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Team Kalitta NHRA US Nationals Pre-Race Report

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Pre-Race Team Kalitta Notes
Event 6: 2020 NHRA U.S. Nationals
Indianapolis, IN
September 4-6, 2020

Doug Kalitta, enters the event as the defending U.S. Nationals champion and Top Fuel Mello Yello point leader for the fifth consecutive event. Top Fuel teammate Shawn Langdon and Funny Car teammate J.R. Todd will be looking to move further up the Top Ten standings and capture their second and third U.S. Nationals titles respectively.

doug kalittaDoug Kalitta and Mac Tools Looking for Repeat U.S. Nationals Win

Doug Kalitta

Doug Kalitta

One year ago Doug Kalitta won the biggest race of this career. After 25 years the veteran driver and perennial championship contender got four win lights at the NHRA U.S. Nationals and won the prestigious race for the first time. It was a hard fought win that saw him defeat some of the toughest drivers in the category. This weekend Kalitta and his Mac Tools Top Fuel team will be looking to do something that hasn’t happened in over a decade, win back-to-back Top Fuel titles at the biggest race of the year.

“That win last year was big. We were having a good season but getting that U.S. Nationals win gave us a boost and we made a serious run at the championship,” said Kalitta. “It was great to share that win with (team owner) Connie (Kalitta) and the boys. I am looking forward to trying to do it again.”

This season Kalitta has held the Mello Yello points lead from the first race of the season with a win at the Winternationals. He has raced to two more final rounds and continued to be one of the most dominant drivers on the tour. Heading into the U.S. Nationals after three previous races in Indianapolis Kalitta is a laser focused as ever on the task at hand.

“You can’t take a round off when you are racing,” said Kalitta. “If you aren’t at the top of your game you are going to have a short day. This Mac Tools Top Fuel dragster has been running great all season and I just have to do my job when I get behind the wheel. We are seeing more fans at the races, which is good and we want to put on a good show.”

The NHRA has been working with local officials to ensure racing can continue and with each race since the restart of the 2020 season more fans have been in attendance at each national event. The build up to the U.S. Nationals has been growing and interest in the sport continues to expand. The fan interest and business support is something a veteran like Kalitta can appreciate.

“We have brought on new partners this season and had to get creative to keep them engaged and give them exposure,” said Kalitta. “Now we are back on the track and we want to show off for all the people that supported us over the summer. Mac Tools, Toyota, Mobil1 and NGK Spark Plugs have done a ton for our team over the years and the new sponsors have made a huge impact. We also have guys like Osborn and Revchem Composites who are helping us back at the shop and on the race car every race. Those are the people we want to turn on win lights for and get them some added TV time on FOX.”

As the season makes a turn to the homestretch Kalitta knows as the Mello Yello point leader he will get more attention from his competitors as well as the fans. He doesn’t feel any extra pressure but does want to perform at the highest level.

“I just try and do my job the same every run. With the new qualifying format you have one day to get it right in qualifying. This race we will get one shot on Friday night but I am not sure how much that will help you on race day. The pressure comes from inside I think. I want to get the wins and do my best. I know everyone on this Mac Tools team is ready to get after this weekend and we will just have to see what happens,” added Kalitta.

Last Event Recap (2020 NHRA Indy3 Nationals): Qual. No. 12; Beat Cory McClenathan, Clay Millican; Lost to Terry McMillen

2019 US Nationals Recap: Qual. No. 8; WINNER; Beat Clay Millican, Brittany Force, Austin Prock and Billy Torrence

Quotable: Doug Kalitta on racing four races in a row in Indianapolis: “This may be the fourth race in a row in Indianapolis but this is still the U.S. Nationals. It won’t feel the same. There will be a lot more cars. There will be more fans. This is the race you think about winning all season. I want to do my best to win it again.”

