Heading to prestigious zMAX Dragway for the first time as a driver this weekend, the Australian native certainly expects to add another memorable first to his resume.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Richie Crampton has enjoyed every experience thus far in his rookie season driving the GEICO/Lucas Oil Top Fuel dragster in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series. Heading to prestigious zMAX Dragway for the first time as a driver this weekend, the Australian native certainly expects to add another memorable first to his resume.
Though he’s been part of the NHRA Four-Wide Nationals before as a crew member for Morgan Lucas Racing, the 2014 rendition, which takes place this weekend in Charlotte, will be Crampton’s first to experience the thunderous excitement that is 30,000-plus horsepower roaring down four lanes.
"Like so many things I thought I could prepare for in the past few months, there's really nothing that can help you as much as just physically getting there and doing it,” Crampton said. "I was with Morgan (Lucas), guiding him into the staging beams as a crew member every time that he raced the Four-Wide Nationals. I paid close attention to what you can expect and what things to look for when you're worried about staging against three other cars. I know a small amount about it, but it's definitely going to be something new for me. We'll see how we do when we get there."
In one of the most unique and thrilling races in motorsports, the world’s top racers will compete at zMAX Dragway, home to the only four-lane, all-concrete dragstrip. Spencer Massey (Top Fuel), Matt Hagan (Funny Car), Mike Edwards (Pro Stock) and Hector Arana Jr. (PSM) were last year’s winners of the Four-Wide Nationals that will once again be televised on ESPN2.
This year’s race is the fifth of 24 events on the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series circuit and Crampton continues to take steps in the right direction, even if the team continues to search for more round victories.
With Morgan Lucas stepping away from driving on a full-time basis, Crampton was named the full-time driver for the 8,000-horsepower GEICO/Lucas Oil dragster, fulfilling a lifelong dream. Since then Crampton has taken full advantage of the opportunity, working hard and doing everything he can to end up with a successful rookie season.
Of course, nothing comes easy jumping into the competitive-filled world of Top Fuel race where championship contenders await at every turn. Still, Crampton has set high expectations for his team.
"I'm extremely comfortable driving the race cars,” Crampton said. “I’ve had some issues on the starting line in Gainesville and Las Vegas, but we tested on Monday after Vegas and I seem to get back into the rhythm that I had in Pomona and Phoenix. I'm excited to go and compete, and my comfort level has gone up a lot. When we roll into a race now, I don't just try to qualify and try to not mess up. I'm there trying to compete and win. My outlook on it has changed a lot and I definitely want to try and go rounds for GEICO, Lucas Oil and Toyota.”
Crampton started the season in Pomona with his first career round victory, but has suffered three first-round losses since, including one to Lucas in Gainesville. Heading to zMAX Dragway for the NHRA Four-Wide Nationals, things won’t be any easier.
Nobody has been better at the event than Massey, who has won two straight years and points leader Doug Kalitta has been red hot, advancing to three final round appearances in four events. Other top contenders include Tony Schumacher, who picked up his first victory in 2014 at Las Vegas, defending Top Fuel world champion Shawn Langdon, 2012 champ Antron Brown, Steve Torrence, Khalid alBalooshi and Brittany Force.
The additional challenges that the Four-Wide presents adds to the laundry list of challenges, but Crampton, who is ninth in points, is seemingly embracing all of them. The team is also the last Top Fuel team to win in Charlotte after Lucas won there last fall during the Countdown to the Championship playoffs.
"Putting the blinders on and running my own race in my own lane and not paying attention to the other three lanes is going to be the biggest part of experiencing Four-Wide,” Crampton said. “We'll go about business like any other race weekend and try to have some fun. I'm definitely looking forward to it. It's a great show for the fans in Charlotte and it’s an excellent facility. I can't wait to get there and be a part of it."
In Funny Car, Four-Wide Nationals winner and former world champion Robert Hight takes the points lead into Charlotte and has posted three final round appearances in 2014. His teammate and defending world champion John Force is second and was the first Four-Wide winner in the class. Other top stars in the class include Alexis DeJoria, who won for the second time in 2014 at Las Vegas, Ron Capps, defending event winner Hagan, Courtney Force, Del Worsham, Tommy Johnson Jr. and Jack Beckman.
With defending event champ Edwards taking a break from competition and local favorite and two-time winner Greg Anderson still recovering from heart surgery, the Pro Stock field will be loaded with drivers trying to race to their first Four-Wide Nationals win. Points leader Erica Enders-Stevens comes to Charlotte on the heels of a memorable weekend in Las Vegas of winning the K&N Horsepower Challenge as well as the event. Other top competitors include Allen Johnson, reigning world champion Jeg Coughlin, Jason Line, V Gaines, Shane Gray, Vincent Nobile, Dave Connolly and Jimmy Alund.
In Pro Stock Motorcycle, the top names in the two-wheeled class will be stacked across all four lanes and Arana Jr. will face tough competition in his quest to repeat at the NHRA Four-Wide Nationals. Everyone is currently chasing points leader Steven Johnson and reigning world champ Matt Smith won the event in 2010. The likes of Eddie Krawiec, Andrew Hines, Michael Ray, John Hall and more of the two-wheel contingent will also try to add their names to the winner’s list.
As always, fans will have the chance 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 opportunity in motorsports gives fans direct access to the teams, allowing them to see the highly-skilled mechanics service their hot rods between rounds, and enjoy cherished face time with 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 Series qualifying begins Friday, April 11, with sessions at 1:15 p.m. and 4:15 p.m. The final two qualifying sessions will take place Saturday, April 12, at 1:15 p.m. and 4:15 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for noon on Sunday, April 13.