From NHRA Communications
TOPEKA, Kan. — Richie Crampton got the lift he needed to kick off one of the busiest stretches during the 2016 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season. Now returning to the place where he has had prior success, the Top Fuel standout hopes it signals the first breakout performance of the season.
Struggling through a patch of four first-round losses in five races, Crampton saw encouraging signs out of his 10,000-horsepower Lucas Oil dragster last weekend in Atlanta. It netted only a first-round win to kick off a span of six races in seven weeks, but Crampton believes his team has turned the corner on its 2016 season.
Serving as the defending event winner of this weekend’s 28th annual NHRA Kansas Nationals at Heartland Park Topeka, Crampton, currently eighth in points in his third season in Top Fuel, believes the busy pace will keep himself and his team on an upward surge.
“I prefer a busy stretch because you get so much seat time so frequently during back-to-back races that it helps keep you sharp and in the mix,” said Crampton, who has seven career wins. “At the end of the day, you’re doing what you love to do, and that’s go racing. For me, it’s important to do my job week in and week out and try and be consistent.”
Jack Beckman (Funny Car) and Erica Enders (Pro Stock) were also last year’s winners. The race will be televised on FOX Sports 1, including live finals on Sunday. It is the eighth of 24 races during the 2016 campaign and an opportunity for the defending event winner Crampton to pick up his first victory of the season.
It was Crampton’s second of five wins a year ago as the Australia native qualified second and put together a banner weekend. Those have been hard to come by thus far in 2016, but Crampton believes the team made significant progress in Atlanta. He continued his strong performances in qualifying taking the No. 2 spot, but saw major improvements in consistency, something that has been lacking early in the season.
“We’ve got a lot to build on after last weekend (in Atlanta),” Crampton said. “We went down five out of the six runs and were competitive, for sure. (Crew chief) Aaron (Brooks) has done a great job of getting us back on track, and the guys have kept plugging away.
“We’re looking good to carry this new momentum back into a place where we have the track record and won the race the last time we ran there. We’re pretty excited about Topeka right now.”
Just getting over the hump in the first round at Atlanta was encouraging for Crampton and the entire team’s psyche. He fell in the quarterfinals to Shawn Langdon, but Crampton, who was named the NHRA’s top rookie in 2014, had only been out of the first round once since the season-opener in Pomona.
The team found momentum but maintaining it is the hard part in a Top Fuel class loaded with talent. Doug Kalitta won his second straight race in Atlanta to take over the points lead, while other standouts include reigning world champion Antron Brown, Brittany Force, who has two victories in 2016, Winternationals winner Steve Torrence, Clay Millican, J.R. Todd, Terry McMillen and eight-time world champion Tony Schumacher.
“To get out of the first round is huge,” Crampton said. “First-round losses crush your points implications. We’re already keeping an eye on that, so to get out of the first round was huge. To make one of the best runs of the session with a 3.749 was also pretty good. We were obviously looking for more. But all things considered, it was a very constructive, successful weekend.”
Returning to Topeka gives the team added good vibes and the assurance they can run fast and consistently at the track. But even through the struggles earlier this season, Crampton liked what he saw out of his team. The team continued to work hard to find answers and Crampton believes the group won’t have to wait long for the payoff. Doing well in this hectic stretch will also give the team plenty of momentum heading into the summer and into the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship, which Crampton qualified for during his first two seasons.
“As I’ve seen first-hand with my particular team, the commitment and the will to succeed and get back on track is there,” said Crampton, who is undefeated in seven side-by-side final-round appearances. “Morale never really gets down. We have a great group, and they know that it’s going to come around because (crew chief) Aaron (Brooks) is one of the best and the Lucas Oil team is one of the best teams out here, period. It’s just working through the challenges.”
In Funny Car, fans witnessed what was at the time a record 15 three-second runs in the class last year. Race winner Beckman made five of those three-second runs, including a 3.984 second sprint in the finals to defeat 16-time world champion John Force. Beckman is after his first win of 2016, while others to watch include two-time season winner Tim Wilkerson, points leader Courtney Force, reigning world champion Del Worsham, Robert Hight, three-time Topeka winner Ron Capps, four-time Topeka winner Cruz Pedregon, Chad Head, Alexis DeJoria and two-time world champ Matt Hagan, who won last weekend in Atlanta.
In Pro Stock, Enders claimed her third victory of the 2015 season by racing past Greg Anderson one year ago. The two-time defending world champ will be looking for her second win in Topeka and first of 2016, as Anderson and Jason Line have dominated the new era of Pro Stock, which includes fuel-injected engines, shorter wheelie bars, flat hoods and a 10,500 RPM rev-limiter. Points leader Line has four victories and Anderson has three this season. Others to watch in the 200 mph factory hot rod category include Bo Butner, Chris McGaha, 2014 top rookie Drew Skillman, 2012 world champ Allen Johnson, five-time world champion Jeg Coughlin, Vincent Nobile, Shane Gray and Gas Monkey Garage Chevy Camaro driver Alex Laughlin.
As always, fans will have the opportunity to 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 in motorsports gives fans direct access to the teams, allowing them to see firsthand how the highly-skilled mechanics service their hot rods between rounds, and get autographs from their favorite NHRA drivers.
The event also will feature thrilling competition in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series.
Mello Yello Drag Racing Series qualifying will feature two rounds at 4:30 and 7 p.m. on Friday, May 20 and the final two rounds of qualifying on Saturday, May 21, at 1:30 and 4 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sunday, May 22.