Top Fuel Rumble: An Interview with NHRA Rookie Leah Pruett
By Justin Banner
As fun, exciting, and technical as I think Pro Stock is, there is a category in the NHRA Mello Yello Championship that has a history of close finishes, Top Fuel. It's interesting to see the progression of a driver from Sportsman to Pro ranks and how sometimes, you can see exactly where they are going. Leah Pruett didn't quite go in the same direction as many of her predecessors, as just before entering into Top Fuel, she entered in Nostalgia Funny Car. Old school floppers, you'd think she'd end up in a NHRA Funny Car. However just like Ron Capps went from a TF to FC, she started her Nitro career in a funny car to end up in a rail. I caught up with her at Pomona, CA during the Winternationals at Auto Club Raceway. With her home town of Redlands, CA, this was her home track for many years. Now in Indiana, the US Nationals will be her “home track,” but she's still a California girl, “Nothings better than So-Cal,” she tells me.
|Top Fuel, even the name brings about images of the best and fastest machines in the world to tackle 1000 Feet. Just the simple action of doing a burnout in one of these massively power rails is an exhilarating experience from the fences. Getting to shoot them from the retaining wall gave me far more respect for these cars than I had before.
|Even during the day time, the power and the explosion of power can be seen out of the “zoomie” style headers. Each revolution hitting you like a concussion from a cannon. There is enough force coming out of the headers that it actually creates a downward force. If you loose a cylinder, the car and rail will pull to the side that lost it. When it lets go, it can be enough devastation to rip the frame in half and send parts over 100 feet into the air. When someone tells you that it's a stick of dynamite exploding in each cylinder, believe them.
|Parts like the clutches, valves, even pistons are considered a throw away item after just one run. The concoction of nitro and methane is enough to make most men cry and choke when the air is full of the mist after a start up. Seriously, you want a mace like experience, stand near a nitro car when they first start up or warm up the clutches in the pits. “'Watch them start this nitro car,' they said, 'it'll be fun,' they said.”
|A surprise to many of you, though, will be the expense and the grassroots nature of even the pro classes in the NHRA. The Dote Racing crew is no exception, rather, they are the rule many times.
|Crews are full of volunteers, guys who take the time to come out on their own dime to make sure a car makes a pass. Dote Racing has no major sponsor. As you'll also learn, they aren't sure if they will even compete in a full season.
|The most obvious reason is money. Nitro-Methane is around $80.00 per gallon. They will use 10 to 15 gallons, each pass. That alone is nearly $7,200 plus to just get to Round 1 for the weekend in fuel alone. Add up tow vehicle fuel, hauler, food for the crew and driver, generator fuel, and parts that have to get replaced after each run, you're probably over $1,200 per second or more for every pass.