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Top Fuel newcomer Richie Crampton gave his Rookie of the Year bid a giant boost Sunday by winning the 45th annual Toyota NHRA Summernationals at Old Bridge Township Raceway Park. Crampton beat points leader Doug Kalitta in a thrilling last round, 3.819 to 3.848, becoming just the second Australian-born pro winner in NHRA history.
“Has this really happened?” Crampton said. “I’m absolutely over the moon with this win. I already know I’m the luckiest guy in the pit and now we’ve proven it. This is beyond anything I could have ever imagined to go from a crew guy to standing here with a Wally (trophy) in just a few months time.
“I’m so humbled that GEICO, Lucas Oil, and Toyota showed faith in me and gave me this awesome opportunity. I’m really quite stunned at the moment.”
Adding a special twist to the occasion, Crampton’s father Al was on the starting line for the memorable moment. Crampton’s parents are visiting from Adelaide, South Australia, primarily to help with new baby girl Emma, whom Crampton and his longtime girlfriend Stephanie Laski welcomed into the world on May 20th.
“The timing was perfect,” Crampton said. “I had a really tearful moment with Dad at the top end when he arrived down there. He’s the reason I’m racing. The sacrifices him and my mum (June) made taking me to go-kart races and the drags back home when I was a boy, all the encouragement, I simply wouldn’t be here without them.
“The only problem is Mum’s back in Indiana with Stephanie and she’ll be quite upset she missed this, I’m sure. I can’t wait to get home and share this moment with everyone there.”
When he takes a moment to reflect on this victory, Crampton will realize he earned the hardware. After qualifying No. 2 on the grid, he was the clear favorite in the opening round until he noticed his right front wheel was going flat as he backed up from the pre-race burnout.
“I’d never had that happen, so I didn’t know whether to give up or just go for it,” he said. “I decided to just go and it was surprising how well the car steered considering the rubber was shredding the entire way down the track.”
Crampton then had to pedal his car in both the quarter- and semi-finals to get to the other end, out driving JR Todd and reigning world champion Shawn Langdon in the process.
The last event against top qualifier Kalitta was a straight-up drag race with Crampton winning with a 3.819 at 320.51 mph to Kalitta’s 3.848 at 317.34 mph. Including the reaction times, Crampton’s margin of victory was just .009-second.
“Doug’s had the car this year so far, so to better him that round was a real accomplishment.
“I bet this news will ring across Australia pretty well. I’m doing my best to represent Australian drag racing, and I know we have a lot of folks keeping up with us down there. I bet some pints will be downed at the pubs tonight!”