It’s a tale of two rookies – the best of times for one, the worst of times for the other.The National Hot Rod Association drama swirls against a backdrop of 10,000-horspower, 330-plus-mph Top Fuel dragsters in the Kalitta Motorsports pit at the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals.
Richie Crampton, who won the sport’s marquee race at Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis as a rookie driver in 2014, has stepped in to replace Top Fuel newcomer Troy Coughlin Jr. in the SealMaster Dragster.Coughlin Jr., the 2015 Rookie of the Year in the difficult Pro Modified series, struggled to master the tricky nitro-powered Top Fuel car but was poised to fight for his 10th- and last-place spot in the Countdown to the Championship field. But acknowledging that “obviously, my rookie year hasn't turned out like we wanted,” he announced on the eve of the race that sets list the playoff qualifiers that he was leaving the powerhouse Kalitta team.
“I just want to take a step back and get some more seat time in an injected nitro dragster," Coughlin Jr. said.That relieved some pressure for Kalitta Motorsports Vice-President of Operations and crew chief Jim Oberhofer. His frustration about the performances of Coughlin’s car and the Global Electronic Technology Dragster that Shawn Langdon drives. After team headliner Doug Kalitta hade an outstanding qualifying pass two weeks ago at Brainerd, Minn., Oberhofer groused, “That was a good run for the Mac Tools team. It's a shame that we look like a bunch of ass-clowns with our other two dragsters."Oberhofer prefaced his explanation by saying, “When we go out and do something stupid, I’m the first one to blame myself.” Then he said, “We were really frustrated with our cars. We expect a lot out of ourselves at Kalitta Motorsports. Connie [team owner Kalitta] gives us everything we need to go out there and perform at a top level. [Against] the Schumacher cars or the Force cars or the Torrence car, we looked kind of stupid up there, in my opinion.“We’ve had all sorts of trouble with the SealMaster car, one thing or another,” he said. “The Global car, they had their problems at Brainerd, too. It’s just frustrating because we expect a lot out of ourselves.”
Referring to Langdon’s car, Oberhofer said, “I know there’s some missed opportunities those guys had that they’re disappointed in. Both cars, the Global [Electronic Technology] car and the SealMaster car, have had a ton of missed opportunities.”
NHRATop Fuel rookie Troy Coughlin Jr., despite sitting 10th in the series standings and with a shot at qualifying for the Countdown playoffs, has left his Top Fuel ride with Kalitta ...
Langdon, who joined the team four races into the year, didn’t disagree. “We’ve had plenty of opportunities. We’ve just run into a string of bad luck and some parts issues and some other issues. We’ve been fighting a lot of gremlins along the way. We’re really not in the position we’re in because we missed four races. We’ve had a few opportunities, some crucial ones we felt we should have capitalized on.”Oberhofer’s “ass-clowns” comment wasn’t what made Coughlin Jr. depart.“Drag racing, competition in general, is very emotional. And anybody in the stands or anybody listening who took offense at that, if they were in his shoes, they would have said the same thing. It’s just something that’s in your heart. When you’re a competitive individual, some of those things come to mind. Sometimes Monday you wish you have said something different. We have to be the best we can be 100 percent of the time. He puts a lot of pressure on himself. This operation is a lot, let alone being crew chief of two cars – an insane amount of mental and physical responsibility. If that helps him to get the frustration out, I love it. I love what he said – it’s emotion . . . it’s real. Jim O loves this so much that he’s that passionate about it. So it’s an honor just to drive for him. It’s pretty damn cool.”Coughlin Jr. is regarded as one of the sport's best E.T. bracket racers, earning victories at several major events and raking in a $25,000 jackpot in New Jersey and another $10,000 payoff in Georgia. He said, "I hope to be drag racing my entire life, so this is not the end, by any means. This is just something I felt I needed to do at this time. I'll be back racing in the Sportsman ranks very soon." He is competing this weekend in the Super Comp class. He has won the U.S. Nationals twice, in Super Comp 2010 and Super Gas 2014. Langdon won it in Top Fuel in 2013 on his way to the series crown.For Crampton, getting to finish the final seven races of the year is a revival.“I had almost given up hope to get back out here and drive again for such a high-level team like I had had the luxury of in my life for three years,” the former Morgan Lucas Racing driver said. “I never expected this to pop up this season at all, but the fact that it did is just amazing. I feel at home already.“I reached out to Troy Jr., and he’s a great kid. We all know that. And we all know he’s a fantastic race car driver, as well as he’s done in Pro Mod. I think a Pro Mod car is one of the hardest to drive,” Crampton said. “I’m not sure how everything transpired for him, but nonetheless I’ve got a huge amount of respect for him. It was a big thing that he did to step back and I know once it circles back around again, it will be good to see him back in a Top Fuel car. I mean, that’s where he belongs.”The team announced Friday that Torrance, Calif.-headquartered Global Electronic Technology has renewed its sponsorship with Langdon returning in 2018.
By Susan Wade
Racing, NHRA, NHRA Top Fuel
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