There is a contradiction that defines Krista Baldwin. On one hand, she might well be the most bubbly, outgoing and friendly individual ever to race a nitro car, but the ever-present smile masks a serious racer who wants nothing more than to compete among Top Fuel’s elite.
While Baldwin knows exactly where she wants to go in her career, she continues to be already amazed by how far she’s come. The granddaughter of nitro pioneer Chris “the Greek” Karamesines and the daughter of So Cal Top Fuel racer Bobby Baldwin, Baldwin is less than ten races into her Top Fuel career, but progress is already evident.
“It’s not a secret that my goal is to be out here full-time and to be in a position to contend for race wins and championships,” said Baldwin, who spends most of the week in her “regular job” as the Creative Director for The Wharton Automotive Group, the conglomerate owned by fellow nitro racer Pau Lee. “The question is ‘How do I get there?’ and I work on that every day. Believe it or not, cold calling [a potential sponsor] is still a thing and I’ve had some success there. Thankfully, I’ve been able to make some good connections and I have a lot of friends who help me be out there.”
After building a solid foundation in the Top Alcohol Dragster class, Baldwin made her debut in Top Fuel at the 2021 Gatornationals and she turned on her first win light a few weeks later at the Four Wide event at zMax Dragway in Concord. A lot has changed since then. Baldwin started racing in her grandfather’s car, but she’s now listed as team owner, and has gained sponsorship from Lucas Oil Products and McLeod clutches to go along with a handful of associate deals.
“Yes, there are still sometimes when I look around and I have to pinch myself,” Baldwin says. “I’m still a little in awe at what has happened. Since I was a kid, I’ve wanted to follow my father and grandfather and race in Top Fuel and it’s actually happening. It is a big responsibility, but I always remember what my father and grandfather taught me, which is to have fun. They both raced because they enjoyed it. My grandfather raced for 70 years because he loved it. That’s something I try not to forget.”
Baldwin also understands that Top Fuel dragsters, or any other race car for that matter, do not run themselves. It takes a group of dedicated people to make it happen and to that end, she’s got about as much support as anyone could want. Baldwin’s crew chief is Scott Graham and she gets a lot of support from well-known A/Fuel racer Anthony Dicero, ace fabricator, Jake Sanders, Dennis Swearingen and Chris Fink, who worked with her grandfather for many years and her BFF, Katie Buttera, who also decends from automotive royalty as the granddaughter of Hall of Fame chassis builder “Lil John” Buttera.
“They are my tribe, and I couldn’t be out here without them,” Baldwin says. “I wouldn’t want to do this without them. They’re not crew people. They are my best friends. We do all of this as a team and that’s our mentality.”
So far this year, Baldwin has raced in Gainesville, Charlotte, and Norwalk with mixed results. She missed the field in Charlotte and Norwalk, but qualified in Gainesville with a solid 3.865, one of the best runs of her brief career. This weekend in Brainerd, Baldwin encountered a few hiccups on Friday, but did manage to run a 4.056 at over 303-mph on a run that was far from perfect.
“On Q1, we had an issue with the clutch cannon and the car stalled as soon as I hit the gas,” said Baldwin. “Q2 was not much better. We had a hole out at the step but it still ran over 300 and all our parts came out clean. We’re trying our best not to hurt this car because we don’t have a lot of spare parts. We have good stuff, and we can run decent numbers, but we have to do it carefully.”
NHRA fans will get several more chances to see Baldwin this year. After Brainerd, she plans to race at the Dodge Power Brokers U.S. Nationals as well as the events in Dallas, Las Vegas and Pomona. She’s particularly excited to race at Auto Club Pomona Raceway, where her late father was a regular in the 1990s.
“Making a run in Pomona will be a big deal,” Baldwin said. “My dad’s ashes are in the sand trap so for me to drive a Top Fuel dragster on that track will mean the world to me.”