Crampton gears up for rookie campaign
Friday, January 31, 2014
Richie Crampton enters the season as a rookie in the Top Fuel category as he takes over driving duties for Morgan Lucas in the highly competitive GEICO/Lucas Oil Top Fuel dragster. Crampton is a 33-year-old native from Adelaide, South Australia, and has been with Morgan Lucas Racing in various capacities since the 2007 season. In addition to having a Top Fuel license, he also has his license in Super Comp and Top Alcohol Dragster. Crampton, who tested with the team this year before the start of the season, took part in a recent NHRA teleconference to discuss the start of his driving career and the season ahead.
Q: How has your testing gone so far down in South Florida?
Crampton: Testing was a little challenging for us as it was for most of the teams that went down there to run. The weather was so cool that it made the racecars pretty prone to shaking and all that kind of stuff. But, nonetheless I was able to get 24 more runs under my belt and got some very valuable seat time, and learned a lot about what my mindset needed to be with how to go about rolling into the racetrack as a driver instead of a crew member. Beyond that, the car ran great numbers. It was 3.800 for me, which felt excellent to get that run under my belt because that was a huge confidence builder. Beyond that, Aaron Brooks made some good calls with a brand new racecar that we brought out for the test session, and confidence is pretty high after the test.
Q. Is there a number of those 24 runs where you're starting to feel comfortable or as comfortable as you can in a 9,000-horsepower car like that?
Crampton: Yeah, just being able to run back to back each day for an extended period like that made it to where I got extremely comfortable after the first day or two. It had been since last August since I last drove a Top Fuel car, so the last six months before we went down there I was kind of concerned about how long it would take to get acclimated to it and feel comfortable and just running for that many runs back to back made it easier for me to get really comfortable in the race car. So it was a good thing.
Q. From listening to you it sounds like you're not a rookie. You've got quite a bit of experience. But in your quest to go to this level, what in your past learning curves that you've been able to handle in your past will help you going into the NHRA season?
Crampton: Well, honestly, I think one of the biggest things I have up my sleeve, which isn't necessarily a driving related thing is the fact that I've just worked with this team for so long. The team chemistry is there right away. I've seen the way this team operates and how I paid close attention to how Morgan (Lucas) goes about handling things during the race weekend as a driver. I think the fact that I've been around it for so long is probably my biggest benefit. Beyond that, I definitely am a rookie. There are a lot of great alcohol races and such that have got a lot of runs up their sleeve that probably could have made the transition a lot easier. But, no, I think just the fact that I've been around this team and this car for so long, it just made it that much easier.
Q. You have a fellow countryman in David Grubnic in the NHRA Top Fuel; are you going to talk to him for advice?
Crampton: Yeah, absolutely. I do talk to Dave quite frequently at the track. Obviously, that's going to develop more and more once the season gets going and we're around each other a little more. But aside from that, he is on another team, so the main advice I'll be receiving will be from Morgan and people closer to the MLR group that I've been working with for the last seven years. But Grubnic has been a great, supportive person to me, and he's helped a lot he's taught me a thing or two already, and I can't wait to communicate with him more throughout the season. I'm sure we'll develop a healthy Australian rivalry.
Q. You've been working with the team for a while. I was just curious if they're going to make you still carry your duties that you've been doing and you get to drive the car, or are you just a driver now?
Crampton: I'm transitioning into being just the driver. A lot of times I've got to remind myself to basically stay away a little bit, and I don't need to be worrying about a lot of the little things I used to worry about and just concentrate on being ready to get in the racecar when it it's time to drive. It is going to be a little transition period where I'm still going to try to be involved with the clutch department because that was kind of my baby for the last seven years. It can be the smallest little thing that one person does differently to the next guy that can make or break the way these cars run. So I'm going to try to have input where it's just basically questions on how I used to do things and still try to be involved as much as I can. But Andrew Polk, the guy that's filled my position, he was working side by side with me in the clutch department for all that time anyhow. So it should be a fairly smooth transition. I'm not going to be like Mike Dunn, jumping out of the race car with my fire suit on and dragging the hot clutch out of the thing.
Q. With the passes that you've made so far, how valuable has Morgan's feedback been in driving the car?
Crampton: It's been extremely valuable. The biggest thing with Morgan is he's one of my best friends and from that point of view there's just never been pressure. I kind of made a rookie mistake and two stepped it down there in Florida and kind of wasted a run, and thought, oh, oh, I might be in trouble here, and it was quite the opposite. It was just real supportive, good feedback. The fact that he's driven at the top level for so long, he's able to put it into words very well what you need to be feeling and thinking and how to drive these cars. Because there is definitely an art to it. I'm definitely going to be relying on Morgan throughout the season to help me get better. I just hope that I can fill his shoes.
Q. You said you and Morgan are good buddies; did you have inside information that he was going to step out of the cockpit at the end of the season? Did you think you'd be the number one choice to replace him?
Crampton: No, and no. That was actually a funny situation. I was fortunate enough that Anthony Dicero let me drive his A/Fuel Dragster back last July to refresh my Top Alcohol license. Morgan had come out to the racetrack and signed off on that for me. You know, he knew that I would love to drive a Top Fuel dragster or Funny Car. Honestly, I just never thought I'd get the chance, basically. Then with [Brandon] Bernstein's back problems that he was having, I kind of asked Morgan in the summer last year if, hey, if I were licensed could I fill in for Brandon, since JR [Todd] had other commitments coming up and all that stuff. So from that point of view, Morgan allowed me to get my license in the car at the Indy test session. At that point there was definitely no idea that Morgan was going to be stepping away. So at the time I thought this is awesome. I get to get my Top Fuel license, which is a dream come true in one of the best Top Fuel dragsters on the planet. And from that point on, if Bernstein were to have any more back problems, I may get to sub for him. Then obviously, once October came around, things started to change a little bit, and I only found out about three days before the announcement that Morgan was working with GEICO to figure out what the solution may be then even once Morgan informed me that there was a short list of drivers that could possibly take that position, I still didn't believe that I would get chosen, because it was a pretty talented group of drivers that they could have chosen from. But the fact that I was chosen and got the job; it's an amazing feeling for me.
Q. What is one thing that people would be surprised the most about driving one of these cars, that you, yourself after being around it for so long didn't quite realize until you got in the cockpit?
Crampton: Driving these Top Fuel dragsters is very hard to explain. I got to drive the A/Fuel car, as I said, and shortly thereafter I got into the Top Fuel car, and I thought, the A/Fuel car was a lot of fun. But a Top Fuel dragster, once you get to halftrack and the clutch tries to go one to one, the race car just does not stop accelerating all the way to the finish line. It's just really hard to express how fast and how exciting it is when one of these Top Fuel dragsters make a full run to the finish line. It's very hard to put it into words. But that's probably the biggest thing that I've noticed when I finally get in to drive these cars.