GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) -- Richie Crampton was sitting home during the 2017 Gatornationals, distraught about being out of the sport just two years after winning five times.
He watched the event from his couch in Indiana and wondered whether he would get another chance in NHRA's top series.
He caught a break last May when team owner Connie Kalitta called. The 37-year-old Crampton took a big step toward securing his future with the team by winning the Gatornationals on Sunday.
Crampton upset teammate Doug Kalitta and three-time champion Antron Brown to make the final, and then took advantage of Shawn Reed's engine trouble to claim the eighth win of his NHRA career and first for Connie Kalitta.
''You don't know if you're going to get another go around,'' Crampton said. ''When I got that magical phone call to come to Indy and drive for Connie, I'd been waiting for that phone call for nine months and I never thought I'd get it. Luckily, we were able to parlay that into a full-time gig this year.''
Crampton won seven events in two seasons for Morgan Lucas Racing. But when the team shuttered its Top Fuel program following the 2016 season, Crampton was out of a job. He got the call in September and replaced Troy Coughlin Jr. for the final race of the regular season. He ended up moving into Shawn Langdon's ride when Langdon switched from Top Fuel to Funny Car.
Crampton essentially went from being out of the sport to standing on one of its biggest stages: The winners' circle at historic Gainesville Raceway.
''I tried to take it in stride,'' Crampton said. ''I've been exceptionally lucky. ... I'd been very spoiled in my short career. I was content, but I felt like I still had some unfinished business out here. I wanted to get back, but we know that's not always a given. Pretty lucky.''
Reed, the No. 12 qualifier, upset Tony Schumacher and top-seeded Clay Millican to reach the first final of his career. Reed didn't even get a chance to run for the victory.
Reed had to shut the engine off following a burnout because crewmembers noticed a fuel leak. That meant Crampton would make a solo pass for the trophy.
Crampton covered the 1,000-foot distance in 3.854 seconds and reached 314.90 mph - a strong enough pass that he felt like he would have won anyway.
''It's not how you want to win it,'' Crampton said. ''But this is probably one of my more rewarding wins ever.''
Crampton's crew dogpiled at the starting line. Three other teams celebrated victories, too.
Jack Beckman beat Don Schumacher Racing teammate Matt Hagan in the Funny Car final. Tanner Gray knocked off defending class champion Bo Butner in the Pro Stock class. And defending class champion Eddie Krawiec edged teammate Andrew Hines in Pro Stock Motorcycle. It was Krawiec's third straight victory in Gainesville and sixth in the last nine years.
''It was such a bucket list thing,'' said Beckman, the 2012 class Funny Car champion who had never won the Gatornationals despite winning 27 previous events.
Hagan was involved in the strangest race of the day. Hagan and John Force Racing driver Robert Hight blew engines almost simultaneously in the second round of eliminations. Hagan crossed the finish line first with his chassis engulfed in flames.
Both drivers walked away unscathed. It was the fourth blown engine this season for John Force Racing.
Hagan's team rushed to get a backup car ready and managed to win the next round to reach the final.
''I've never seen every car on the race track shuck its body,'' said Beckman, who was sitting near the starting line when the carbon fiber shells flew more than 50 feet in the air.
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