Story By: SCOTT SMITH / NHRA – SONOMA, CA – Richie Crampton isn’t all the way there yet, but he feels like his Kalitta Motorsports team is on the right track heading into this weekend’s NHRA Sonoma Nationals at scenic Sonoma Raceway. With the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship quickly approaching, that’s a good thing for the Top Fuel standout and his talented team.
Crampton started the Western Swing with a round win on Sunday in Denver, which was preceded by a semifinal appearance in Epping in his 11,000-horsepower DHL dragster. There’s plenty more to accomplish during the 2019 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season, but Crampton is confident his team will get there when it counts. Sitting eighth in points, Crampton is ready to see his team continue its upward ascension as he seeks his first playoff berth since 2016.
“We’re real close to being where we want to be to get that raceday consistency,” Crampton said. “I feel like (crew chiefs) Connie (Kalitta) and Kurt (Elliott) are where they want to be with the car. That’s just them working on our combination all season. I know Connie can win in Sonoma. I’ve seen it first-hand driving against this car, so it’s pretty exciting for me that they know how to get down these hotter race tracks. These next few races are going to be pretty critical for me.”
Blake Alexander (Top Fuel), Robert Hight (Funny Car), Jeg Coughlin Jr. (Pro Stock) and LE Tonglet (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were last year’s winners of the event that will be televised on FOX, including live final eliminations coverage starting at 5:00 p.m. (ET) on Sunday. It is the 15th of 24 races during the 2019 NHRA season and the second of three races during the famed NHRA Western Swing. Crampton will try for his first Sonoma win, but the dragster he’s campaigning has recent success at the facility with J.R. Todd’s win in 2016.
Todd is now the defending world champ in Funny Car, but that victory gives Crampton confidence. All four Kalitta Motorsports cars have wins this season, including Crampton’s victory in Gainesville, but he’s ready for more. He lost to Todd in that 2016 final and Crampton is ready for his first victory at Sonoma, which is one of his favorite tracks on the NHRA circuit.
“I have a ton of confidence at a track like Sonoma,” said Crampton, who has nine career Top Fuel wins. “I love Sonoma. It’s a grade-A facility with a great fanbase and a beautiful part of the country. Before I’m done, I hope to have a Wally at Sonoma. We have to get down the racetrack, qualify well and I need to do my job inside the car. I haven’t been totally happy with my performance the last few races, but I think I’ll thrive on the pressure when the time comes.”
That means a “whatever it takes to get to the finish line first” mindset, especially in a loaded Top Fuel class that starts with points leader and defending world champ Steve Torrence, who has won eight of the past nine races in 2019. Crampton will also have to deal with the likes of Brittany Force, Leah Pritchett, Clay Millican, Antron Brown and teammate Doug Kalitta. He’s currently ahead of Scott Palmer, Terry McMillen and Austin Prock, who he beat in the first round on Sunday in Denver, and Crampton is determined to keep pushing forward.
“This is another race where I’m going to show up and do my best to try to win,” Crampton said. “You definitely look at and pay attention to the points, and it is an important crossroads of the season for me. But I love it. When you look at the car I get to drive and the team I get to drive for, I really relish the position I’m in. I keep that in mind when I go up to race. I love it and I’m hungry to win, and I know my team is as well.”
Funny Car’s Hight will look to strengthen his points lead with another Sonoma victory, but he’ll face off against Denver winner Tommy Johnson Jr., defending world champ J.R. Todd, and John Force.
Three-time Sonoma winner Jeg Coughlin Jr. aims to add another in Pro Stock against points leader Bo Butner, and 2019 season winners Greg Anderson, Chris McGaha and Deric Kramer.
Andrew Hines will look to keep his hot streak going in Pro Stock Motorcycle. He’s won six of the eight races in 2019 and will compete against defending world champ Matt Smith, Eddie Krawiec and Hector Arana Jr. On Saturday, the class takes center stage with the Mickey Thompson Tire Pro Bike Battle, a special race-within-a-race on Saturday featuring eight top riders. Smith grabbed the win last year, taking home the $25,000 prize.
The event features thrilling competition in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series as well, showcasing the future stars of the sport.
NHRA fans can take part in the Mello Yello Walking Tour to see the teams hard at work in the pits. Fans can also attend Pro Stock Motorcycle school at 1:30 p.m. on Friday, as well as Nitro School to learn how the cars and motorcycles operate and reach their thrilling speeds. Sonoma Raceway will host a Mello Yello autograph session and allow fans to meet their favorite drivers. Another can’t-miss experience is the winner’s circle celebration on Sunday after racing concludes. NHRA fans can congratulate the winners as they celebrate their NHRA Sonoma Nationals victories.
As always, fans can 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 gives fans direct access to the teams, allowing them to see firsthand the highly-skilled mechanics service their hot rods between rounds, 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.
Mello Yello Drag Racing Series qualifying will feature two rounds at 3:15 and 6:15 p.m. on Friday, July 26 and the final two rounds of qualifying on Saturday, July 27 at 1:20 and 4:20 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sunday, July 28.
The first round of the NHRA Mickey Thompson Tire Pro Bike Battle takes place at 1:15 p.m. on Saturday, July 27. The semifinals follow at 4:15 p.m. with the finals slated for 5:30 p.m.
Television coverage includes Friday Night Nitro Live at 7 p.m. ET on Friday on FS1, and live finals action at 2:30 p.m. ET on FS1 on Sunday before a live, two-hour broadcast on FOX starting at 5 p.m. There will also be a special hour-long Pro Stock episode at 10 p.m. ET on FS1 on Sunday.
EIGHT TOP PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE RIDERS RACING FOR $25,000 PRIZE IN MICKEY THOMPSON TIRES PRO BIKE BATTLE AT NHRA SONOMA NATIONALS
The field is set for the annual Mickey Thompson Tires Pro Bike Battle featuring the very best in the Pro Stock Motorcycle category. This race-within-a-race pits the top eight riders in the class against each other as they compete for a $25,000 prize on July 27 during the 32nd annual NHRA Sonoma Nationals.
Former world champions Eddie Krawiec, Matt Smith, Andrew Hines, Angelle Sampey and Hector Arana Sr. comprise five of the eight competitors who earned the most bonus points during qualifying between the annual events. Also among the elite eight are Hector Arana Jr., Angie Smith and Ryan Oehler.
Unlike previous years, the final standings (led by Krawiec) will not determine first-round matchups in this exciting battle. First-round pairings will be decided on stage during a pre-race ceremony only moments before competition begins. The riders will each select a special Mickey Thompson tire. The inside of each tire will be numbered one through four. The riders who select tires with the same numbers inside will be paired up against each other for the opening round.
Current world champion M.Smith won this iconic event in 2018 when he defeated Krawiec in the final round, providing a big boost of momentum going into the Countdown to the Championship and setting him on a positive course that stretched through the remainder of the season. Krawiec and his teammate Hines have been dominant forces in Pro Stock Motorcycle so far this year and each competitor understands how the Mickey Thompson Tires Pro Bike Battle can set the stage for success in the countdown.
This year’s competition also marks a milestone for females in the sport as this is the first year to have more than one woman among this elite field. A. Smith and Sampey have both competed in the Mickey Thompson Tires Pro Bike Battle in years past and both plan to be the first woman in NHRA history to bring home the $25,000 prize from this specialty race.
Introductions and tire flips for pairings for the Mickey Thompson Tires Pro Bike Battle take place at 12:45 p.m. on Saturday followed by the first round at 1:15 p.m. The semifinals follow at 4:15 p.m., with the final round slated for 5:30 p.m.