Story By: SCOTT SMITH / NHRA – BAYTOWN, TX – 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.”
Ron Capps will look for his fifth career Funny Car win at Royal Purple Raceway and first of 2018, facing off against stars like Todd, points leader Jack Beckman, seven-time Houston winner John Force and defending world champ Robert Hight.
Bo Butner, the defending Pro Stock world champ, is the current points leader and won in Pomona. He will look to fend off the likes of Vegas winner Vincent Nobile and Phoenix winner Chris McGaha.
The E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series presented by J&A Service makes its second of 12 stops in 2018 at Royal Purple Raceway. Rickie Smith won the season-opener at Gainesville. The event also features thrilling competition in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series, showcasing the future stars of the sport, as well as the Mickey Thompson Tires NHRA Top Fuel Harley Drag Racing Series. After Nitro qualifying on Friday, fans can also watch the spectacular “Lonestar Lightning,” El Arabe Racing “Majestic,” “GameXChange” and “FireStarter” jet cars. Jet cars are thrust driven vehicles propelled by jet engines with exciting pre-run flame shows.
Those in attendance will have the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to interact with a few of the most renowned names in drag racing during the NHRA Legends Tour. This will contain meet-and-greets, autograph sessions, and a variety of other activities. Legends scheduled to attend during the weekend of the NHRA SpringNationals include Tom “Mongoose” McEwen, Richard Tharpe, and “Waterbed” Fred Miller.”
As always, fans can interact with their favorite drivers with an exclusive pit pass to the most powerful and sensory-filled motorsports attraction on the planet. This unique chance 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 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 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.