A year after not competing in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Countdown to the Championship, Richie Crampton is thrilled to be back in the mix of racing for a top 10 spot in Top Fuel. But it also means the Australia native has work to do heading to Brainerd International Raceway for the 37th annual Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals, Aug. 16-19.
It marks the penultimate event in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series regular season and Crampton currently finds himself in 10th driving the 10,000-horsepower Kalitta Air/DHL dragster for Kalitta Motorsports. He has a 67-point advantage over 11th-place Mike Salinas and with an eye toward moving up in the standings heading into the NHRA’s six-race playoffs, Crampton is banking on having a big weekend in Brainerd, where he won in 2015.
“This year, it’s been refreshing to be back in the mix and I think we’ve got what it takes to compete with the best teams out there,” said Crampton, who has eight career Top Fuel wins. “You want to be aware of the points and where you’re standing, but you can’t give yourself a gut ache about it. We’ve got a good car and if you keep doing your best, the results will come. You don’t want to bring any more nerves to the starting line, and you just do what you know what you can do.”
Leah Pritchett (Top Fuel), Alexis DeJoria (Funny Car), Tanner Gray (Pro Stock), and Jerry Savoie (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were last year’s winners of the event that will be televised on FOX Sports 1, including live final eliminations coverage starting at 1 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 19. It is the 17th of 24 races in a 2018 season that has already included a win for Crampton.
A year after only competing in the final seven races of 2017, Crampton posted an early-season win in Gainesville but has been trying to recreate that same magic in a loaded Top Fuel field. The team, led by team owner/crew chief Connie Kalitta and assistant crew chief Rob Flynn, has just one semifinal appearance in the past 12 races, but Crampton knows his team is capable of big things and he remains confident his team can win more races in 2018.
“It hasn’t all come together completely for us, but we’re working our way there,” Crampton said. “But when the chips are down, it’s a test of how you can handle it. We’re aware of the points and aware of everything, but you can’t get down on yourself. It’s good to have a guy like Connie in your corner. He knows how this whole thing works, and this whole group at Kalitta Motorsports is one of the best teams out here. To be a part of it, a lot of good things come with it.”
The good part is a wealth of experience and expertise, as well as a veteran Top Fuel teammate in Doug Kalitta. There’s also good vibes heading to Brainerd, where Crampton previously won and has always enjoyed racing. He’ll be competing against the likes of points leader Steve Torrence, defending event winner Pritchett, Clay Millican, Tony Schumacher and defending world champion Brittany Force at the fan-favorite event, but the festive atmosphere surrounding the race always seems to bring out the best in Crampton, who enjoys feeding off that energy.
“Some tracks just seem to be better for you than others, and I really enjoy that race,” Crampton said. “There’s a lot of cool things that surround that race and the way the fans support you. It’s definitely a fun track to go to. Brainerd is definitely unique, but the way everyone gets behind you at that race and all those enthusiastic fans and the ‘Zoo,’ it’s really a lot of fun.”
Funny Car points leader Courtney Force will look for her first career Brainerd win against the likes of Matt Hagan, five-time event winner Ron Capps, and John Force, who has 11 Brainerd victories.
Pro Stock’s Gray has three 2018 wins, but he’s chasing points leader Greg Anderson, a Minnesota native with three Brainerd wins. Others to watch are Erica Enders and Vincent Nobile.
Savoie will look for his second Pro Stock Motorcycle win of 2018 against points leader Andrew Hines, Eddie Krawiec, Hector Arana Jr. and Sonoma winner LE Tonglet.
The event also features thrilling competition in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series, showcasing future stars of the sport. After Nitro qualifying, fans can watch the spectacular Lucas Oil Muy Caliente jet car. Jet cars are 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 feature meet-and-greets, autograph sessions, and a variety of other activities. Legends scheduled to attend the Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals include Tom Hoover, Al Corda and Forrest Lucas.
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 1:40 and 4:20 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 17 and the final two rounds of qualifying on Saturday, Aug. 18, at 12:45 and 3:45 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sunday, Aug. 19.
To purchase tickets, call 218-824-RACE (7223) or 866-444-4455. Tickets are only available by phone or at the gate. 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. For more information about the NHRA visit www.NHRA.com.