NHRA drag racing can be a fickle business. Past success often doesn’t matter in determining the future, which is often defined by simple economics.
Take the case of Top Fuel driver Richie Crampton. The Australian-born competitor has 10 victories in his career, including the 2014 U.S. Nationals title. Last year, he won twice and finished sixth in the points standings.
Crampton also won the Gatornationals in 2018 and 2019, but instead of heading into the now-postponed race as the two-time defending champion, he’s at home in Brownsburg, Ind.
“It’s weird,” Crampton said before this weekend’s race was postponed. “Not returning to drive full time this season has its ups and downs for me. Times like this week leading up to the Gators reminded me of exactly that, that I’d like to be down there searching for a third Gatornationals victory in a row.
“But all that being said, it was great to win those races, and I wish I was there competing, but that’s the nature of our sport right now.”
Kalitta Motorsports lost a sponsor for Shawn Langdon’s Funny Car team after the 2019 season, which meant a contraction of race cars. And Crampton, who had the least seniority on the team, was the odd-man out.
“We got word by about the Las Vegas race (in 2019) that Shawn Langdon’s Global Funny Car team was being disassembled at the end of the season,” Crampton said. “From that point, I knew that if nothing else, the way that Shawn had been at Kalitta Motorsports longer than I had that there was a chance I’d get shuffled out, which I did. I guess I got confirmation at Pomona that I wouldn’t be coming back.
“It wasn’t a complete surprise to me because of the inner workings of the team. I understand how motorsports works and there’s not always enough race cars to go around.”
Understandably upset by the decision, Crampton nevertheless took it in stride, as is his laid-back nature.
“My reaction was to be bummed out, of course,” Crampton said. “I had been driving for Connie Kalitta, a legend, and got a few race victories with him and Kurt Elliott and the guys. I really thought we could get some more wins together. That being said, I’m sure they will continue to do well. Something changes in the future, maybe it’ll come full circle.
“But at the end of the day, I was grateful and they looked after me the entire time I was with Kalitta Motorsports and DHL, and it was a great thing that I got to experience.”
Crampton started driving for the now-defunct Morgan Lucas Racing team in 2014, fulfilling a lifelong dream that brought him to the United States. After MLR closed its race team, Crampton stayed on as a fabricator in the Lucas Oil Fabrication shop, turning out chassis for several Top Fuel teams.
He’s not new to sitting on the sidelines, for he missed most of the 2017 season before getting a call from Kalitta to drive one of that team’s Top Fuel cars.
“It’s kinda not new to me,” Crampton said. “It’s different, finding the time to watch online or sit down on Sunday and watch it on Fox. I’m finding the other ways to keep myself busy, which there’s no shortage of. It’s been OK.
“I definitely would love to come back to drive a Top Fuel dragster – or a nitro Funny Car. As I said since I got to racing I always wanted to drive a Funny Car as well. If the opportunity rose, I would do whatever it took to try and secure another seat in a full-time race car like that.
“But for the short term, I’ve been over to Australia and raced for Rapisarda, and I may do that again in the future. Things like that are keeping me content. I’m doing other things, with more spare time than I’ve ever had, with my family and I’ve been doing some things I’ve always wanted to see, like the Chili Bowl and possibly the Knoxville Nationals.
“At the end of the day, I came to the U.S. to be in the NHRA, and that’s where I would like to be.”
Crampton and wife Stephanie have a younger daughter and son at home, so he’s been plenty busy with his family. Returning to the NHRA grind as a crew chief or crew member may not be tops on his list at the moment.
“I’m still trying to figure out the lay of the land and figure out what I’m doing with myself, really,” Crampton said. “I think you’ll see me popping up at the race track here and there, maybe helping out on alcohol car or stuff like that. I’m really not sure whether I’ll commit to doing 24 events as a crew member again or not. Right now, I’m so busy with the fabrication side of things and my family at home that it definitely would have to be the right kind of situation. I’m really enjoying the current set of circumstances I’m living in right now.
“For sure, I don’t want to be the one with sour grapes. I understand how this sport works, and I also understand how lucky I’ve been to have been given the opportunities I’ve had. I was bummed out and from time to time, it’s like, ‘Man, I wish I was going to Gainesville or Pomona’ or whatever the race may be. It’s peaks and valleys, and you get on with your other life.”