RICHIE Crampton is preparing to take on Hot Rod Drag Week 2017 in a ’57 Chevy wagon he’s piecing together at his workplace, Lucas Oil Race Fabrication in Brownsburg, Indiana.
The Adelaide-born mechanic-turned-driver lost his seat in the NHRA’s Top Fuel ranks when Morgan Lucas Racing made the decision to cease racing at the end of last year, and while he hasn’t managed to land another full-time ride, he has been keeping busy. He still works turning spanners for the Lucas family, and in early May he’ll return to Australia to race Top Fuel on home soil for the first time in the Lamattina Racing car at the Nitro Thunder event in Sydney. On top of that, he’s building a wild ride to carry him through Drag Week this September.
“I’ve kind of reverted to what I did before and during the stint when I was driving, which is building race cars,” says Richie. “What was our in-house race shop has become a business, and that’s given me the flexibility to do things like come to Australia in May. Whereas if I had joined another NHRA team at a crew level I would’ve been locked in for the year and probably wouldn’t have had a lot of options. So I’m in a not-bad place.”
After a bit of soul searching, Richie made the decision to build a car to compete in Drag Week; a slight return to his early days racing his seven-second FC Holden wagon at AIR.
“Once everything transpired last November and I found out I wasn’t going to be racing full-time, I really started looking at what I wanted to do, and at the end of the day, I’m a car guy,” he says. “I wanted to get back to the grassroots and build something to go have fun with. I’ve been a huge fan of Drag Week, and now for the first time in 15 years I’m going to have the time and the ability to compete in it. It’s an exciting project.”
Richie located his ’57 Chevy survivor on Craigslist and trekked north to South Bend, Indiana, home of the Studebaker. It was mid-December, the temperature was below zero, and the car was covered in snow.
“Some guy had dragged it up from Dallas intending to restore it but then decided it was too much,” explains Richie. “And honestly, looking at the body on it, he would have had his work cut out for him. Being that I just wanted to cut it down to sill panels and get the shell off it, it was perfect for me. So we got it back home to Indy and waited for the snow to melt off it so we could see what we’d bought.”
Richie intends on retaining the car’s outward charms, including all the steel and that fabulous patina-afflicted paintwork. “Every bit of ’57 Chevy sheet metal is going to remain – doors, fenders, bonnet, tailgate, probably even the bumpers, as stupid as that is because they’re so frickin’ heavy,” he says. “I’ve got no intentions to paint it; I really like the look of it. Being a Dallas car originally, every time I shut a door, more dust appears. It’s the dustiest car I’ve ever seen. But it’s solid.”
The body sits over a SFI-spec 25.3B full-tube chrome-moly chassis built by Richie and his good mate, Swedish drag racer and fabricator Jonnie Lindberg, and will be certified to run as fast as 6.5sec. Already sorted is the Strange Engineering double-adjustable front struts and brakes and the Flaming River Pinto-style steering rack. The rear end is an RJ Race Cars four-link with RJ two-inch sway bar and Strange double-adjustable coil-overs. While Strange sheet metal rear end housing with Strange floaters and 40-spline axles will be fixing to turn the 15-inch Sander Engineering bead lock rear wheels fitted with 16x33 Hoosier slicks, which Richie has already done the tub work to accommodate.
At this stage he’s still negotiating with benevolent engine makers to hopefully seal a deal on a donk, but whatever winds up powering the car, it’s almost certain to be twin turbocharged and running on E85.
“It should be fun to drive,” says Richie. “It’s been a while since I’ve raced a short wheelbase drag car. I think it’s going to be every bit as exciting as the Top Fuel stuff if I can get the thing to run as I want to.
“If I can runs eights and finish the whole week, I’ll be happy. But deep down, hell yeah, I wanna run sevens! My best in the FC was 7.65, so if I can get somewhere around there I would be real happy.”