the Holley EFI made it easy to tune and easier for her to drive,” he said. With Helms calling the shots and veteran mechanic Terry Snyder thrashing on the car with him, Pritchett recorded the first NHRA run in the seven-second zone on the way to her St. Louis win. She owns the second-quickest time in NHRA history (7.93), and her DSR teammate, former Pro Stock ace Mark Pawuk, who also wheels a Drag Pak Challenger prepared by Helms and Snyder, holds the all-time NHRA mark of 7.92. (The first official seven-second pass anywhere, 7.99, was run by Geoff Turk’s Holley EFI-powered Blackbird Challenger at the 2018 NMCA season-opener in Bradenton, Fla.)
“These cars run such a small tire and make so much horsepower … it can be lot to manage,” Helms said. “There’s just so much you can do with Holley EFI – more than we’re doing right now, definitely – and all you need to run it is a little common sense. It’s a logical sequence, for one thing. It’s easy to set up. Sometimes they’re rushing you between rounds and you’ve got to be right back up there 45 minutes after the last run, and with this system you just make your decisions, send it to the ECU, and boom, you’re ready to go.”