Richie Crampton (TF), Del Worsham (FC), Allen Johnson (PS) lead after first day of NHRA qualifying in Houston

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Rookie Richie Crampton (Top Fuel) and veterans Del Worsham (Funny Car) and Allen Johnson (Pro Stock) were the top qualifiers after the first of two days of qualifying for the O’Reilly Auto Parts NHRA SpringNationals at Royal Purple Raceway in Baytown, Texas (a suburb of Houston) on Friday.

In the sixth event of the 24-race national Mello Yello Drag Racing Series schedule, Crampton – also making only his sixth career Top Fuel start – covered the track in 3.807 seconds at 322.11 mph.

“We’ve been working hard this season and haven’t quite qualified the way we like to,” Crampton said. “To get into the No. 1 spot tonight was just a payoff for all that hard work.”

Crampton is competing in just his sixth career NHRA national event, having replaced team owner Morgan Lucas, who retired from driving after last season.

“It’s still surreal that I get to do this,” said Crampton, a native of Adelaide, Australia. “I don’t know what to say apart from that it’s a great deal.”

Spencer Massey was second-quickest at 3.809 seconds/320.13 mph.

Worsham, who won the 2011 championship in Top Fuel, is back in Funny Car – where he’s spent most of his NHRA career. Friday’s best run of 4.051 seconds at 314.68 mph was impressive despite the humid conditions at the suburban Houston racetrack.

“I’ve been coming here since the track opened up,” Worsham said. “I was with my dad with his Funny Car in 1989, and we were in the semi-finals against Scott Kalitta when he won his first Funny Car race.

“I was 18 years old. … We came back here in 2001, and we were also the No. 1 qualifier. That kind of got my whole career jump-started. We won some races before then, but that was the first one where we won by qualifying No. 1 and running low E.T. of a couple rounds.”

Worsham is seeking his fourth career win at Royal Purple Raceway (two wins in Funny Car, one in Top Fuel), and his second career No. 1 qualifying spot.

Jack Beckman, who won the 2012 NHRA Funny Car championship, was the second-quickest in Funny Car with a run of 4.063 seconds at 314.09 mph.

As for Johnson, he led all Pro Stock drivers with a run of 6.555 seconds at 211.63 seconds. He’s seeking his first-ever win at Royal Purple Raceway.

“We’ve been very fortunate to win at a lot of tracks, and this is one that’s slipped through our fingers many times,” Johnson said. “It presents a challenge to us that we want to win. Tomorrow is April 26, and that’s Happy Hemi Day, so we got a good start towards Happy Hemi Day.”

Johnson, who has wins this season at Phoenix and Gainesville (Fla.), drives a Hemi-powered Dodge Dart.

Erica Enders-Stevens was second-quickest: 6.563 seconds at 211.59 mph.

Qualifying continues Saturday at 12:30 p.m. and 3 p.m. CT with eliminations to take place Sunday at 11 a.m. CT.

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Here are Friday’s results after the first two of four rounds of qualifying for the 27th annual O’Reilly NHRA SpringNationals at Royal Purple Raceway:

Top Fuel — 1. Richie Crampton, 3.807 seconds, 322.11 mph; 2. Spencer Massey, 3.809, 320.13; 3. Doug Kalitta, 3.819, 324.51; 4. Larry Dixon, 3.828, 319.14; 5. Leah Pritchett, 3.830, 317.72; 6. J.R. Todd, 3.834, 315.42; 7. Tony Schumacher, 3.839, 324.12; 8. Khalid alBalooshi, 3.841, 319.22; 9. Brittany Force, 3.846, 321.27; 10. Antron Brown, 3.869, 316.75; 11. Bob Vandergriff, 3.878, 313.29; 12. Clay Millican, 4.057, 250.55.

Not Qualified: 13. Shawn Langdon, 4.489, 172.70; 14. Troy Buff, 4.861, 150.53; 15. Steve Torrence, 5.186, 132.52; 16. Terry McMillen, 5.504, 121.74.

Funny Car — 1. Del Worsham, Toyota Camry, 4.051, 314.68; 2. Jack Beckman, Dodge Charger, 4.063, 314.09; 3. Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 4.068, 312.21; 4. Ron Capps, Charger, 4.079, 310.34; 5. Chad Head, Camry, 4.119, 308.78; 6. Tim Wilkerson, Ford Mustang, 4.131, 305.77; 7. Tony Pedregon, Camry, 4.213, 245.36; 8. Bob Tasca III, Mustang, 4.231, 291.45; 9. Cruz Pedregon, Camry, 4.280, 268.44; 10. Matt Hagan, Charger, 4.300, 241.15; 11. Courtney Force, Mustang, 4.413, 213.50; 12. Gary Densham, Chevy Impala, 4.443, 220.91.

