Driving an NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Top Fuel dragster is where Richie Crampton feels most at home, so it has been no surprise to see the Australian have success since returning late last year with Kalitta Motorsports.
He missed the first 17 races of 2017 before joining the Kalitta team and has impressed ever since, advancing to one final round last year before grabbing his first win since 2015 earlier this season in Gainesville. Heading into this weekend’s NHRA SpringNationals at Royal Purple Raceway in his 10,000-horsepower Kalitta Air/DHL dragster, Crampton has thoroughly enjoyed his return to the class as the start of three consecutive races begins this weekend in Houston.
“I'd like to think it's been a really smooth transition,” Crampton said. “We’ve been lucky enough to get a win and that was huge. It just speaks volumes about the Kalitta organization and the racecar I now get to drive for them. We're definitely still striving for some more consistency with the car, but it's just been like getting back on a bike. I love running the racecar and driving, and when it's back-to-back or three in a row, that quick turnaround time is really cool to me. These next three races we've got coming up are races I enjoy, so it's definitely an exciting time for me right now.”
Leah Pritchett (Top Fuel), Ron Capps (Funny Car) and Bo Butner (Pro Stock) were last year’s winners of the event that will be televised on FOX Sports 1, including live finals coverage starting at 2:00 p.m. (ET) on Sunday, April 22. It is the fifth of 24 races in 2018 and Crampton, who is sixth in Top Fuel points, has already been a major contributor in the team’s strong early-season success.
Both Doug Kalitta and Crampton have Top Fuel wins, with Kalitta sitting a spot above Crampton in points. J.R. Todd just won in Funny Car in Las Vegas and Shawn Langdon is having a solid first season in the class. With that wealth of knowledge, Crampton, who has eight career Top Fuel wins, was able to acclimate himself to the dragster and confidence quickly followed.
“Everyone is behind one another 100 percent and it's great,” Crampton said. “What's really great has been having Shawn and J.R. and Doug to bounce things off of and help you become a better driver. Definitely having three of the best driving coaches you can ask for, they've got different ways of looking at things that help you learn and become a better driver because of it. The way they're able to break things down and explain it to me, it helps me a ton with my confidence.”
Crampton will look to replicate the Gainesville win and gain his first career victory at Royal Purple Raceway, but it won’t be easy. He’ll face off against the likes of Leah Pritchett, Texan Steve Torrence, the current points leader who has two wins in 2018, Tony Schumacher, Antron Brown, and reigning world champion Brittany Force. But Crampton is focused on doing well early in the year in hopes of preparing for a championship run in the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship.
“It's definitely very early in the season, but I'm still already looking at where everyone is,” Crampton said. “It's important where you begin your Countdown run. I know we have a lot of races between now and when the Countdown starts, and I'm sixth and that's okay, but you definitely want to do a little better. It's cliché, but if you win rounds and races, the points will take care of themselves, so we'll be trying to win some rounds in Houston and keep on the upward swing.”
Mello Yello Drag Racing Series qualifying will feature two rounds at 4:00 and 6:30 p.m. on Friday, April 20 and the final two rounds of qualifying on Saturday, April 21, at 1:30 and 4 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sunday, April 22.
To purchase general-admission or reserved seats, call (281) 383-7223 or visit www.NHRA.com/tickets. Kids 12 and under are free in general admission areas with a paid adult. To honor the Salute to First Responders, military and first responders can save 20 percent on general admission tickets at the gate.