POMONA, CA – February 8, 2016 – (Motor Sports Newswire) – Now, entering his third season in Top Fuel, Richie Crampton doesn’t take his opportunity for granted. That appreciation to drive the 10,000-horsepower Lucas Oil dragster for Morgan Lucas Racing has already taken the Australia native to incredible places, including five victories and a third-place Top Fuel finish in 2015.
That success carried over into the off-season and has Crampton excited for what is ahead during the 2016 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season, starting with this weekend’s tradition-rich 56th annual Circle K NHRA Winternationals at historic Auto Club Raceway at Pomona.
“Every time I get to put on my firesuit and compete in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series, it’s what I wanted my whole life,” said Crampton, who has seven career wins. “It’s still huge for me to be able to drive for such a good team and compete with the best Top Fuel drivers in the world. The fact that I’ve staked my claim in the top five Top Fuel teams is what I’ve always wanted. It’s fantastic.
“I’ve almost got a little bit of the first-time jitters back. I’m anxious to get it going and get that first event underway and put some runs on the board. That’s the feeling right now.”
Shawn Langdon (Top Fuel), Matt Hagan (Funny Car) and Jason Line (Pro Stock) were last year’s winners of the race that will be televised nationally on Fox Sports 1 (FS1), including live coverage of Sunday’s finals at 5 p.m. (ET). The revered event kicks off a thrilling new era in the NHRA, and marks the first of 24 races in the 2016 season.
Crampton made considerable strides his first two seasons in Top Fuel, claiming the Automobile Club of Southern California Road to the Future award in 2014 as the top rookie, also becoming the 100th different winner in Top Fuel. A year ago, Crampton and his team, led by talented crew chief Aaron Brooks, took another major step, winning five races and finishing third behind Antron Brown and Tony Schumacher in Top Fuel.
That included his first win in the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship, a massive accomplishment that also left his team flawless in seven career final round appearances.
“It created a huge amount of excitement and really boosted our confidence even more,” Crampton said. This team is capable of doing that, so it was great to execute and finish No. 3 and mix it up with the best in the world.”
After losing in the opening round at the first two Countdown events, Crampton made a late charge over the final four races, winning in Dallas and giving the team plenty of momentum heading into the winter months.
That led to a productive off-season, where Crampton took extreme delight in watching the team work hard and continue to come together. The collective mindset as a team has Crampton excited for 2016 and hopeful the team continues to move in the right direction.
“It was a very busy but very fun off-season,” Crampton said. “Spirits were high and morale is up. Everyone went over their given area of the car, massaging on it here and there. The confidence we have in knowing we have a really competitive race car and package made for a pretty exciting winter.
“It’s just continued improvement. We’re going to focus on every little part of the car, and I’m going to try to continue to learn and ask questions and grow as a driver. I think our 2016 season is going to be fruitful, given the team I have and the confidence I have carrying with me into the year.”
That confidence is necessary in a loaded Top Fuel class that starts with Brown, who claimed his second world championship a year ago. Other talented contenders include Schumacher, Brittany Force, J.R. Todd, Doug Kalitta, Langdon, Steve Torrence, Dave Connolly, Clay Millican and Leah Pritchett.
But Crampton has focused hard on making improvements in a number of different areas in his short career, which lets him know more are coming if he continues down his current path.
“I feel like I gathered more consistency on race day as a driver, which I believe definitely helped us win races,” Crampton said. “Morgan Lucas Racing has a great group that Morgan has assembled over the past nine years and they continue to get better and better.
“The flow of the team between rounds is fantastic and it showed by the performance of the car. We didn’t have silly mistakes from the crew, and I just tried to become a better, more well-rounded, driver. That’s really what stands out to me as to why we had more success this season.”
