MADISON, IL – September 24, 2019 – (Motor Sports NewsWire) – In the span of a few hours, Richie Crampton’s season took a sudden turn at the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship opener. Now the Top Fuel veteran is excited to see if he can keep the momentum rolling at this weekend’s eighth annual AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway.
Crampton won the first event of the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series’ six-race playoffs, immediately throwing his name into the championship conversation in his 11,000-horsepower DHL dragster. The stop in St. Louis is Crampton’s next opportunity to show that he’s a legit title contender, and the win has certainly sent a jolt of confidence through the entire Kalitta Motorsports team. He’s now fifth in points, riding high at the most important time of the year.
“I’ve always had the utmost confidence in my team, but it does change the dynamic and outlook of the Countdown,” Crampton said. “We try to win every weekend, but seeing we have a real shot at it, it just makes everyone focused a lot more. Not that they weren’t already, but in a positive way, it just really makes it more real and more exciting. I’m enjoying it.”
Steve Torrence (Top Fuel), Robert Hight (Funny Car), Tanner Gray (Pro Stock) and Matt Smith (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 2:00 p.m. (ET) on Sunday, Sept. 29. It is the 20th of 24 races during the 2019 season and Crampton is seeking his first St. Louis win.
The triumph at Maple Grove Raceway was the Australia native’s first win outside of Gainesville since 2015, a year when Crampton finished third in points. He won at Gainesville in 2018, but couldn’t find the winning combination the rest of the year. Crampton and his team, led by legendary team owner Connie Kalitta and assistant crew chief Kurt Elliott, won Gainesville again this season, but had struggled to get another win. Crampton fell in three straight first rounds before the playoffs, starting in ninth, but all of that went away with four impressive rounds in Reading.
“You can really only worry about yourself,” said Crampton, who has 10 career Top Fuel wins. “It’s going to take care of itself. At the end of the day, you don’t have the opportunity to race all the contenders in the first round at the next race. To me, it’s key that we can continue to keep moving forward. Winning races is the ultimate goal, but at the very least going a couple rounds each weekend. Nobody else is going to help you as much as you can help yourself.”
Crampton knocked off Kalitta Motorsports teammate Doug Kalitta in the final round at Maple Grove, but Kalitta took over the points lead from Steve Torrence, the reigning world champ who lost in the first round. Crampton is now just 54 points back of Kalitta heading into St. Louis, but the likes of 2017 world champ Brittany Force, Antron Brown, Leah Pritchett, Clay Millican and Mike Salinas are within title reach as well. That ups the ante heading to St. Louis, but Crampton is hopeful that brings out the best in his team and his driving again this weekend.
“We’ve got to continue to make good runs in qualifying and have a real solid four runs of information to work off of for raceday,” Crampton said. “I have every bit of faith in Connie and Kurt, and my team if we get some good runs under our belt, regardless of where we qualify, it will equate to round wins in St. Louis. It’s one of those races where the fans really get behind the race. The Midwest fans are great, so it’s going to be another good one and I’m really looking forward to it.”
Hight won in dramatic fashion a year ago in Funny Car at St. Louis as his car exploded just past the finish line in the final round. Hight crashed and broke his collarbone, but he returned the next race to compete for a championship. He’ll look to keep his St. Louis momentum going against Jack Beckman, who won in Reading, John Force, and defending champ J.R. Todd.
Jason Line grabbed the early momentum in Pro Stock, winning the opening playoff race and taking the points lead. He’ll look to keep that going against a talented group of championship contenders, including Bo Butner, Erica Enders, Alex Laughlin, Jeg Coughlin Jr. and Greg Anderson.
In Pro Stock Motorcycle, Jerry Savoie has won back-to-back races, including the playoff opener, to take a slim lead over Andrew Hines, who was dominant in the regular season. Others to watch include defending event winner and world champ Smith, Hector Arana Jr. and Eddie Krawiec.
The AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals will also feature thrilling competition in the E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series presented by J&A Service, which will have its 10th of 12 races in 2019. The series will be presented by Mr. Race Oil in St. Louis, and the defending event winner is current points leader Stevie “Fast” Jackson. The event includes the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series as well, where the future stars of the sport earn their racing stripes.
NHRA fans can take part in the Mello Yello Walking Tour to see the cars and teams hard at work in the pits. Fans can also attend Pro Stock Motorcycle School and Nitro School to learn how the cars operate and reach their thrilling speeds. World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway will also host a Mello Yello autograph session and allow fans to meet their favorite drivers as well as the Cruising with Castello Sealmaster Track Walk hosted by NHRA announcer Joe Castello. Another can’t-miss experience is the winner’s circle celebration on Sunday after racing concludes. NHRA fans are invited to congratulate the winners of the event as they celebrate their victories.
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 3:15 and 6:00 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 27, and the final two rounds of qualifying on Saturday, Sept. 28, at 1:45 and 4:30 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sunday, Sept. 29.
To purchase general-admission or reserved seats, call (618) 215-8888. Tickets also are available online at www.gatewaymsp.com. Kids 12 and under are free in general admission areas with a paid adult. For more info about NHRA visit www.NHRA.com.
Headquartered in Glendora, Calif., NHRA is the primary sanctioning body for the sport of drag racing in the United States. NHRA presents 24 national events featuring the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series, NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series, and E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series presented by J&A Service. NHRA provides competition opportunities for drivers of all levels in the NHRA Summit Racing Series and the NHRA Drags: Street Legal Style presented by AAA. NHRA also offers NHRA Jr. Street program for teens and the Summit Racing Jr. Drag Racing League for youth ages 5 to 17. In addition, NHRA owns and operates four racing facilities: Atlanta Dragway in Georgia; Gainesville Raceway in Florida; Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis; and Auto Club Raceway at Pomona in Southern California. For more information, log on to NHRA.com, or visit the official NHRA pages on Facebook, YouTube and Twitter.
Source: National Hot Rod Association