Drag Illustrated Issue 168, May 2021 - Page 30

Dirt

‘ The Greekette ’ Has Arrived

Krista Baldwin makes major moves in second career NHRA Top Fuel race By Nate Van Wagnen

In the polished , corporatized world of NHRA nitro racing , it can be rare to see real , unfiltered emotion and excitement . In Top Fuel , drivers expect clean runs to the finish line , and anything less than a couple round wins is a bit of a letdown for most of the teams that follow the full Camping World Series tour .

But for part-time , independent teams and new drivers like Krista Baldwin , passes in the 3.80s and a first-round win over the megateams are causes for celebration . The third-generation Top Fuel driver checked off a couple of those accomplishments at the NGK NTK NHRA Four-Wide Nationals at zMAX Dragway in mid-May , and she rightfully celebrated in a big way .
Baldwin ’ s first major moment of the weekend came in the second qualifying session when she recorded her first 3-second pass under power to the finish line and first pass over 300 mph , a 3.92 at 314.17 , in the McLeod Clutches / Strange Engineering / Lucas Oil dragster owned by her grandfather , the legendary Chris “ The Greek ” Karamesines .
“ I was just excited I made it to the finish line ,” says Baldwin , the creative director at McLeod Clutches and Paul Lee Racing . “ But to amp that up , the DSR guys were down there and when they told me what I ran , that 3.92 , I was so excited . So , so excited because I knew that I finally made a 300-mph run and I was able to solidify my spot
in the show , which is much bigger than what we were able to accomplish in Gainesville .”
It just kept getting better for Baldwin , who qualified No . 14 to line up against Don Schumacher Racing ’ s Leah Pruett and Antron Brown and Kalitta Motorsports ’ Shawn Langdon in the first-round quad . Baldwin admits she felt the odds were stacked against her in the loaded opening round , but she pulled off her first-ever round win in Top Fuel . Her 3.855 at 319.52 trailed Brown ’ s 3.804 but put her ahead of Langdon ’ s 3.947 and Pruett ’ s 4.31 . Plus , it was a career-best performance in E . T . and speed .
“ I absolutely could not believe that the racing
gods were on my side and I was able to accomplish this ,” says Baldwin , who got her shot in Top Fuel after Karamesines retired from his 67-year driving career late last year . “ Just the sheer fact that the people I was racing against are so tough . There ’ s no way on paper that I was supposed to win , but I guess it was my time . Man , it was so exciting .”
Baldwin was understandably thrilled when she rounded the corner at the turnoff and was directed over to the NHRA on FOX TV cameras . Her excitement hit a new level when she was told what she ran , resulting in an animated , energetic celebration
“ It ’ s so special ,” says Baldwin , who ’ s now the quickest Top Fuel driver in her family , edging out Karamesines as well as her father , the late Bobby Baldwin . “ I just want people to know that driving these race cars is so much fun . It ’ s so much work , but it ’ s so worth it when you make a run like that . That was my genuine reaction . It ’ s still my reaction . I still love it . I ’ m getting excited just talking about it right now .”
Those two runs had a powerful effect on Baldwin and her team . For her , it was validation of the effort she ’ s put in so far , as well as shiny new material to add to her sponsorship pitch . For her team , which is led by Karamesines and includes tuning help from Bobby Lagana and a few DSR crew chiefs , it was proof that they ’ re heading in the right direction .
“ For us to make two solid runs back to back like that , it shows that we have a program that will work and that if you line up against this race car , it ’ s not just a sitting duck anymore ,” says Baldwin , who plans to run the Norwalk , Brainerd and Indy races . “ It totally amped me up . The biggest goal is to be consistent . I want to roll into Norwalk and I want to continue to run 3.80s , 3.90s and just get more time in the seat .” DI
PHOTOGRAPHS BY NHRA AND AUTO IMAGERY
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