Richie Crampton raced to his fourth Top Fuel victory of the season Sunday to close out a record-setting day of action at the Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals.
Robert Hight in Funny Car, Erica Enders-Steven in Pro Stock, and Eddie Krawiec in Pro Stock Motorcycle were also winners of the penultimate regular season race in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series.
NHRA Top Fuel and Funny Car teams took advantage of the cool overcast weather conditions at Brainerd International Raceway to reset all four national records in those categories. Among the records, Antron Brown set the Top Fuel elapsed time record at 3.680 seconds and Jack Beckman set the Funny Car mark at 3.901 seconds. National speed records were set by Spencer Massey (332.75 miles per hour) and Matt Hagan (329.58). Hagan also recorded the quickest Funny Car time in history at 3.879 seconds, and Shawn Langdon posted the quickest Top Fuel time with his 3.664-second effort, but neither driver was able to certify those times as national records per NHRA rules.
But it was the consistent performance of Crampton’s Aaron Brooks-tuned dragster that took the event victory in Top Fuel when he held off Brittany Force in the final round. Crampton crossed the finish line first with a career-best time of 3.695 seconds at 325.30 mph to deny Force her first career victory, as her dragster trailed with a 3.771 at 293.79.
“This race is going to go down in the history books,” Crampton said. “It was just some amazing racing today and there were some super-fast racecars out there. I keep forgetting that I ran a (3.69) in the final, because winning the event is so important. You want to carry momentum into the Countdown. The last two rounds today showed what kind of racecar we have and we are right where we need to be for Indy and for the Countdown.”
Crampton, who defeated teammate Morgan Lucas, Larry Dixon and Langdon en route to the final round, moved to third in the points standings with his sixth career victory. Tony Schumacher remains in the series lead, 53 points ahead of Brown, who earned a 20-point bonus for setting the elapsed time record.
“Winning the Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals when you drive the Lucas Oil car is exactly what you want to do,” Crampton said. “I just wanted to do that so badly for [team owners] Forrest and Charlotte [Lucas]. There is nothing cooler than getting the Wally from Charlotte at the end of the racetrack.”
Hight earned his first Funny Car victory in more than a year and the 35th of his career by defeating Tommy Johnson Jr. in the final round. Hight powered his Chevy Camaro to a 3.956 at 323.58 to finish in front of Johnson’s Dodge Charger, which was making its third consecutive final round appearance.
“We had a real good car,” said Hight, who defeated Ron Capps, Brian Stewart and Tim Wilkerson in earlier rounds. “It was running good, but you never know what you’re going to get in these kinds of conditions. This thing was a handful to drive today. We changed a bunch of things on the car, and it’s carrying the front end. It’s tough. I’m not going to get cocky. The DSR cars have been dominant. We closed the gap a bunch this weekend, and I know we have a lot of work to do. We’re going to keep it up and test in Indy.”
It was Hight’s first Brainerd win and the victory put him into the $100,000 Traxxas Nitro Shootout all-star bonus race at Indy. His win also ties him for fourth in all-time NHRA Funny Car wins with Don Prudhomme and Cruz Pedregon.
“This was a timely win,” Hight said. “I didn’t want to go up against Courtney [Force] in a fan vote. Are you kidding me? We got in the Traxxas Shootout. I wasn’t in it last year. To be mentioned with Don Prudhomme and Cruz, that’s pretty impressive.”
Red-hot Beckman, who lost in the semis to Johnson Jr. when his ultra-quick Dodge Charger lost traction, used his 20-point national record bonus to increase his series lead to 50 points over Hagan. Hagan lost in round two to Beckman in the quickest side-by-side race in NHRA history.
Enders moved back into the series points lead in Pro Stock by claiming her fifth victory of the season and 17th of her career. She used a quicker reaction time and a final round performance of 6.552 at 210.34 in her Chevy Camaro to take the win over rival and local favorite Jason Line, who posted a quicker, but losing 6.541 at 211.06 in his Summit Racing Equipment Camaro.
Enders outran Mark Hogan, Bo Butner and red-hot Chris McGaha, who had won the last two races, to advance to the final round. She now holds a 16-point lead over four-time world champ Greg Anderson heading into the final race of the regular season.
“This is a really crucial time in our season, especially heading into Indy (in two weeks), where it’s worth points and a half, so it’s a great time to get that momentum to swing back to our side of the fence, and I’m so proud of my team,” Enders said. “It’s an amazing win for my group. It’s really exciting for me because it’s hard not to get frustrated collectively as a group when things aren’t going your way, but that’s what makes our team work so great. We don’t allow ourselves to get down in the dumps and just dig deep and play with all our heart.”
In Pro Stock Motorcycle, Krawiec took his third consecutive victory of the season by racing past teammate Andrew Hines in an all-Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson final round. Krawiec finished in 6.844 at 194.30 to take his 30th career victory and second at BIR, while Hines clocked a 6.894 at 190.06 in the runner-up effort.
“I have a great motorcycle under me,” said Krawiec, who beat a murderers’ row of past world champions in Hector Arana, LE Tonglet and Matt Smith to advance to the final round.
“We’ve just lacked consistency,” Krawiec said. “I’d say since Denver we’ve really gotten into the groove and figured out what the motorcycle wanted. I’ve been fortunate enough to go to three final rounds and win all three and also win the NHRA Pro Bike Battle in Sonoma, so I’m on a pretty good roll. Hopefully it’s not too early because after Indy is when you really want to get on a roll like this, but hopefully I can continue it all the way through to the end of Pomona.”
With the win, Krawiec increased his series lead to 166 over Hector Arana Jr.
A bunch of drivers secured berths into the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship at this event, including Crampton and Larry Dixon in Top Fuel; Johnson Jr., John Force, Del Worsham and Ron Capps in Funny Car; Allen Johnson, Larry Morgan, Shane Gray and Jonathan Gray in Pro Stock; and Krawiec, Arana Jr. and Hines in Pro Stock Motorcycle.
The NHRA Mello Yello Series continues September 2-7 with the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals, the world’s most prestigious drag race, at Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis.
Sunday’s race was the 17th of 24 scheduled for the 2015 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series.
Pro Stock Championship Point Standings
1. Erica Enders-Stevens 1,391 2. Greg Anderson 1,375 3. Chris McGaha 1,254 4. Jason Line 1,197 5. Allen Johnson 1,011
Funny Car Championship Point Standings
1. Jack Beckman 1,279 2. Matt Hagan 1,229 3. Tommy Johnson Jr. 1,158 4. John Force 1,048 5. Del Worsham 1,037
Top Fuel Championship Point Standings
1. Tony Schumacher 1,348 2. Antron Brown 1,295 3. Richie Crampton 1,093 4. Larry Dixon 1,086 5. Doug Kalitta 956
The NHRA and Drag Race Central contributed to this report.