by Alun Thomas
U.S. Army Recruiting Battalion - Phoenix
May 13, 2018
As one of the prominent drivers in the National Hot Rod Association, Leah Pritchett is a force to be reckoned with on the drag racing circuit.
During her first full year on the NHRA Mello Yello World Championship series, Pritchett finished 5th overall in the Top Fuel Dragster rankings in 2017, with four national event wins.
As part of the U.S. Army’s NHRA sponsorship, Pritchett, 29, was invited to talk to students at Skyline High School on February 21, 2018 prior to competing in NHRA qualifying at Wild Horse Pass Motor Sports Park, Chandler, Arizona.
Pritchett, who drives for Don Schumacher Racing, talked to 150 students about her experiences in racing and what motivates her to be successful, both on and off the track, a process which began at the age of eight.
“I started racing at the age of eight years old and it’s hard to know when you’re that young, or an adolescent, what you want to do in life,” Pritchett said. “What is it that you’re good at? What is it you like? You don’t always know where that path lies and I was no different.”
“You have to dig down and figure out what makes you happy … you only have one life,” she said.
Having grown up around drag racing, Pritchett said she decided at the age of 13 to become a professional driver herself and achieve it by any means possible.
“It was all I wanted to do … I just didn’t know how to get there,” she said. “I came from a regular family who worked seven days a week in the automotive industry. I was offered a college scholarship after high school ... I knew that was my chance. I was going to use it to become an engineer.”
Pritchett said she needed the experience to get into the world of professional drag racing, one way or the other.
“I was never good at math or science at high school, I was better at English, communications and marketing,” she said. “I asked myself how engineering would get me to my goal, so I had to get creative. That meant going back to what I was best at.”
Pritchett said it was through her own will and determination that she succeeded, ending up with a communications major from California State University, San Bernadino.
“You may have dreams, you may have goals, but don’t know how to get there … rely on your passion, whatever it is,” Pritchett said. “It could be the Army, which has a vast amount of careers, more than the other branches of service. Any passion you have can be found in the Army.”
Pritchett said her communications degree helped leverage herself with sponsors like Papa Johns, Pennzoil, the U.S. Army and Mopar car accessories.
“It’s about a greater goal and that was my high level plan … to be a professional racer. I had student loans, was working two jobs, the whole bit,” she continued. “But I got there. You might be thinking the same things I did at your age; what am I going to do? But you have recruiters here to help you with those questions.”
“I don’t have a military background and to me and my friends it was a last resort,” Pritchett said. “Little did I know that what I wanted to originally do, pursue mechanical engineering or medical school, is something the Army could’ve provided me with.”
The Army can provide you with these career paths, she continued, setting you up for success later in life.
“The Army gives you the chance to live the American Dream and serve your country,” Pritchett said. “You don’t have to do it on the frontlines either. There’s tons of careers that provide the defense mechanisms for those who do. These are things I never knew about.”
Pritchett is co-sponsored by the U.S. Army, something she takes great pride in.
“I'm excited when I get to represent the Army and I wish I’d known more when I was younger,” she added. “So as you circle back as to what it is you want to do in life, open your mind a little bit.”
“Take advice from those who’ve done things that are great, but have also failed … they’ll help you become the person you want to be,” Pritchett said.