Sears Point: Lampus looks for more in Sonoma

SONOMA, Calif. (August 2) -- The success reigning IHRA champion Don Lampus and his ExpressAutoParts.com Top Fuel team have experienced in their first year on the NHRA tour has raised the group's expectations to new heights. The 36-year-old from...

SONOMA, Calif. (August 2) -- The success reigning IHRA champion Don Lampus and his ExpressAutoParts.com Top Fuel team have experienced in their first year on the NHRA tour has raised the group's expectations to new heights. The 36-year-old from Dallas has successfully qualified for every race and has been winning elimination rounds with regularity. In fact, he's held a coveted spot in the Winston points standings since mid-April.

Now, as the group heads to Sears Point Raceway for this weekend's 13th annual Autolite Nationals, they've raised the bar quite a bit from their humble beginnings. Gone are the days when simply being a part of the show was good enough. This group of champions is looking for more.

"When we started the year we really didn't know what to expect," said Lampus. "We had just won the IHRA championship so we knew what it took to compete at that level. We just weren't sure what we'd encounter over here. I didn't even know if the other teams would acknowledge us. Our goal when we pulled into Pomona (Calif.) was to qualify. That's it. I figured if we did that a couple of times we'd be okay.

"Since then we've grown as a team and we've learned a lot about this series. We also realized that we could make a little noise ourselves. A few weeks ago in Denver was a real high point. We were the fastest car there and we raced through to the semifinals. It was a huge lift for us because we saw that we could hang with the big boys.

"Without anyone saying it out loud our goals have sort of shifted gears. Now, if we don't qualify in the top half of the field and win at least one round on race day, I'm a little disappointed because I know we're good enough to do that every race."

Growth is part of any rookie's campaign and Lampus' efforts this season have garnered him serious consideration as the NHRA's Rookie of the Year. It's yet another goal on this former SCORE off-road world champion's horizon he hopes to accomplish.

"I think we've got to maintain our current level of performance and stay locked into the top 10 to get close to the Rookie of the Year trophy," Lampus said. "It wouldn't hurt to win a race either. I tell you, it would be such an honor to receive that award and share it with the boys. All I know is that we can't worry about it. I need to keep driving this ExpressAutoParts.com Top Fuel dragster as hard as I can every lap out and that stuff will take care of itself.

"I haven't been around for long but I have learned that lane choice is crucial. To earn it you have to be one of the top eight cars at the race. That's saying a lot because the competition here is the best in the world, bar none. There are a bunch of cars that can win any race. The big boys are here and they're hungry. We're just fighting for our own little space."

Several hours of the 13th annual Autolite Nationals will be broadcast on ESPN2. Qualifying highlights will air from 9:30-11 p.m. (ET)/6:30-8 p.m. (PT) Saturday. Eliminations will be shown from 9:30p.m. - midnight (ET)/6:30-9 p.m. (PT) Sunday with a rebroadcast from 1-3 p.m. (ET)/10 a.m. - noon (PT) on Wednesday, Aug. 9.

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Series NHRA