Pre-Race Team Kalitta Notes
Event 3 of 24: 2020 Gatornationals
Gainesville Raceway – Gainesville, FL
March 13-15, 2020
Doug Kalitta, enters the event as the Top Fuel Mello Yello points leader after his third consecutive Winternationals victory and a runner-up finish in Arizona. Top Fuel teammate Shawn Langdon and Funny Car teammate J.R. Todd will be looking for a strong start as the team heads to Gainesville Raceway.
Gatornationals Major Win Up Next for Doug Kalitta, Mac Tools
Three-time Gatornationals winner Doug Kalitta will head to Gainesville Raceway chasing history and looking to protect his Mello Yello Top Fuel points lead. Kalitta and his Mac Tools Top Fuel dragster team has been on a mission to secure the Top Fuel world championship for over two decades and once again they are off to a fast start racing to a win at the Winternationals and a runner-up finish at the Arizona Nationals two weeks ago.
“We are excited with the start to the season but we also know that this is only two races,” said Kalitta. “You want to get some momentum but I know we need to not only start strong but also finish strong. I have a great team and I really like our chances for this season and also heading into the Gatornationals.”
Kalitta’s three wins at the historic Gatornationals were recorded most recently in 2014, 2005 and 2000. He also has two No. 1 qualifiers to his credit in 2013 and 2003. A Kalitta Motorsports Top Fuel dragster has won the previous two Gatornationals and Kalitta would like to keep that streak alive in 2020.
“The DHL Top Fuel dragster that Connie (Kalitta) tunes has won the last two Gators so we would love to see an all Kalitta Motorsports final round,” said Kalitta. “There is so much history here for our team and I just get pumped up racing here. We have had a lot of success and I want to keep that positive momentum going.”
In addition to the Gatornationals win streak Kalitta is looking to keep a “Major” win streak going for himself. Last year Kalitta won the prestigious U.S. Nationals for the first time and he closed out the season with a win at the Auto Club Finals. This season started with another win at Auto Club Raceway during the Winternationals and now this weekend a win in Gainesville could give him titles at all four NHRA “Major” national events in a row. This is a feat that has only been accomplished by one other Top Fuel driver. Tony Schumacher won all four “Majors” in 2004 and also held all four titles between the 2007 and 2008 seasons.
“You want to win the big races of the season,” said Kalitta. “We got our first Indy win last year and that was a big boost. I think it does put a little bit of pressure on the other teams but we also put a lot of pressure on ourselves. Getting wins at the Gatornationals or Pomona or Indy definitely make for great memories.”
Beyond the event wins Kalitta is also chasing another major career milestone as he closes in on 700 career round wins in Top Fuel. Entering the Gatornationals he has 697 round wins and a win in the semifinals would be his historic 700th. Only Tony Schumacher has more round wins in Top Fuel and no other driver besides Schumacher has eclipsed 700 round wins in the category.
“I have had a great career and I am looking forward to a lot more round wins. The key to our success I think has been the stability of our team and our sponsors like Mac Tools. So many of those wins have come in the Mac Tools Top Fuel dragster and I am very proud to represent them as well as Toyota, SealMaster, DHL and new sponsors like Mobil 1, NGK Spark Plugs, Fifth Third Bank, Osborn and Ozium,” added Kalitta.
2019 NHRA Gatornationals Highlights: Qual. No. 11, Beat Terry McMillen and Steve Torrence; Lost to Clay Millican
Last Event Recap (2020 NHRA Arizona Nationals): Qual. No. 8; RUNNER-UP; Beat Shawn Reed, Brittany Force and Antron Brown; Lost to Steve Torrence
J.R. Todd and DHL Camry Eager to Take Bite Out of Gatornationals
The DHL Toyota Camry Funny Car team and J.R. Todd will be heading into the historic NHRA Gatornationals looking to add their names to a historic list of Funny Car winners. For over fifty years the iconic race held at Gainesville Raceway has seen legends made in front of record crowds packing the grandstands all weekend. As the first race on the East Coast the Gatornationals has been the site of record setting performances and memory making runs.
