Drag racers Leah Pruett, Brittany Force reflect on the progress of women in the sport



MORRISON – Top Fuel drag racer Brittany Force is no stranger to winning. In just five seasons Force went from a rookie on the strip to Top Fuel World Champion, the second woman to ever do so.

Force is one of many female drag racers proving that, in a sport that doesn’t separate genders, women don’t just belong, but are integral to the sport’s success.

The National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) is the most inclusive racing sport, with 12 women a part of the drag racing organization, many of whom are ranked in the top 10 of their respective divisions. Force, who is competing in the Top Fuel category this weekend at the Mile High Nationals at Bandimere, said that it is important to have women involved to inspire the next generation of dragsters.

“It speaks to the younger generation of girls,” Force said. “Having females driving, competing and winning in these race cars shows that females can do anything. It’s a male-dominated sport but there’s a handful of us females and we do pretty dang well.”

Leah Pruett, another title contender in the Top Fuel category, believes that women are important to the drag racing scene because they help generate interest for a wider audience.

“People have different interests and (drag racing) is an incredible integrated marketing machine so we are able to have those conversations,” said Pruett. “If every driver looked the same on the track it would not only be boring for us but would be boring for the fans and if it’s boring for the fans the sport does not exist.”

Pruett, 34, has been on the drag racing scene since she was 8 after joining the NHRA Jr. Dragster youth racing program, which she dominated (37 trophies from ages 8 to 16). In 2013, she made her debut in Top Fuel, a type of drag racing with the fastest accelerating race cars in the world. It’s become her signature event.

Now one of the most accomplished racers in the industry, Pruett holds 12 event titles and is looking for her second title at Mile High after taking the championship in 2018. As seasoned professionals, both Pruett and Force no longer feel extra pressure to prove that they belong among their male peers.

Pruett attributes the inclusivity of the sport to past female drag racers who paved the way, such as icons Shirly Muldowney and Lori Johns, some of the first female NHRA Top Fuel event winners. Their success helped normalize having female drivers.

“We were the most diverse sooner than any other motorsports,” Pruett said.

Because Pruett started competing at such a young age, she didn’t notice a wedge between male and female drivers, which has shaped her perspective of how female drivers are viewed. Despite the stigma that drag racing is a male-dominated industry, Pruett adds that because of its inclusivity it also serves as an outlet where women can feel comfortable pursuing their passion in motorsports, such as becoming an engineer or auto mechanic if not a driver.

Pruett said she is able to have straightforward conversations with her female fans who may want to go into drag racing.

“I get goosebumps, there’s a part of me that’s extremely hopeful for the future of women in drag,” Pruett said. “I feel validated knowing that I’m helping change their lives.”

Force shares the same sentiment, saying that one of her favorite parts about racing is her ability to inspire both young girls and boys to get into racing and get out of their comfort zones. She emphasizes that it’s never too early to start.

“I wish I started younger, I encourage kids to start as soon as they can and get their feet wet early,” said Force. “If it’s your passion and what you love, chase after it, even if it’s against the odds.”

 



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