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Gary Pritchett’s hands literally are in a Top Fuel dragster every day. But his heart has been in Funny Car racing forever.
Pritchett is the clutch specialist for Steve Torrence. And fans have been captivated by the plot twist: He’s married to gritty Top Fuel contender Leah Pritchett, Torrence’s primary rival through much of last season as they took their turns leading the standings. (Leah Pritchett was ranked No. 1 after eight of the first nine races in 2017. Torrence dominated later on, for 10 of the final 14 events. Neither won the championship, so the rivalry is back on, with both drivers digging in their heels, starting at this weekend’s Lucas Oil Winternationals at Pomona, California.)
If drag-racing fans liked that drama, they’ll love Chapter 2 … once it’s written. Gary Pritchett someday could end up racing his wife, as he has earned his Top Fuel license. That would make them the first married couple since John “Bodie” Smith and Rhonda Hartman-Smith to compete against each other in dragsters. That came close to happening this past winter, but a promising sponsorship agreement didn’t materialize.
However, it’s more likely Gary and Leah Pritchett would be trying to score a double championship, for her in Top Fuel and himself in a Funny Car.
“If it’s meant to be, it’s meant to be,” he said. “Got to have money. Got to find sponsors. It’s going to happen one day. I want to drive a nitro Funny Car. That’s all I’ve ever wanted to do. I will one day.”
In the meantime, he occasionally races in the car of his godmother, IHRA Funny Car icon Bunny Burkett. He’ll do that again this Easter Sunday at East Side Speedway at Waynesboro, Virginia. His wife, who knows her way around inside and under a car, turns wrenches for him at those outings.
“We do that every year. It’s like a little family tradition,” Gary Pritchett said, adding that Burkett “always hides a little Easter basket for me.”
Once he drove NHRA Funny Car racer and two-time sportsman champion Jonnie Lindberg’s Alcohol car. “Just trying to stay out there,” he said.
The Pritchetts are trying to find funding for him, but he said, “With this [the NHRA Mello Yello Series], it’s so busy you don’t really have time. That’s the biggest thing.” As for the Capco team, Gary Pritchett said, “I love it here. For me to leave this team, it would have to be a driving opportunity.”