Leah Pruett Breaks Winless Drought at Norwalk Nationals

By Briar Starr, NHRA Staff Writer 

Sunday’s 17th annual NHRA Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals took place at the Summit Motorsports Park in Norwalk, Ohio. Race fans saw plenty of fantastic racing across all multiple classes including numerous first-time winners of the 2023 NHRA Camping World Series season. 

This was especially true in the Top Fuel class, where Leah Pruett and her Tony Stewart Racing Nitro dragster roared to the victory on a perfect weekend that started Friday night in the first round of qualifying, which was run under the lights after a lengthy weather delay. Pruett had an impressive run with cooler conditions and took her dragster to the top with a 3.684 at 333.08 mph in Q1. 

On Saturday, in the final rounds of qualifying, she was unable to improve her qualifying times. Despite not improving, she was still able to keep the No. 1 spot thanks to her 333.08 mph run on Friday night. The No. 1 qualifier was her second consecutive qualifier of the year. Pruett was the No. 1 qualifier at Bristol a few weeks ago. 

The Tony Stewart Racing Nitro driver was excited about her run after qualifying was over with and felt great about the chances of picking up the wally for the first time this season.

“I think with all the different variables that we’ve been given with weather and conditions, everyone has made the most that they’ve had,” Pruett said. “It feels absolutely great. Being No. 1 is what Tony Stewart Racing is all about and I’m glad that our Top Fuel team has been able to up our cadence and our performance to keep up with what Tony and Matt Hagan’s team has been able to do. 

“The beauty is that we do have really great runs, and that’s putting us in the position to gain these qualifying points and qualifying positions for a better spot to start on raceday. We would have loved to have made runs today that were spectacular, but we know we have a racecar that can the mileage on Sunday.”

Even though Pruett had that important No. 1 qualifier, Top Fuel was going to be no easy task on Sunday, as the class has been one of the most competitive classes in recent memory so that meant no opponent should be taken likely. 

Pruett’s first-round match came early Sunday morning at 10 a.m./ET after the start time was moved up due to potential inclement weather later in the day. She faced No. 16 qualifier Kyle Wurtzel in E1. Pruett won and advanced with a pass of 4.056 at 219.22 mph due to Wurtzel smoking the tires early on in the run. 

She advanced to the quarterfinals in what was an Epping rematch with veteran Mike Salinas. Pruett was looking for redemption and was able to achieve the win in a close race. The veteran race winner was victorious with a pass of 3.741 to Salinas’s 3.742 and again inched closer to another shot at her first Wally of the year. 

While she moved on to the semi-finals for the first time since Charlotte Four-Wide back in April and the first since Phoenix in side-by-side drag racing, it was going to be another monster match-up with John Force Racing’s Austin Prock who secured victories over Tony Schumacher and Dan Mercier. Sadly for Prock, he hazed the tires, and Pruett cruised to the victory with a 3.771 at 331.12 mph. This was her best time all weekend since her qualifying run on Friday night. 

Searching for her first victory of the season and her first since Denver of last summer, Pruett went on to the finals and paired up against the most recent winner in Top Fuel, Justin Ashley who won the New England Nationals and Bristol Thunder Valley Nationals. 

In the final round of the day, it was Pruett who achieved her first win of the 2023 NHRA Camping World Series season over Ashley as the Maynard Family-Ashley Racing driver lost traction during his pass. Pruett won with a time of 3.761 at 326.79 mph to Ashley’s 4.497 at 198.90 mph. The victory was Pruett’s 11th of her Top Fuel career. 

“Going into the final round we thought we had all of the systems going well,” Pruett said following the victory. “However, then we had new issues that we hadn’t seen before. And we had 30 minutes to address the problem. Neal (Strausbaugh, crew chief) and the guys kinda rolled the dice and it worked great. It was a full-team effort going against Justin Ashley.” 

“It’s so great to win here and then we move to the Dodge Power Brokers Mile-High Nationals where I’m the defending champion. Bandimere Speedway is my favorite track dating back to my start in Junior Dragsters at age eight. We are anxious to go to Denver for Dodge, Mopar, Bandimere Speedway, and the Bandimere family. That place means so much to me.”

Official NHRA Camping World Series Top Fuel Results 

  1. Leah Pruett
  2. Justin Ashley 
  3. Brittany Force
  4. Austin Prock 
  5. Steve Torrence
  6. Mike Salinas 
  7. Josh Hart
  8. Dan Mercier
  9. Shawn Langdon 
  10. Doug Foley
  11. Spencer Massey 
  12. Antron Brown 
  13. Clay Millican 
  14. Doug Kalitta
  15. Kyle Wurtzel 
  16. Tony Schumacher 

Official NHRA Camping World Top Fuel Points Standings 

  1. Justin Ashley, 726 points 
  2. Steve Torrence, -97
  3. Leah Pruett, -106
  4. Brittany Force, -136
  5. Austin Prock, -138
  6. Antron Brown, -195
  7. Mike Salinas, -222
  8. Josh Hart, -239 
  9. Doug Kalitta, -284
  10. Shawn Langdon, -328

Up Next: The NHRA Camping World Series will take a couple of weeks before heading west to Bandimere Speedway in Colorado for the last Mile-High Nationals event, July 14-16. 

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