The Mopar Mile-High NHRA Nationals at Bandimere Speedway is often called a “wild card” of the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series, but Lucas Oil Top Fuel dragster driver Richie Crampton would prefer it be a little less wild.
Crampton and his Morgan Lucas Racing team didn’t have the best handle on Bandimere Speedway this weekend, and they bowed out in the second round Sunday.
“Denver really is a wild-card race because of the altitude here,” Crampton said. “It’s the same for everyone, of course, but that doesn’t make it any easier on anyone. We all look forward to getting back down to sea level in Sonoma (Calif.) next weekend.”
The mile-high altitude in Denver robs nitromethane-burning engines of oxygen, and Top Fuel crew chiefs scramble for the right tune-up for the one-off race. Crampton qualified No. 12 and knocked off Doug Kalitta in a pedalfest in the first round before falling to Steve Torrence in round two.
“That wasn’t exactly how we envisioned it in the first round but we’ll take it, of course,” Crampton said. “The tires started to spin a little bit, but I kept my foot in it and drove through. Luckily, Doug had some problems, too, so we were able to get by him.”
Crampton’s pass was 4.193 seconds at 254.90 mph, and Kalitta come up just short with a run of 4.242 seconds at 256.70 mph.
That put Crampton, a three-time winner in 2015, up against good friend Torrence in the second round. Torrence, the No. 4 qualifier, made a clean 3.946-second pass at 303.64 mph while Crampton stumbled with a run of 4.309 seconds at 235.97 mph.
Crampton wouldn’t hold his head for long, however, as waiting back in the MLR pit area were two World War II veterans. Thanks to The Greatest Generations Foundation, Thomas Pesto, 95, and Chaplain Donald Whipple, 90, were guests in the Lucas Oil pit area Sunday. Pesto is one of the last survivors of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, and Whipple served with the Marine Corps during the Battle of Iwo Jima.
“It was absolutely an honor to have those guys with us today,” said Crampton, who was born in Australia but is a naturalized U.S. citizen. “They are true heroes, and I thoroughly enjoyed spending time with them and hearing their incredible stories.”