Career Stats: 518 events, 511 starts, 703 round wins, 48 wins, 104 finals, 50 No. 1 qualifiers

2020 Season:

  • Winternationals: Qual. No. 5; WINNER; Beat Brandon Welch, Justin Ashley, Brittany Force and Austin Prock
  • Arizona Nationals: Qual. No. 8; RUNNER-UP; Beat Shawn Reed, Brittany Force and Antron Brown; Lost to Steve Torrence
  • Indy1 NHRA Nationals: Qual. No. 2; RUNNER-UP; Beat Lex Joon, Leah Pruett and Antron Brown; Lost to Billy Torrence
  • Indy2 NHRA Nationals: Qual. No. 6; Beat Doug Foley; Lost to Justin Ashley
  • Indy3 NHRA Nationals: Qual. No. 12; Beat Cory McClenathan, Clay Millican; Lost to Terry McMillen
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JR ToddDHL Toyota and J.R. Todd Racing for Third U.S. Nationals Title

J.R. Todd

J.R. Todd

Coming to the NHRA U.S. Nationals has been a Labor Day tradition for J.R. Todd for as long as he can remember. He has attended as a fan, as a crew person and as a driver in Top Fuel and Funny Car. The driver of the DHL Toyota Camry Funny Car is in elite company as a two-time back-to-back winner of this prestigious race. Todd took the title in 2017 and 2018 and last year almost raced to three finals in a row before bowing out in the semifinals.

“Winning Indy is a career event,” said Todd. “You look at the drivers that have won and they all talk about that win as being so special. I agree. When I won it in 2017 I don’t think it really sank in right away. Everyone who puts on a helmet and firesuit dreams of winning Indy. I want to get another U.S. Nationals win to raise my career to the next level.”

Only five other Funny Car drivers have won three U.S. Nationals titles and Todd would like to make it an even half dozen. The names are almost surely Hall of Famers and Todd would like to continue his career trajectory in that direction.

“You look at the drivers that have won three U.S. Nationals Funny Car titles,” said Todd. “John Force. Ed McCullloch. Snake (Don Prudhomme). Those guys are legends and then Robert Hight and Cruz Pedregon are on that list too. Also those guys have multiple world championships and I want to be on that level.”

The DHL Funny Car has been showing major improvements since the season restarted and that along with a positive test session prior to this weekend has Todd as optimistic as he has been all season. The past three races the team has qualified no worse than No. 5 and at the last race Todd was the car to beat on race day before he lost in the final.

“We didn’t get off to a good start at the first two races and we were hoping to turn things around in Gainesville but then everything went sideways,” said Todd. “We looked at the races in Indy as chance to get back on track and I think we have this DHL Camry in a great spot coming into the U.S. Nationals. A lot of people have been supporting us and giving us help so we want to pay them back with a win this weekend.”

In addition to the backing of DHL and Toyota Todd’s team has been buoyed by Mobil1 and NGK Spark Plugs as well as Wix Filters like the rest of Kalitta Motorsports. These associates and relationships are on Todd’s radar when he gets to the track since he knows they have stuck with the team through a very unusual season.

“This year has been a test for everyone and we just want to go out and show our sponsors we appreciate their support. The best way to do that is to win races and talk about how great their products are. I believe in every sponsor we have and that gives me a lot of confidence. My team led by Todd Smith and Jon Oberhofer give me an amazing Toyota Camry Funny Car and it is my job to do my best. This will be a busy and fun weekend for sure,” added Todd.

Last Event Recap (2020 NHRA Indy3 Nationals): RUNNER-UP, Qual. No. 5; Beat Mike McIntire, Cruz Pedregon, Paul Lee; Lost to Ron Capps

2019 US Nationals Recap: Indianapolis: Qual. No. 5; Beat Cruz Pedregon, Ray Martin; Lost to Jack Beckman

Quotable: J.R. Todd on racing for third U.S, Nationals title: “We are coming off a semifinal and runner-up finish in the past two races. I want to get four win lights on Sunday. We have a great race car and I have an amazing DHL Toyota team behind me.”

Career Stats: 229 events, 221 starts, 243 round wins, 18 wins, 34 finals, 12 No. 1 qualifiers; in Funny Car 77 events, 77 starts, 9 wins, 14 finals, 95 round wins, 3 No. 1 qualifiers

2020 Season:

  • Winternationals: Qual. No. 8; Lost to Time Wilkerson
  • Arizona Nationals: Qual. No. 9; Lost to Ron Capps
  • Indy1 NHRA Nationals: Qual. No. 4; Beat Alex Miladinovich, Alexis DeJoria; Lost to Tommy Johnson Jr.
  • Indy2 NHRA Nationals: Qual. No. 5; Beat Jim Campbell; Lost to Matt Hagan
  • Indy3 NHRA Nationals: RUNNER-UP, Qual. No. 5; Beat Mike McIntire, Cruz Pedregon, Paul Lee; Lost to Ron Capps
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Shawn LangdonShawn Langdon and DHL Team Back in Indy for U.S. Nationals Victory

Shawn Langdon

Shawn Langdon

Shawn Langdon will enter the NHRA U.S. Nationals focused on getting his second Top Fuel title at the historic event and keeping a Kalitta Motorsports streak alive. Langdon picked up his first U.S. Nationals win in 2013 on the way to his Top Fuel championship. Since 2017 Kalitta Motorsports has hoisted a Wally in victory in either Funny Car or Top Fuel. His DHL Top Fuel team has been making steady progress over the last three races held in Indianapolis as the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series as restarted but the results haven’t translated to victories yet.