In Funny Car, Del Worsham has his sights set on a second straight Funny Car world championship. He will face off against a host of strong challengers to kick off 2016, including national record holder and seven-time 2015 winner Beckman, 16-time world champ John Force, Tommy Johnson Jr., Ron Capps, Hagan, Courtney Force, Cruz Pedregon, Tim Wilkerson and Robert Hight.
Line will try to win the Winternationals for a fifth time in the new-look NHRA Pro Stock category but will be challenged by two-time defending world champ Erica Enders and her new Dodge Dart teammate, five-time world champ Jeg Coughlin. Others to watch in the 200-mph factory hot rod class include last year’s top rookie, Drew Skillman, tough Texan Chris McGaha, Shane Gray, Vincent Nobile, Bo Butner and veteran racers Larry Morgan and V. Gaines.
The sleek new Pro Stock cars will feature fuel-injected engines, shorter wheelie bars, flat hoods and a 10,500 RPM rev-limiter.
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 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 12:30 and 3:30 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 12 and the final two rounds of qualifying on Saturday, Feb. 13, also at 12:30 and 3:30 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sunday, Feb. 14.
CIRCLE K NHRA WINTERNATIONALS FACT SHEET
WHAT: 56th annual Circle K NHRA Winternationals, the first of 24 events in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series. Drivers in three categories – Top Fuel, Funny Car and Pro Stock – earn points leading to 2016 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series world championships.
WHERE: Auto Club Raceway at Pomona, Pomona, Calif. Track is located off I-10 at Fairplex Drive. Go north on Fairplex drive.
COURSE: Championship drag strip; Track elevation is 1,100 feet above sea level; Track direction is north to south.
WHEN: Thursday through Sunday, Feb. 11-14
THURSDAY, Feb. 11 – LUCAS OIL SERIES qualifying at 8:15 a.m.
FRIDAY, Feb. 12 – LUCAS OIL SERIES eliminations at 8:15 a.m.
MELLO YELLO SERIES qualifying at 12:30 and 3:30 p.m.
SATURDAY, Feb. 13 – LUCAS OIL SERIES eliminations at 8:15 a.m.
MELLO YELLO SERIES qualifying at 12:30 and 3:30 p.m.
SUNDAY, Feb. 14 – Pre-race ceremonies, 10 a.m.
MELLO YELLO SERIES eliminations begin at 11 a.m.
TELEVISION: Sunday, Feb. 14, FS1 will televise three hours of live eliminations coverage at 5 p.m. (ET).
2015 EVENT WINNERS: Shawn Langdon, Top Fuel; Matt Hagan, Funny Car; Jason Line, Pro Stock
MOST VICTORIES: John Force, FC – 7; Bob Glidden, PS – 7; Greg Anderson, PS- 5; Don Garlits, TF- 5; Warren Johnson, PS – 5; Don Prudhomme, TF/FC – 5; Larry Dixon, TF- 4; Jason Line, PS-4.
Top Fuel – 3.700 sec. by Shawn Langdon, Feb. ’14 and 332.34 mph by Langdon, Nov. ’15
Funny Car – 3.884 sec. by Jack Beckman, Nov. ’15 and 331.45 by Matt Hagan, Nov. ’15
Pro Stock – 6.480 sec. by Erica Enders, Nov. ’14 and 213.84 mph by Drew Skillman, Nov. ’15
Top Fuel – 3.680 sec. by Antron Brown, Aug. ’15, Brainerd, Minn.; 332.75 mph by Spencer Massey, Aug. ’15, Brainerd, Minn.
Funny Car – 3.884 sec. by Jack Beckman, Nov. ’15, Pomona, Calif. and 331.45 mph by Matt Hagan, Nov. ’15, Pomona, Calif.
Pro Stock – 6.455 sec. by Jason Line, March ’15, Charlotte, N.C. and 215.55 mph by Erica Enders, May ‘14, Englishtown N.J.
TICKETS: For tickets call (800) 884-NHRA (6472). Tickets also available online at www.NHRA.com/tickets.