Richie Crampton and the Lucas Oil Top Fuel dragster team got off to a fast start in the 2016 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season, racing to the semifinals of the Circle K NHRA Winternationals at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona.

Crampton knocked off Troy Buff in the first round and Clay Millican in the second before falling to eventual winner Steve Torrence in the semifinals. Still, it was a good start for the driver who finished third in the 2015 Top Fuel points standings. 

“It’s for sure the way we want to start off the 2016 season,” Crampton said. “We struggled a lot in testing with a couple of gremlins and they followed us here to Pomona. We were working through those all day long. To get as far as we did is a credit to the guys. 

“We’re going to work and streamline some of these gremlins that are getting us, and we should be looking good.”

Crampton showed flashes of speed in the preseason test in Phoenix, but inconsistency was an issue. However, Crampton, crew chief Aaron Brooks, and the entire Morgan Lucas Racing team were sharp in Pomona.

Against Buff, Crampton won a close race with a pass of 3.794 seconds at 322.73 mph, holding off Buff’s solid 3.815 at 315.56 mph. Crampton then drilled Millican on the Christmas Tree (.067

to .114) and won despite a slowing pass of 4.056 seconds at 267.00 mph.

Against Torrence, both drivers were good on the Tree, but Torrence was just a tick quicker on the track (3.749 at 323.97 mph to Crampton’s 3.760 at 322.19 mph) to get the win by about 11 feet.

Crampton continues to show improvement on his reaction times, as the third-year driver is rounding into one of the best.

“Drivers always want to be better,” Crampton said. “The first race of the season is a bit of a crapshoot for drivers on reaction times. I’m happy but I want to continue to improve. That’s definitely my focus this year because that’s what makes a good driver a great driver. I’m realistic that that’s what it’s going to take to win more races.” 

Crampton has made solid improvement since his rookie season of 2014, but he wants more.

“It’s a natural progression,” Crampton said. “I’ve got to keep digging. It was a good day, all in all, for the Lucas Oil team. I love racing here in Pomona, and I really want to win this race one day.”

In other news Queenslander Steven Ham qualified 7th in Top Alcohol Funny Car with a 5.562 elapsed time at 260.76 mph. He faced Terry Ruckman in Round 1 and although he left the line first, Ham spun the tyres and popped the burst panel sending out the chutes to end his weekend.