“We have been making good runs in qualifying and we have won some rounds on Sunday but we haven’t put a whole race together yet,” said Langdon. “Connie (Kalitta) and Kurt (Elliott) have a good handle on the race car and we just need some things to fall our way. I did a lot of bracket racing over the break and with the last three races I feel good in the car. I am looking forward to this weekend for sure.”

Coming into the NHRA U.S. National Langdon has more seat time than most of his competitors thanks to a dedication to racing that got him into his bracket car in the weeks preceding the restart of the season. Langdon, a world champion at the sportsman level, was able to compete at regional events winning rounds and keeping his starting line skills sharp. Those reaction time abilities will come in handy this weekend.

“You look at the Top Fuel competition right now and I don’t know if it has ever been tougher,” said Langdon. “There aren’t just good race cars out there the drivers have been killer on the tree. If you don’t come up to the starting line with the right frame of mind your race could be over before your race car passes the Christmas Tree. I have been putting in a lot of work and I am hoping to see it pay off this weekend.

The DHL Kalitta Air Top Fuel dragster will be reaping the benefits of new sponsor support from the likes of Mobil1 and NGK Spark Plugs, two sponsors exclusive to Kalitta Motorsports that have been providing products and testing to support the team’s 11,000 horsepower efforts. Those new partners along with the long-standing relationship with Toyota and TRD give Langdon confidence his team, as well as his two teammates, have the data and knowledge to get the job done.

“I can’t say enough about the support we get from Toyota, Mobil1 and NGK Spark Plugs. Those companies aren’t just sponsoring the car they are hands on in labs and on the track giving us great parts and feedback to help us win. There is so much going on away from the track and well as between rounds we are excited to see the results after every run. It is really cool to see those partners supporting us and we want to get them another U.S. Nationals win.”

The business to business element of racing is one of Kalitta Motorsports’ strengths with sponsors like Revchem Composites, SealMaster, Fifth Third Bank, DHL and other enjoying hospitality and a great environment to network. The team was built on the hard work and race wins of team owner Connie Kalitta, Langdon’s crew chief, and the winning attitude he brings to the track is always on Langdon’s mind.

“I am honored to be racing Connie’s Top Fuel dragster. He has done so much in the sport you want to give him your best every time you strap into the race car. It is cool to talk with him after a run and to know he was a driver so he understands what I am talking about. This whole team was built by him and we all want to perform for him. Our goal this weekend will be to make every run count and get another Wally for Connie,” added Langdon.

Last Event Recap (2020 NHRA Indy3 Nationals): Qual. No. 14; Lost to Leah Pruett

2019 US Nationals Recap: In Funny Car – Qual. No. 7; Beat Tommy Johnson Jr.; Lost to Matt Hagan

Quotable: Shawn Langdon on the U.S. Nationals: “This will be the fourth race in a row in Indianapolis but this one will feel different I guarantee it. There are almost 900 race teams here. There are cars all over the place. The U.S. Nationals will always feel and be special. I am glad I get the chance to win this race again.”

Career Stats: 261 events, 258 starts, 289 round wins, 16 wins, 33 finals, 18 No. 1 qualifiers; in Top Fuel 213 events, 210 starts, 14 wins, 30 finals, 250 round wins, 18 No. 1 qualifiers

2020 Season:

  • Winternationals: Qual. No. 4; Lost to Justin Ashley
  • Arizona Nationals: Qual. No. 7; Beat Clay Millican; Lost to Steve Torrence
  • Indy1 NHRA Nationals: Qual. No. 8; Beat Justin Ashley; Lost to Steve Torrence
  • Indy2 NHRA Nationals: Qual. No. 3; Lost to Justin Ashley
  • Indy3 NHRA Nationals: Qual. No. 14; Lost to Leah Pruett

Photos courtesy of Gary Nastase Photography, driver photos: NHRA

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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.

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