Not Qualified: 13. Terry Haddock, 4.477, 203.52; 14. Todd Simpson, 5.008, 162.53; 15. Robert Hight, 5.403, 135.08; 16. John Force, 5.416, 143.64; 17. Alexis DeJoria, 6.476, 104.39; 18. Jeff Arend, 7.221, 88.47.

Pro Stock — 1. Allen Johnson, Dodge Dart, 6.555, 211.63; 2. Erica Enders-Stevens, Chevy Camaro, 6.563, 211.59; 3. Dave Connolly, Camaro, 6.574, 211.03; 4. Shane Gray, Camaro, 6.582, 210.44; 5. Vincent Nobile, Camaro, 6.585, 210.57; 6. Jeg Coughlin, Dart, 6.592, 210.47; 7. Jonathan Gray, Camaro, 6.595, 210.14; 8. Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.599, 211.26; 9. Jason Line, Camaro, 6.605, 210.70; 10. V. Gaines, Dodge Avenger, 6.605, 211.16; 11. Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.607, 210.54; 12. Larry Morgan, Ford Mustang, 6.610, 209.56.

Not Qualified: 13. Steve Kent, 6.612, 209.75; 14. Rodger Brogdon, 6.615, 209.88; 15. Greg Stanfield, 6.641, 208.49; 16. Deric Kramer, 6.649, 209.30; 17. Matt Hartford, 6.671, 208.59.

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Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Formula One embrace the United States

Verstappen Perez United States
Fatih Aktas/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
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Last week, Red Bull Racing revealed its new car, the RB19, and a new relationship with Ford Motor Co. in an event in New York City complete with drivers Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and team principal Christian Horner.

It’s the first Formula 1 team to launch in the United States for 2023, but even that small move of the needle reflects a major shift in the attitude of both F1’s management and their teams – and the extent to which the American audience has fully embraced the sport.

“It’s something fantastic and unique, for the sport to be able to break it into the U.S,” Perez told NBC Sports. “The market is huge and it’s a huge opportunity for everyone involved, for the drivers, for the team. It’s always a huge market.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Sergio Perez finished fourth in the Unites States Grand Prix, but he was first with the fans.  – Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

In 2023, Formula 1 will race three times in the United States and five times in North America. The Circuit of the Americas will host their 11th consecutive race in October before heading south to Mexico City. Miami returns for a second time in May on a temporary street course around the Hard Rock cafe and the third addition is in downtown Las Vegas in November.

With the Canadian Grand Prix on the schedule for June and the Brazilian Grand Prix in November, American fans are now in the ballpark of Europeans, who have eight events on the continent and one in England.

In 2022, Verstappen won every race in North America. He was kept from sweeping the hemisphere only by George Russell, who won in Brazil. That fact is less remarkable when one considers that Verstappen won 15 times in the season – nearly two-thirds of the races on the schedule.

By the time Formula arrived in Austin, Texas, for Round 20 of 23, Verstappen already had wrapped up his second consecutive championship.

“Sometimes it can be hard to replicate the season, but I think it’s the same as with the car, right? You always try to improve it,” Verstappen told NBC Sports. “And I always look at the little details that even when you have had a good race, you could have done better. And then of course you also learn from the bad races. So we always try to look for these little improvements and general experience you gain year after year.

“You try to do better, but of course it also depends a lot on the package you have.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Max Verstappen United States Grand Prix win was one of 15 for the drivers and 17 for Red Bull.
(Gongora / NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Now Verstappen’s thoughts inevitably will turn to establishing a dynasty, and America will again play a pivotal role.

“I just enjoy what I’m doing,” Verstappen said.  “After the years in Formula One, when you have to be on top of your game and you gain a lot on your experience – in that sense nothing really can get to you anymore. Every year you just try to do the best you can. But a lot depends on the material around you. It’s always a bit of a guess. Start the season as fit as you can be and be well prepared. But if you don’t have the car, you’re not going to win the championship.”

Perez added two wins to Red Bull’s total, at Monaco and the Marina Bay Street course. With two of the US 2023 races on street courses, Perez hopes to close the gap on Verstappen and potentially be his chief rival for the championship.

“The strategy is clear; it is to maximize the potential of the car – and we believe we have a good car, but how good?,” Perez said “We don’t know what the competition is doing. We just give our best in building this car and we hope that it’s good enough to get us to win races.

“I think we have to work together as a team. At the same time. We both want to win the championship. It’s just having good compromise. The competition will be really strong out there, so we really need everything we possibly can get from each other.”

Formula One returns to the United States for Round 6 and the Miami Grand Prix on May 7.