Sonoma, California. (July 27, 2016) - Lucas Oil Top Fuel dragster Richie Crampton has plenty of reasons to be excited about the Toyota NHRA Sonoma Nationals this weekend at Sonoma Raceway.
For starters, Sonoma Raceway has always been one of Crampton's favorite tracks, both as a driver and in his past career as a crew member.
Plus, Toyota not only is the sponsor of this race, but the manufacturer is also a partner with Crampton's Morgan Lucas Racing team.
Finally, Crampton is slated to be part of a pre-race event hosted by Toyota and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series driver Rico Abreu. Abreu and teammate Matt Crafton will be joined by Crampton and fellow Top Fuel driver J.R. Todd in a special race at Abreu's family's compound in California.
The four drivers will race special outlaw karts, as well as tour Abreu Vineyards.
"I'm honored to be a part of it, to get an invitation from Toyota to come and run an outlaw kart with Rico and Matt Crafton and J.R.," Crampton said. "It's going to be really cool, and I'm very lucky to get the opportunity to do it.
"I know J.R. and I are going to get our hats handed to us, but it's still going to be a lot of fun."
Fox Sports reporter Amanda Busick is slated to cover the event, portions of which will be featured on NHRA's and NASCAR's broadcasts.
"That's the kind of great exposure that comes from getting these opportunities like they have given me and J.R.," Crampton said. "Hopefully, we'll get our names to some new people and bring some interest to NHRA."
Abreu should have the upper hand, given he's been driving the track for many years, as well as his experience in open-wheel cars. But Crampton at least wants to beat Todd. The last time they raced open-wheel cars, at Cory Kruseman's Sprint Car and Midget Driving School, Todd let Crampton go first. As Crampton took laps, Todd bent the ear of Kruseman, getting some pointers.
"I went out there cold, and he went out there with some knowledge," Crampton said. "I'm going to try to do some of that myself this time: 'Hey, just go out there, J.R. I'm going to stand here and talk to Rico a bit.'"
After racing the karts, Crampton will turn his attention to his Top Fuel dragster, in search of his first victory of the season. Crampton has seven victories in his young career, including five in 2015, when he finished third in the Top Fuel standings.
The 2016 season has been a struggle, but crew chief Aaron Brooks and the team have made improvements in recent races. Now, the Toyota race looms.
"It's huge," Crampton said. "I love that race track, and I think we're turning the corner with our race car. It would be a prime time to get back to our winning ways and do well for Toyota because they do so much for us. It's going to be a great race."