Rookie Richie Crampton flexed his muscles en route to the current No. 1 qualifying position in Top Fuel at the O’Reilly Auto Parts NHRA SpringNationals presented by Super Start Batteries at Royal Purple Raceway on Friday.
Del Worsham (Funny Car) and Allen Johnson (Pro Stock) also were the leaders in their respective categories at the sixth of 24 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series events.
Crampton, who is making only his sixth career Top Fuel start, piloted his GEICO/Lucas Oil dragster to a performance of 3.807 seconds at 322.11 mph.
"It’s still surreal that I get to do this,” said Crampton, who replaced team owner Morgan Lucas in the car and achieved a lifelong dream of driving a Top Fuel dragster. “It’s a tribute to [crew chief] Aaron Brooks and this GEICO team. We’ve been working hard this season and haven’t quite qualified the way we like to. To get into the No. 1 spot tonight was just a payoff for all that hard work.”
The Morgan Lucas Racing driver is halfway to his first career No. 1 qualifier but had to wait a bit longer than expected. An on-track delay forced Crampton to nervously wait to see if his time would hold. The Adelaide, Australia, native and his team worked to create the right tune-up for his top run.
“I don’t know what to say apart from that it’s a great deal,” Crampton said. “Aaron is adjusting everything right until the last question. He’s watching what everyone else is doing and leaning in the box to make adjustments. Apparently, it worked out. It was a long time to wait for the final two cars to make a run with the track getting better, but we were able to hang on to that No. 1 spot.”
Spencer Massey sits second following the first two sessions with a 3.809 pass at 320.13 in his Battery Extender powered by Schumacher Electric dragster. Massey, a Fort Worth, Texas, native is looking for his first career win in the state of Texas.
Worsham, the 2011 Top Fuel world champion, launched his DHL Toyota Camry to a 4.051 pass at 314.68 to lead Funny Car qualifying after two sessions in humid conditions.
“The first run is really the key to making a good lap on the second run,” said Worsham. “We took a little bit of a shot at the track, and it stuck. We don’t see these conditions very often. Nicky Boninfante, Jon Oberhofer, and Connie Kalitta dialed it in to go down there.”
The Chino Hills, Calif., native has three career wins at Royal Purple Raceway (two in Funny Car and one in Top Fuel) and one No. 1 qualifying effort in 2001. Worsham has fond memories of the Houston track and is hoping for a fourth win.
“I’ve been coming here since the track opened up,” Worsham said. “I was with my dad with his Funny Car in 1989, and we were in the semifinals against Scott Kalitta when he won his first Funny Car race. I was 18 years old doing the bottom end. Both cars went silent, and it was a coasting race to the finish line. We came back here in 2001, and we were also the No. 1 qualifier. That kind of got my whole career jump-started. We won some races before then, but that was the first one where we won by qualifying No. 1 and running low e.t. of a couple rounds.”
Jack Beckman currently is qualified No. 2 with a 4.063 run at 314.09. The 2012 Funny Car world champion is looking for his first win of the season.
Johnson’s 6.555 pass at 211.63 in his Magnetti Morelli Dodge Dart was good enough to lead the Pro Stock field heading into the final two qualifying sessions. Despite the humid conditions, the 2012 Pro Stock world champion was confident that his team knew how to prepare his machine.
“We’ve raced many times in humidity, and we usually do good in humidity,” said Johnson. “We’re still adapting to the new Dodge Dart. We’ve just got three races under our belt with it, so each track and each situation presents a new set of difficulties with the new car. I’ve got a professional team, and they adapted well with it and made a really great run that last run.”
Royal Purple Raceway is one of the few tracks where Johnson hasn’t secured a win but has two runner-up finishes. Johnson feels that the close calls only motivate him more.
“We’ve been very fortunate to win at a lot of tracks, and this is one that’s slipped through our fingers many times,” said Johnson. “It presents a challenge to us that we want to win. Tomorrow is 4/26, and that’s Happy Hemi Day, so we got a good start towards Happy Hemi Day.”
Johnson has two victories so far this season in Phoenix and Gainesville but cooled off in Las Vegas and Charlotte. His Dodge Dart was quick enough to knock Houston native Erica Enders-Stevens to the current No. 2 position.
Qualifying for the O’Reilly Auto Parts NHRA SpringNationals continues on Saturday at 12:30 and 3 p.m. with eliminations to take place Sunday at 11 a.m.
Jim Laurita Jr. raced to the qualifying lead Friday in the NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series portion of the event.
Laurita raced his Switzer Dynamics ‘68 Mustang to a top performance of 5.847 seconds at 247.38 mph. His run will lead the field as the NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series race in Houston, presented by J&A Service at this event, heads into Saturday’s final qualifying sessions. The Morgantown, W. Va, native is just two sessions away from his second No. 1 qualifier of his career.
Defending NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series world champion Rickie Smith sits second after the first day with a 5.881 pass at 244.69. Kevin Fiscus and Ron Muenks also recorded passes in the 5.8-second range to close the day.
The Pro Mod Series qualifying continues on Saturday with sessions at 2 and 4:30 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for Sunday at 9:45 a.m.