Alexis DeJoria wins big at 'Big Go'
CLERMONT, Ind. -- The Nitro class finals at the 60th Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals certainly brightened up a cloudy day at Lucas Oil Raceway.
Alexis DeJoria edged 16-time NHRA champion John Force in a thrilling race to claim a popular Funny Car win, while Richie Crampton was victorious in two of the best matchups of the day on his way to Top Fuel honors.
DeJoria, the 36-year-old daughter of hair care products magnate John Paul DeJoria and wife of television personality Jesse James, became the first female driver to win three Funny Car events in a single season. She was nearly flawless in all four elimination rounds, saving the best for last with a 4.038-second/310.34 mph pass that ended John Force Racing's six-year Funny Car winning streak in the "Big Go."
She scored the first U.S. Nationals victory for drag racing veteran Connie Kalitta as a team owner.
"I'm wound up tighter than a two-dollar watch!" DeJoria exclaimed. "I'm happy for Connie. He's a legend, and to drive for that man is such an honor, every day I'm out here.
"This has been a huge wish of mine, and to do it now like this is incredible," she added. "I always wanted to race nitro Funny Cars since the first time I ever saw them go down the track when I was 16 years old at Pomona. The team I'm with is such a great group of guys. They're so positive, and that makes a big difference."
James revealed that his wife was confident about her chances at Indianapolis before they even left their home in Austin, Texas.
"On the way to the airport, she said she was going to win," he said.
To beat Force, the Funny Car points leader who was making his sixth consecutive final-round appearance in a row, made the achievement even sweeter for DeJoria.
"It is tough out there and he's a hell of a driver," she said. "He's won more championships than anybody out there. He knows how to win races and so does his whole team. But we have a really good car, too, and I never doubted our car or our abilities for a second, no matter who is in the other lane."
Force came within a split second of adding a U.S. Nationals Wally to his victory in the $100,000 Traxxas Shootout one day earlier. Force posted a stout number himself at 4.039 seconds at a faster 319.67 mph trap speed, but it wasn't enough for his JFR Ford Mustang to defeat his rival's Kalitta Racing Toyota Camry.
"I've watched her [reaction time] lights for months and she was on her game today," Force remarked. "She had that .037 light and, God bless her, she gets to dance tonight and drink with papa and her husband. So we congratulate her -- she's a great kid. We need women in our sport so I'm really proud of her."
Toyota's joy was compounded by Crampton's victory over Steve Torrence in Top Fuel.
The Australian, who was already a near lock for the NHRA's rookie of the year award after winning at Englishtown, New Jersey, in just his ninth start, emerged at the top of a tough ladder with a 3.766-second/327.98 mph run in the final.
Torrence, who was runner-up at Indianapolis for the second year in a row, clocked 3.799/327.82.
Crampton is a former clutch specialist for Morgan Lucas Racing who stepped into a test driver role when former team driver Brandon Bernstein was injured. Crampton won a full-time ride and has made the most of it.
"'Steve-O' [Torrence] is one of my great friends out here and he beat me at the Brainerd race [two weeks ago]," Crampton said. "We said to each other before the run that we were going to go out there and have some fun.
"It's pretty awesome that he and I got to share a final round here at the 60th Indy. If I would have been runner-up, I probably would have been almost as happy, because it's been a fantastic weekend for our team."
Crampton's MLR dragster laid down four runs in the 3.77-second bracket, including a spectacular semifinal shootout against nine-time U.S. Nationals champion Tony Schumacher that was decided by one-thousandth of a second.
The crowd erupted when the win light went Crampton's way after the photo finish.
"After racing him in the final of the Traxxas Shootout, I knew we'd have to race well to beat him," Crampton noted. "He is the King of Indy and you keep that in mind every time you race Schumacher. He and the U.S. Army car seem to own this place, but I think the fans got a great race today."
Gray Motorsports dominated the Pro Stock category, with Shane Gray racing teammate Dave Connolly in the final. But hopes for an exciting intrateam shootout went up in smoke on the line when Connolly suffered a mechanical failure.
"I really can't describe this in words," said Gray, who won his first NHRA event of the season and fourth of his career. "If I've learned anything this year, I've learned that it's a lot different to go out and qualify than it is to race on Sunday."
Eddie Krawiec of nearby Brownsburg, Indiana, rode a Harley-Davidson to his first U.S. Nationals victory in Pro Stock Motorcycle, knocking off Jerry Savoie's Suzuki and ending Savoie's chances of making the NHRA's Countdown to the Championship.
"I've been fortunate to win three championships and 25 races now, and I've finally got an Indy win," said Krawiec. "I was joking that I could just step off the bike now, announce my retirement, and not run the Countdown. I think I'll stick around, though."
Krawiec enters the six-race Countdown seeded second in Pro Stock Motorcycle points, behind teammate Andrew Hines.
The other leaders heading into the Countdown are Doug Kalitta (Top Fuel), John Force (Funny Car) and Jason Line (Pro Stock).