Richie Crampton may be only nine races into his NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Top Fuel career, but the driver of the 10,000-horsepower GEICO/Lucas Oil dragster is already creating a lifetime of memories.
Just two weeks after the birth of his first child, Crampton became the 100th different driver to win in Top Fuel, knocking off points leader Doug Kalitta in the final round at the most recent NHRA event in Englishtown. The magnitude of it all is still overwhelming for the Australia native, but to say Crampton has enjoyed himself would be a vast understatement.
“My head is still spinning a little bit, and my feet haven’t really touched the ground,” Crampton said. “It’s truly been an amazing two weeks for me.”
Crampton is ready to extend those good feelings even longer and gets his next chance this weekend at the 14th annual Ford NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals presented by Tri-Cities Area Ford Dealers at Bristol Dragway. Steve Torrence (Top Fuel), John Force (Funny Car), and Rodger Brogdon (Pro Stock) were last year’s winners of the event that will be televised nationally on ESPN2.
It is the 10th of 24 events during the 2014 NHRA season, and Crampton is already in the mix of competing for a championship driving for the Morgan Lucas Racing team in his rookie campaign. He made a major move at Englishtown, qualifying a season-best No. 2 with a 3.750 at 326.95 mph.
He took out defending world champion Shawn Langdon in the semifinals before edging out Kalitta in a thrilling final round at Englishtown. That set off a memorable celebration that started with team owner Morgan Lucas, who stepped away from full-time driving duties in 2014 and handed the reigns over to Crampton.
“It’s still just surreal to me to think that we won like that since Doug Kalitta has got the best Top Fuel car around right now,” Crampton said. “Obviously, I had no idea that I could ever possibly stake my claim on that list of so many legendary drivers in that unique slot of No. 100. It is kind of like the cherry on top. Trying to go out and win a Top Fuel drag race has always been something that I have always dreamed about doing. To get to contend in a final and win and then be No. 100 on a list that’s full of so many legends, that’s definitely still surreal to me.”
The win shot Crampton up to ninth in the points standings in the loaded Top Fuel class, but continuing to climb against a litany of championship contenders will be difficult. Torrence recorded his first win at Bristol a year ago, and Kalitta is a three-time winner in Bristol. Other marquee challengers that Crampton will face in Bristol include five-time event winner Tony Schumacher, 2012 world champion Antron Brown, J.R. Todd, and 2013 Automobile Club of Southern California Road to the Future Award winner Brittany Force.
The Englishtown victory certainly put Crampton, who worked at MLR for the past seven years, in the mix for NHRA’s Rookie of the Year award in 2014, something he said is only made possible by the backing of a great team that starts with crew chiefs Aaron Brooks and Rod Centorbi.
“We all know the caliber of this team, and we all know the way that Aaron Brooks goes about running this race car,” Crampton said. “I’m very fortunate to start my career driving in one of the best Top Fuel cars around. The car I get to drive finished No. 4 in the world last year, so when you kind of keep that in mind, there’s no reason why this team shouldn’t perform.”
The next challenge comes this weekend in trying to solve the Thunder Valley riddle that has been hard to crack for the Morgan Lucas Racing team.
“Bristol is one of my favorite racetracks to visit, and the fans are so great, so I'm pretty excited to go race there," Crampton said. “However, Morgan Lucas Racing, traditionally, hasn't run very well there, so it's exciting to go with a great-running race car. We hope to do better than we have in the past and keep the ball rolling.”
As always, fans will have the opportunity to interact with their favorite drivers as they’re granted an exclusive pit pass to the most powerful and sensory-filled motorsports attraction on the planet. This unique opportunity in motorsports gives fans direct access to the teams, allowing them to see firsthand the highly-skilled mechanics service their hot rods between rounds, and enjoy some cherished face time and get autographs from their favorite NHRA drivers.
Fans also will want to visit NHRA’s popular Nitro Alley and Manufacturers Midway, where sponsors and race vendors create a carnival atmosphere, with interactive displays, simulated competitions, merchandise, food, and fun for the entire family.
NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series qualifying begins Friday, June 13, with sessions at 5 and 7:30 p.m. The final two qualifying sessions will take place Saturday, June 14, at 12:30 and 3 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for Sunday, June 15, at 11 a.m.
The event will also showcase the thrilling action in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series and the NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series.
To purchase general-admission or reserved seats, call Bristol Dragway at (866) 901-2679 or visit www.thundervalleytix.com.