Event 1 of 24: NHRA Winternationals
Auto Club Raceway at Pomona – Pomona, CA
History for Doug Kalitta With Third Consecutive Winternationals Win
Doug Kalitta and the Mac Tools Top Fuel dragster continued their mastery of the NHRA Winternationals and Auto Club Raceway at Pomona winning the season opening race for the third consecutive year. The team extended its round win streak to twelve rounds going back to last year’s Winternationals, the season finale Auto Club Finals and today’s event. Kalitta will leave Pomona with the Mello Yello points lead and the confidence earned by defeating the No. 1 and No. 2 qualifiers on the way to the winner’s circle.
“It was definitely an interesting day,” said Kalitta in the Shav Glick Media Center. “There was a lot of close racing today. You’ve got people up their trying to tear the tree down on you, so it makes you a little bit nervous. It worked out really well for us. I’m just so proud of my Mac Tools Toyota guys. They busted their tails today. We tore up a few parts, but it was all good. To win the 60th Winternationals is pretty special. Connie (Kalitta) was here at the first one and he’s here with us and I couldn’t be happier for him. He’s created an amazing legacy out here and I’m just glad this is one of our better tracks.”
The win today was Kalitta’s 48th career Top Fuel win. He was racing in his fifth consecutive final round at the Winternationals. The success at the race track located just outside Los Angeles has made Kalitta feel quite at home on the west coast. Putting a finger on the how and why of the success is something Kalitta has been unable to ascertain.
“I wish I could pinpoint that. I just have a lot of great people behind me,” said Kalitta. “On race day, we have all the Toyota and TRD support staff out here helping us with whatever track conditions we’re looking at. They give us a lot of great feedback and we also get a lot of support from sponsors like NGK Spark Plugs and Mobil 1. Really, our success comes from the entire team. I wish I could take credit for it. It’s a place with a lot of history and it’s very special to me.”
The NHRA was celebrating the 60th running of the Winternationals and for Kalitta Motorsports the event has been a mainstay since team owner and NHRA legend Connie Kalitta attended the inaugural event in 1960. Doug Kalitta’s career started over thirty years ago and the veteran driver has been a perennial championship contender for well over the past decade.
“I started working for him right when I got out of high school, so it’s been quite a while,” explained Kalitta. “He’s provided me with a lot of great opportunities. I loved everything he was doing and he was happy to have someone who wanted to learn about airplanes and race cars. I don’t come out on the weekend and try to tune anything and Connie’s still in there tuning. That’s what he enjoys doing. It keeps his passion going – and Shawn Langdon’s car has been running good. It’s going to be a car that’s tough to beat. I’m just real proud that Connie’s still out here doing what he’s doing.”
The final round was a classic Winternationals battle. Two top-tier teams squaring off for the first win of the season. It was championship contender Doug Kalitta versus reigning Rookie of the Year Austin Prock. Kalitta had just dispatched Prock’s teammate and No. 1 qualifier Brittany Force.
“You’re in the finals at Pomona and you’re just waiting for that win light not to come on,” said Kalitta. “Down at the top end, I was looking at that thing and I was just happy to see that yellow light. Austin’s going to do big things. He’s a great driver and he’s killer on the tree. It’s going to be an interesting year with all these younger drivers that are hungrier than heck. We’re just going to keep at it.”
The Mac Tools Top Fuel team posted top three runs in three of the four qualifying sessions. On race day they were consistently quickest of their sessions. Their two best runs of the weekend came in the semifinals and then the finals.
“I have to give all the credit to my crew chiefs, Rob (Flynn) and Troy (Fasching) and everyone that works on my car,” added Kalitta. “The thing that I’m really excited about this year is that I have all of my same guys back in place from last year. We had some great momentum going toward the end of last year. We’ve got the team together and they’re doing a great job. I take my hat off to them. We are hungry. We’re all trying to win a championship and my guys are all working hard to pull it off. We just want to win.”