“There is so much history at the Gatornationals you just want to get a win there to add to your resume,” said Todd. “I think you look at the drivers who are Hall of Famers or legendary drivers and they all have at least one win at the Gatornationals. I want to add my name to this list.”
The 2018 NHRA Funny Car world champion has started the season with early exits at the Winternationals and Arizona Nationals but Todd sits in the Top Ten in points and sees improvement on the horizon. During the first two events the DHL Camry has made solid runs but race day success has eluded the team.
“I think we are making improvements for sure every time we get on the track,” said Todd. “My crew chiefs, Todd (Smith) and Jon (Oberhofer), are making adjustments and we just have been thrown some curve balls. One of the many things this team has going for it is we have a lot of confidence in each other. We have been through the ups and downs together so we are staying positive and looking forward to this weekend.”
Throughout his career Todd has shown that the races just following the Gatornationals have been highly successful with wins in Las Vegas twice and Houston in 2018 coming the over the past two seasons. The team knows that they can get some of that momentum going at Gainesville Raceway with consistent qualifying and some good runs on race day.
“There is always a great crowd in Gainesville for this race,” said Todd. “We just need to put our heads down and come out with good runs on Friday so we can get aggressive on Saturday. The race day on Sunday will be a lot of fun if you have four good qualifying passes in your back pocket. All the Kalitta Motorsports teams will be working together and even though I am the only Funny Car there is a lot of collaboration over here.”
2019 NHRA Gatornationals Highlights: Qual. No. 11; Lost to Jack Beckman
Last Event Recap (2020 NHRA Arizona Nationals): Qual. No. 9; Lost to Ron Capps
DHL and Shawn Landgon Head to Gainesville Focused on Getting Top Fuel Win
Shawn Langdon will be looking to add his name to the list of Kalitta Motorsports drivers who have captured a Gatornationals title with his first victory at Gainesville Raceway this weekend. For the 2013 Top Fuel world champion this will be his third race back behind the wheel of the DHL Kalitta Air Top Fuel dragster and he is eager to grab his first win of the 2020 Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season.
“I am getting more comfortable in the DHL Top Fuel dragster every run,” said Langdon. “This race car has a ton of power and we just need to pull it all together this weekend. The past two seasons this DHL dragster has won the Gatornationals and I would like to keep that streak alive.”
Over twenty five years ago Langdon’s crew chief and drag racing legend Connie Kalitta won the Gatornationals in the first father versus son final round. Connie took the win over his son Scott to win his only Gatornationals Wally. Overall Kalitta Motorsports has six Gatornationals titles with Doug Kalitta claiming three titles and Richie Crampton owning two.
“Racing for Connie is a real honor,” confessed Langdon. “He has done it all in drag racing. It is really cool to get back to the hauler after a great run and see a big smile on his face. This whole DHL team is a great group from top to bottom. I am loving being back in Top Fuel and now I just want to get back in to the winner’s circle.”
Over his Top Fuel career Langdon has fourteen wins with his most successful season coming in 2013 when he won seven national events on the way to his first Top Fuel world championship. He has raced to 30 Top Fuel final rounds and 18 No. 1 qualifiers in his career, including the 2015 No. 1 qualifier at the Gatornationals.
“I have been lucky to have raced with some great teams. I am thrilled to be back in the DHL dragster. We have so much support from sponsors like Toyota, Mobil 1, NGK Spark Plugs, SealMaster and new sponsor Fifth Third Bank I feel a win is right around the corner. It would be great to get a third win in a row for this team at the Gatornationals,” added Langdon.
2019 NHRA Gatornationals Highlights: Qual. No. 10; Lost to Cruz Pedregon
Last Event Recap (2020 NHRA Arizona Nationals): Qual. No. 7; Beat Clay Millican; Lost to Steve Torrence
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 an 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.