When you’re going to Las Vegas riding a 7-out-of-7 streak, let’s just say it’s likely the odds favor you extending said streak.
Such is the case with Top Fuel driver Richie Crampton. Following his win this past Sunday at Texas Motorplex, last year’s Rookie of the Year has high hopes for next week’s fifth race in the six-race Countdown to the Championship playoff.
His win at Texas makes the Australian native a perfect 7-0 in final elimination rounds. Ergo, he now has seven career records in the Top Fuel class, including five this season.
The victory also moved him into third place in the Top Fuel rankings, but he’s still 203 points behind series leader Antron Brown, who won the previous three Countdown races before Crampton’s heroics this past Sunday.
“We’re trying very hard to have the best finish possible in the points,” Crampton said in an NHRA media release. “We need to be better than everyone else we face. It would help our cause tremendously to bag a few more wins before the year is out.
“It’s already been a dream season but we want more. There are (two) more race days on the schedule, so we have (two) more chances to show our stuff. We’re hungry for more, no question.”
Next up for Crampton is the NHRA Toyota Nationals next weekend in Sin City, where Crampton is already eyeing an eighth final round triumph, as well as a sixth win in 2015.
“Whenever you give (crew chief) Aaron Brooks and my Lucas Oil guys three shots at a racetrack on Sunday, you’re probably going to have a pretty good car for the final round,” Crampton said. “I just fed off that confidence that we haven’t been beat in a final round yet and it’s still surreal to me to have that stat. I can’t say enough about my guys and that really helps my confidence.”
Crampton has earned victories this season in Las Vegas, Topeka, Bristol, Brainerd and most recently Ennis, Texas. He’d love to add another win or two at Las Vegas and/or the season-ending event at Pomona, Calif. next month.
“We’ve got the hot rod to get the job done, and I’d match up our crew against any other one out there,” Crampton said. “It’s just so tough to win these things. To have (five) trophies this season and (seven) overall in less than two years of driving is crazy.
“I know a lot of people go years, sometimes their entire careers, without winning a single race. It speaks to the talent of (crew chief) Aaron Brooks and this group of guys.”
Change can be frightening, but it is often exhilarating and Ken Roczen, a rider in his ninth season on a 450 bike, it was urgently needed.
Roczen ended the 2022 Supercross season with his worst performance in five years. After finishing outside of the top five in seven of his last eight rounds in the stadium series, well down the points’ standings in ninth, he decided to put that season on hold.
Before 2022, Roczen was a regular challenger for the championship despite being plagued by major accidents that required surgery in 2017 and 2018. On his return, he was diagnosed with the Epstein-Barr virus, which presents with symptoms of heavy fatigue, muscle weakness and loss of appetite and last year he tested positive for COVID-19.
Against those odds, he finished second in the outdoor season in 2019 and third in 2020. In the Supercross series, he finished third in 2020 and second in 2021.
But the abbreviated season of 2022 signaled a need for change for Roczen.
“I needed the change urgently,” Roczen said in last week’s post-race press conference at Angel Stadium. “I did a pretty big change in general.”
Those comments came three races into the 2023 with him sitting among the top three finishers for the first time in 10 Supercross rounds. It was the 57th podium of his career, only six behind 10th-place Ryan Villopoto. It was also the first for Suzuki since 2019 when Chad Reed gave them one in Detroit 63 rounds ago.
Taking time off at the end of the Supercross season had the needed effect. He rejoined SuperMotocross in the outdoor season and immediately stood on the podium at Fox Raceway in Pala, California. Two rounds later, he won at Thunder Valley in Lakewood, Colorado. The relief was short lived and he would not stand on the podium again until this year.
“I just think change overall made it happen – and these overseas races – it’s really just a snowball,” Roczen said. “You start somewhere and you feel like something works out and I got better and had more fun doing it. Working with the team as well and working on the motorcycle to get better and actually see it paying off. It’s just, it’s just a big boost in general.”
The return to Suzuki at this stage of his career, after nearly a decade of competing on 450 motorcycles, recharged Roczen. He is one of three riders, (along with Cooper Webb and his former Honda teammate Chase Sexton), with a sweep of the top five in the first three rounds of the 2023 Supercross season.
But last week’s podium really drove home how strong he’s been.
“I think we’re all trying to take it all in,” Roczen said. “I wouldn’t say it came out of nowhere really, but before the season starts you think about – or I thought of how my whole last season went – and it’s been a long time since I’ve been on the podium.”
Roczen’s most recent podium prior to Anaheim 2 came at Budds Creek Motocross Park in Mechanicsville, Maryland last August in Round 10 of the outdoor season. His last podium in Supercross was the 2022 season opener that raised expectations so high.
The change Roczen needed was not just a different team and bike. More importantly, he needed the freedom to set his own schedule and control his training schedule.
“It’s long days, but I’m really into it at the moment,” Roczen said. “Overall, I felt [that] throughout this off season and now my health has been really well, really good, so that helps. It’s needed to get to the top. I’m pretty confident that we’re, we’re doing the right thing – that I’m doing the right thing.
“I’m doing all my training on my own and I’m planning out my entire week. And I feel like I have a really good system going right now with recovery and putting in some hard days. Right now, I don’t really have anybody telling me what to do. I’m the best judge of that.
“It’s really hard to talk about how much work we’ve put in, but we’ve been doing some big changes and riding a lot throughout the week, some really, really late days. And they’re paying off right now; we’re heading in the right direction. We’re all pulling on the same string, and that helps me out big time.”