Doug Kalitta on 2020 season: “It’s going to be a great year. Everyone out here just keeps stepping up their game. You can see it in the performances of these cars. It’s going to be a tough year, but I’m really looking forward to it. My guys are all hungry and just real glad that we were able to get one of the Kalitta Motorsports cars into the Winner’s Circle today and get the season kicked off right. Winning the first race takes a lot of pressure off. Now that we’ve got that win behind us, we can just try to build on it.”
Qualified: No. 5 (3.717 sec., 330.39 mph)
Bonus points: +3 (3rd quickest Q1, Q3 and Q4)
Driver Qual – R/T – ET – MPH
Doug Kalitta 5 .089 3.885 326.87 (W)
Brandon Welch 10 .091 7.325 105.68
Driver Qual – R/T – ET – MPH
Doug Kalitta 5 .036 3.706 325.53 (W)
Justin Ashley 11 .040 3.965 231.83
Driver Qual – R/T – ET – MPH
Doug Kalitta 5 .067 3.675 329.26 (W)
Brittany Force 1 .072 3.689 332.84
Shawn Langdon and DHL Team Leave Pomona with Focus on Phoenix
Shawn Langdon returned to the category that made him a world champion for the first time in two seasons. Behind the wheel of the DHL Kalitta Air Top Fuel dragster Langdon raced to the provisional No. 1 qualifier position on Friday night. When qualifying wrapped up on Saturday he had slipped to No. 4 but he was still very comfortable in his new race car.
A dramatic weather swing forced all the teams to roll the dice on race day and the DHL team took a big swing in the first round. Racing upstart driver Justin Ashley Langdon knew he needed to be prepared for anything on a very cool race track.
When the tree activated both dragsters leapt off the starting line and as they began to fly down the race track Langdon’s DHL dragster began to overpower the racing surface. The veteran driver masterfully pedaled his dragster, lifting off the throttle briefly to regain traction, but his opponent was on a solid run and he was unable to chase him down.
“We had a feast or famine weekend in qualifying,” said Langdon at the end of the day. “On Friday we ran great and got the provisional No. 1 qualifier on the first day of the season with this DHL Top Fuel dragster. On Saturday we had some issues but got them fixed by the end of the day. I was confident going into the first round. We had totally different conditions and I had to give it a quick pedal. We just couldn’t recover in time and we will head to Phoenix. The best part is we know we have a race car that can go rounds and it is just the first race of the season.”
The days leading up to the race were busy for Langdon and his teammate J.R. Todd as they spent Wednesday in the desert as a guest of MAHLE enjoying the King of the Hammers event. The team also celebrated adding another major associate sponsor to his DHL dragster when on Saturday Fifth Third Bank was revealed joining recent sponsor additions of RevChem Composites and NiTEO Products.
“It is an exciting time to be a part of Kalitta Motorsports. We added NGK Spark Plugs and Mobil 1 at SEMA and PRI respectively, to go along with Osborn in the off season. This week we added three new sponsors. It is great to bring in these new companies to the NHRA. I know it will pay dividends on the track for all our teams,” added Langdon.
Langdon on seeing teammate Doug Kalitta win his third consecutive Winternationals title: “I couldn’t be happier for Doug. That Mac Tools Toyota team is awesome. When one Kalitta Motorsports team wins we all win for our sponsors like Mobil 1, NGK Spark Plugs and our newest sponsor Fifth Third Bank.”
Qualified: No. 4 (3.699 sec., 322.42 mph)
Bonus points: +3 (Quickest of Q2)
J.R. Todd and DHL Camry Building Momentum Leaving Winternationals
The 2018 NHRA Funny Car champion, J.R. Todd, was looking to add a Funny Car win to his Top Fuel win at the 60th annual NHRA Winternationals today at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona. Driving the DHL Toyota Camry once again Todd worked his way through four rounds of qualifying and faced a tough first round match-up on race day.
