Photos: Courtesy the NHRA
The 2014 NHRA Toyota Summernationals was characterized by record runs over the weekend at Old Bridge Township Raceway Park in Englishtown, New Jersey, continuing the precedent this season of unexpected wins and thrilling racing.
Australia’s NHRA rookie contender, Richie Crampton, went from ‘Down Under’ to the peak of the Top Fuel racing world defeating a very tough Doug Kalitta in the final round of Top Fuel competition.
As only the second Australian-born pro winner in NHRA history, Crampton also became the 100th different driver to win a Top Fuel event.
“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.”
After qualifying No. 2 on the grid, Crampton seemed the clear favorite in the opening round until he noticed his right front wheel was going flat as he backed up from the prerace 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, outdriving JR Todd and reigning world champion Shawn Langdon in the process.
The final against top qualifier Kalitta was a straight-up drag race with Crampton’s time of 3.819 seconds at 320.51 mph edging out Kalitta’s 3.848 ET at 317.34 mph. Including the reaction times, Crampton’s margin of victory was just .009-second.
“Doug’s has had the car this year so far, so to better him that round was a real accomplishment, “ said Crampton.
“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!”
Cruz Pedregon powered the Snap-On Tools Toyota Camry that he calls ‘El Guapo’ to the front of the pack in Friday’s qualifying 1st, the 56th of his career, and on Sunday he completed his winning mission.
Pedregon kicked off his excellent weekend setting the front end of a possible new National ET record with the quickest Funny Car elapsed time in NHRA history of 3.959 seconds. The run might have been quicker if he hadn’t lost a cylinder towards the end, giving him a speed of 310.48 mph.
“We had such monster early runs on Friday,” Pedregon said. “It’s like a tiger by the tail, a snake by the tail. It was pretty aggressive.”
He needed a 3.999 ET to back it up, but on raceday, he went for the win lights instead of the record
Starting from the pole, the Cruzer struggled mightily in the first three eliminations trying to calm down his powerful Toyota Hot Rod, but eventually took out Terry Haddock, Tommy Johnson, Jr., and Jack Beckman.
Pedregon finally proved he was the star of the Funny Car field, going from No. 1 qualifier to the race victory with a performance of 4.126 at 301.33 over Del Worsham in his DHL Camry in the final. The win was a relief for Pedregon, whose team has struggled early this season.
“It was a tremendous points day,” said Pedregon, who finished behind Courtney Force last weekend in Topeka. “To say I’m excited would be an understatement, but I also feel relieved a little bit. We’ve dug ourselves a pretty good hole this year.”
The win was Pedregon’s 35th of his career and first of the season. With the victory, Pedregon tied NHRA legend Don Prudhomme for fourth on the all-time Funny Car wins list.
“Prudhomme is my hero, and it means a lot (to tie him),” Pedregon said. “I’ve been doing this a long time. I’ve had plenty of opportunities, but I think my biggest accomplishment is the fact that I have been doing it so long in different scenarios. To be able to do this at this level and maintain it 20 years later means everything to me.”
Del Worsham reset the track speed record on Friday with his 3.994 run at 321.04 in his DHL Camry, good enough for the No. 2 seed.
Reigning Pro Stock drag racing champion Jeg Coughlin Jr. continued his torrid pace of late with yet another victory Sunday. Over three consecutive weekends, Coughlin has raced to two wins and a runner-up result, catapulting him from ninth to second place in the Mello Yello championship standings.
“This makes a great ‘Happy Birthday’ for crew chief Mark Ingersoll, who works alongside Adam Hornberger in tuning these two J&J Racing Mopars,” Coughlin said. ”Both the JEGS.com team and Allen (Johnson’s) team on the other side of the pit did a great job today.
“These last three weekends have been a helluva hat trick for J&J Racing, winning all three races. I got Atlanta and Englishtown and A.J. won in Topeka, so we’re on a great run.”
The victory, the 58th of Coughlin’s Pro Stock career, wasn’t exactly easy. The track in Round 1 looked a lot better than it was with only five out of 16 cars making it down the dragstrip under full power. Coughlin wasn’t one of the lucky ones to make it down cleanly, but he was able to gather his car together and limp to the finish line quicker than opponent Kenny Delco.
“That was a scare,” Coughlin said. “Kenny’s a hometown hero and I know they wanted to win. The track just wasn’t there and neither of us managed to launch correctly. It was some violent shake and I had to let the car settle before I was able to get back on the gas and get down the track. Those moments seem to last forever.
“The guys worked on it, softened the launch sequence a touch, and we came back and ran a decent time of 6.586 seconds against Shane Gray. We worked on it some more and really had a pass against Dave Connolly in a great side-by-side race (6.524 to 6.535) and that got us to the final.”
Lining up against multi-time champion Greg Anderson in the money round, Coughlin was on his game once again, peeling off a 6.510 at 213.94 mph to earn the trophy over a tire-shaking Anderson, who had to abort his run.
“Englishtown is extra special because it’s one of the original races. I remember my dad racing here way back when, and I always dreamed of this place when I was growing up. To have won here a handful of times is quite humbling.”
It might have been Jeg’s day, but Erica Enders-Stevens had a great weekend performance-wise in her Elite Motorsports Chevy Camaro as she reset both ends of the Pro Stock national record with her 6.464 second ET on Sunday and 215.55 mph speed in Friday’s qualifying.
PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE
Andrew Hines defeated Screamin’ Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson teammate Eddie Krawiec to take the Pro Stock Motorcycle victory at Englishtown. It was the second win for Hines at Raceway Park.
“We are back,” Hines said. “I think we put an exclamation point on that this weekend. We’ve been digging the last year and a half to get back to where we were. I’ve always said that racing gets in the way of our R&D and this winter we had a chance to get a lot of work done and we’re starting to reap the benefits.”
A three-time Pro Stock Motorcycle world champion, Hines recorded his second win of the season and 34th of his career. He leaves Englishtown having increased his points lead.
The NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series continues in Bristol, Tenn., with the 14th annual Ford NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals at Bristol Dragway, June 13-15.