Photo courtesy Kalitta Motorsports

Richie Crampton named to drive Kalitta Motorsports’ 2nd Top Fuel dragster in 2018

Leave a comment

Christmas has come early for drag racer Richie Crampton.

Kalitta Motorsports announced today that Crampton will become a permanent addition to the team, joining Doug Kalitta as the team’s two Top Fuel drivers for the 2018 NHRA season.

The Australian native joined Kalitta Motorsports prior to last season’s U.S. Nationals, replacing Troy Coughlin Jr. in the Sealmaster dragster. At the time, it was looked at as just a seven-race fill-in ride for Crampton.

But Crampton performed well, developed a strong rapport with everyone in the organization, and when it came time for team owner Connie Kalitta to permanently fill the role for 2018, he didn’t have to look any further on who would fill the driver’s seat of the Kalitta Air dragster.

“It all came about from getting a shot in 2017 and we’re able to transition to a full-time schedule for 2018,” Crampton told NBC Sports. “I’m pretty excited, pretty lucky.

“Getting some round wins and getting to know everyone within the teams at Kalitta, everyone from top to bottom has been just awesome,” Crampton said. “They made it feel like home.

“I’m definitely glad I got the shot in 2017 and it’s going to make it to the point to where we can really hit the ground running in 2018.”

The 2017 Top Fuel season was one of numerous upsets and surprises, capped off by Brittany Force defeating Steve Torrence for her first career NHRA championship (ironically, during the week, Crampton works as a fabricator building race cars, including dragsters for Torrence).

Crampton expects 2018 to be just as unpredictable.

“I can foresee it being just as exciting and maybe as surprising as 2017,” he said. “From what I understand, there’s a possibility of having other new dragsters in the category, as well as a changing of the guard, the crew chief changes you’ll get in the offseason.

“I think it’s going to be anyone’s season again and going to be another great year for the fans. You couldn’t have scripted 2017 and I’m pretty sure we’ll continue that trend.”

The 2014 NHRA Auto Club Road to the Future winner (NHRA’s rookie of the year award) has compiled seven wins in his career, including the U.S. Nationals. During his seven races with the Kalitta clan, he reached the finals in just his second race with the team in Charlotte.

In addition to Doug Kalitta and Crampton in Top Fuel, Kalitta Motorsports will also field two Funny Cars in 2018 driven by Shawn Langdon and J.R. Todd.

Crampton is looking forward to his first full season with the organization, with hopes of winning one or more races for legendary owner Connie Kalitta.

Kalitta Motorsports is one of the most successful teams in drag racing history, including six world championships and over 100 national event wins since the team was formed in 1959.

“Connie is a legend,” Crampton said. “He’s going down in the record books as one of the greatest drag racers and team owners of all-time. To get thrown the keys to drive one of his cars – I grew up in Australia and dreamed of competing in the NHRA, to do what I’ve been able to do the last three years is fantastic, but to drive for one of my heroes – is just fantastic.

“I don’t think there’d be anything cooler than standing in the winner’s circle with Connie Kalitta. … I’m going to try and win them all.”

James Hinchcliffe on Andretti: ‘It’s certainly the place I want to be’

Leave a comment

Since before the start of the 2020 NTT IndyCar Series season, James Hinchcliffe tirelessly has worked to ensure the future would include a full-time return in 2021.

And with an opportunity to run the final three races this season with Andretti Autosport, there seems a surefire (albeit unlikely) path.

“If I go out and win all three,” Hinchcliffe joked with IndyCar on NBC announcer Leigh Diffey in an interview Friday (watch the video above), “it would be hard for them to say no, right?”

Regardless of whether he can go unbeaten at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course next weekend or the Oct. 25 season finale at St. Petersburg, Florida (where he earned his first career win in 2013), Hinchcliffe will have the chance to improve his stock with the team that he knows well and now has an opening among its five cars for 2021.

All three of Hinchcliffe’s starts this season — the June 6 season opener at Texas Motor Speedway, July 4 at the IMS road course and the Indianapolis 500 — were with Andretti, where he ran full time in IndyCar from 2012-14.

“Obviously, the plan from January 2020 was already working on ’21 and trying to be in a full-time program,” he said. “I’ve really enjoyed being reunited with Andretti Autosport, and everybody there has been so supportive. It’s been a very fun year for me on track. It’s been kind of a breath of fresh air in a lot of ways.

“It’s certainly the place I want to be moving forward. We’ve been working on that, working on those conversations. Genesys has been an incredible partner in my three races. We’ll be representing Gainbridge primarily, but Genesys will still have a position on our car in the last three.”

Gainbridge is the primary sponsor of the No. 26 Dallara-Honda that was vacated by Zach Veach, who left the team after it was determined he wouldn’t return in 2021. Hinchcliffe can empathize having lost his ride with Arrow McLaren SP after last season with a year left on his deal.

“You never want to earn a ride at the expense of somebody else in the sense that has happened here with Zach,” Hinchcliffe said. “I feel bad that he’s not able to see out the last three races of his season. I’ve got a lot of respect for him off track. He’s been a teammate this year, a colleague for years before that and honestly a friend for years before that. I’ve got a lot of time for him and his family. I understand a little bit of what it’s like in that position and what he’s going through.”

Hinchcliffe is ready to seize the moment, though, starting with the Oct. 2-3 doubleheader race weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He had been hoping to add the Harvest Indy Grand Prix to his schedule and had been working out for the possibility.

“Then last week I had given up hope (and) was resigned that wasn’t happening,” he said. “I told my trainer, ‘I think we’re done for this year.’ Three days later, this call comes. I’m glad we didn’t make that decision too early. I feel great physically.

“I look at it as a great opportunity to continue to show I’ve still got what it takes and should be there hopefully full time next year on the grid.”

Watch Hinchliffe’s video with Leigh Diffey above or by clicking here.