On Friday the DHL Toyota Camry came off the trailer and posted a solid 3.950 second run at 327.51 mph in the second session the team stepped up with a 3.914 second run at 327.11 mph which put him in the No. 6 spot heading into Saturday. The team began working on a race day tune up and posted another nice 3.90 run. In the third session they tripped the timers at 3.949 seconds and 330.15 mph.
In the final session Todd and the DHL team were looking for the edge of their tune up and just slipped over the line. They overpowered the track almost immediately and cruised across the finish line with a 6.888 second run at a pedestrian 91.21 mph.
On race day Todd and his DHL Camry teammates were the last pair down the track in an eventful first round of Funny Car. Inclement weather rolled in overnight dropping the temperature almost 30 degrees and sending all the crew chiefs scrambling for a dramatically different tune up. With the advantage of seeing seven pairs of Funny Cars Todd and the DHL team felt confident.
Unfortunately Todd was upset in the opening round. Both Funny Cars jumped off the starting line with Todd taking an early lead but as passed the sixty foot mark his Goodyears broke loose and he was forced to lift off the throttle for less than a second. That opened the window for his opponent Tim Wilkerson to pull away for the win.
“We had a good but not great weekend. This season is a marathon not a sprint and I know this DHL Toyota Camry will win a lot of rounds this season,” explained Todd. “I am looking forward to getting to Phoenix. We just missed it a little this morning when the conditions changed. It was really almost a coin flip with the colder conditions and trying to be aggressive but not too aggressive. I have a lot of confidence and we are excited to get the season started with this Toyota team.”
J.R. Todd on new sponsors joining team this week: “We had a lot of great sponsor announcements this week. We added RevChem Composites, NiTEO Products and Fifth Third Bank all in the days leading up to the race. You add those great sponsors with NGK Spark Plugs, Mobil 1 and Osborn and we are building great relationships for 2020.”
Qualified: No. 8 (3.914 sec., 327.11 mph)
Bonus points: 0
Unofficial NHRA Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship Standings:
1 Doug Kalitta 117
2 Austin Prock 99
3 Brittany Force 87
4 Leah Pruett 80
5 Clay Millican 53
6 Justin Ashley 52
7 Shawn Reed 51
8 Shawn Langdon 38
9 Terry McMillen 34
10 Antron Brown 32
1 Jack Beckman 126
2 John Force 94
3 Matt Hagan 86
4 Alexis DeJoria 67
5 Robert Hight 61
6 Tommy Johnson Jr 56
7 Ron Capps 54
8 Tim Wilkerson 52
9 Paul Lee 34
10 J.R. Todd
Photos courtesy of Gary Nastase Photography, driver photos: NHRA
About Kalitta Motorsports:
Based in Ypsilanti, Mich., Kalitta Motorsports is a Top Fuel and Funny Car drag racing team in the NHRA (National Hot Rod Association) Mello Yello Drag Racing Series. The team was founded and is owned by drag racing icon Connie “the Bounty Hunter” Kalitta. For more than 60 years, Connie has been involved in the sport as a driver, tuner, and team owner. Kalitta Motorsports is one of the most successful teams in the history of auto racing with seven world championships and over 100 national event titles in five different professional drag racing sanctioning bodies since it was established by Connie in 1959.
Kalitta Motorsports fields three full-time entries in the NHRA Mello Yello nitro classes. Connie Kalitta’s nephew, Doug Kalitta, pilots the Mac Tools Top Fuel dragster while 2013 NHRA Top Fuel world champion Shawn Langdon drives the DHL Top Fuel dragster. In Funny Car, J.R. Todd is the driver of the DHL Toyota Camry Funny Car. Connie Kalitta serves as head tuner for all Kalitta Motorsports entries. He is assisted by co-crew chiefs Todd Smith and Jon Oberhofer on the DHL Toyota Camry Funny Car, Kurt Elliott on the DHL Top Fuel dragster and Rob Flynn with Troy Fasching lead the efforts on the Mac Tools Top Fuel dragster.