Thursday, May 31, 2012

One year in, Pruett an established contender in Pro Mod series

 It's been a year since rising Pro Mod star Leah Pruett first pulled on a helmet in NHRA competition at the Toyota NHRA SuperNationals, which returns to Old Bridge Township Raceway Park this weekend for the 43rd time.

And what a year it's been.

Although she's contested just eight national events in the NHRA Pro Mod Series presented by ProCare Rx, Pruett has proven herself to be one of the top contenders in the class. She's won two times in three final-round appearances and has an impressive 16-5 race day record. In a sport where anything better than a .500 winning percentage is considered good, Pruett is off to an extremely successful start.

This year, Pruett is No. 4 in the rankings after the first three races with a runner-up and semifinal finish to her credit. Yet her inner drive tells her there's room to improve.

"I haven't been 100-percent happy with my driving this season so we took the five weeks off between the last race and Englishtown and went testing at Commerce (Ga.), which is just up the highway from the shop," Pruett said. "It was a great session and I really feel like I'm back on my game.

"The guys switched some things around in the cockpit and I was super consistent on the Tree. That really pumps me up. We worked on some things with the car as well so I feel like we're as prepared as we can be heading into this event."

Last year's Pro Mod assault on Old Bridge Township Raceway Park was a record-breaking one, with top qualifier Melanie Troxel, Pruett's former teammate, posting a double-world-record pass of 5.772 at 258.71 mph with basically the same equipment Pruett is using now. However, Pruett said fans shouldn't expect the same display of unbridled horsepower this time through.

"That was 125 pounds ago," she said, referring to the extra weight NHRA officials added to turbocharged entries since last year's Supernationals. "It's still one of the quickest tracks we race at and if the weather is cool like it was last year, we can go really fast, but I don't think we'll be close to the records.

"The main thing is to keep our ProCare Rx Mustang at the top of the charts every round. We have a lot of ProCare Rx employees and clients coming out and we want to show off for them. I love when our pits are full of people and we're all having fun. The best way to do that is to run well, so that's what we plan to do."

Current plans call for team owner Roger Burgess to drive the other ProCare Rx entry at this event. Burgess has missed the last two races due to other commitments. Crew chief Brad Brand filled in for Burgess and recorded a semifinal and a quarterfinal finish.

Pruett, Burgess and the rest of the Pro Mod competitors will be signing autographs and meeting with fans at 1 p.m. Friday and 11 a.m. Saturday in front of the Pro Mod Series souvenir trailer on the Merchandise Midway.

Pro Mod qualifying begins with two sessions at 3:15 and 5:30 p.m. Friday, followed by a final qualifying round at 1:45 p.m. Saturday. The first round of eliminations is scheduled for 4:15 p.m. Saturday and will resume with the quarterfinals at 12:15 p.m. Sunday.

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