Team Kalitta enters the Countdown with all three teams racing for world championships. Doug Kalitta and Shawn Langdon will be racing to add more Reading Nationals titles to their records. J.R. Todd, the No. 4 seed in Funny Car, will looking for his second Funny Car win at Maple Grove Raceway.
Kalitta Starts Quest for Top Fuel Championship at Maple Grove Raceway
The regular season has ended and starting this weekend there are seven races to determine the 2021 NHRA Camping World Top Fuel world champion. Doug Kalitta and the Mac Tools Top Fuel team will be one of the ten racers vying for the championship starting with qualifying this Friday at Maple Grove Raceway. The NHRA Reading Nationals will provide the 49-time Top Fuel winner his first opportunity to chip into the Top Fuel point lead and move up the standings.
“We have some work cut out for us, but luckily we have an extra race in this Countdown, so we have seven instead of six races,” said Kalitta, referring to the addition of the national event in Bristol in mid-October. “This Mac Tools team will be ready for Reading and the last time we raced there we went to the final against a teammate. That is a fast track and I think there is an opportunity for us to pick up some qualifying bonus points, too.”
Last weekend at the NHRA U.S. Nationals rain washed out a full day of qualifying but not before Kalitta and his Mac Tools team could post the third quickest qualifying time on Friday night. The loss of two sessions set every team back but Kalitta was able to make a strong run in the opening round outrunning rookie Krista Baldwin. In a wild quarterfinal race Kalitta and Billy Torrence traded the lead multiple times as each driver pedaled his 11,000-horsepower race car but it was Torrence who got to the finish line first. Two years before that run it was Kalitta out driving Torrence for the U.S. Nationals victory.
“That was a tough race and I thought I was going to be able to hold on for the win,” said Kalitta. “The track was tricky in the early rounds. I think if we get three qualifying sessions in Reading will be good to go to race against anyone.”
This season Kalitta has raced to two runner-up finishes and a handful of quarterfinals. In each of the four-wide national events Kalitta showed his driving skill winning rounds and advancing to the final quad in Las Vegas. His performance at the Houston SpringNationals showed how strong the Mac Tools team can be on race day. Since that runner-up finish Kalitta has shown flashes of consistency and is heading to tracks where he has a history of success. The perennial championship contender is not worried about his Countdown seeding knowing that the only things that matters is having a chance for the championship on the last race of the season.
“Nothing is ever guaranteed in this sport,” said Kalitta, who won the Reading national event in 2002. “I have won from just about every qualifying position and I feel really good about this Mac Tools team. If we can get off to a strong start in Reading, then we will look at the next race in Charlotte. Right now, our focus is on winning the race at Maple Grove Raceway.”
Qualifying will begin Friday afternoon with two rounds of qualifying on Saturday. Final eliminations will begin at 11 a.m. ET on Sunday.
2019 NHRA Reading Nationals Highlights (event not contested in 2020): RUNNER-UP; Qual. No. 3; Beat Smax Smith, Mike Salinas, Austin Prock; Lost to Richie Crampton
Last Event Recap (2021 NHRA U.S. Nationals): Qual. No. 3; Beat Krista Baldwin; Lost to Billy Torrence
Career Stats: 537 events, 530 starts, 722 round wins, 49 wins, 107 finals, 50 No. 1 qualifiers
Gatornationals: Qual. No. 4; Beat Arthur Allen; Lost to Justin Ashley
Las Vegas1: RUNNER-UP; Qual. No. 3; Beat Troy Buff and Rob Passey, Beat Shawn Langdon and Leah Pruett; Lost to Steve Torrence
Atlanta: Qual. No. 9; Lost to Antron Brown
Charlotte1: Qual. No. 12; Beat Josh Hart, Billy Torrence, Kyle Wurtzel; Lost to Brittany Force, Josh Hart
Houston: RUNNER-UP; Qual. No. 9; Beat Brittany Force, Antron Brown, Shawn Langdon; Lost to Steve Torrence
Epping: Qual. No. 5; Beat Shawn Langdon, Lost to Mike Salinas
Norwalk: Qual. No. 11; Lost to Antron Brown
Denver: Qual. No. 4; Lost to Leah Pruett
Sonoma: Qual. No. 8; Beat Mike Salinas; Lost to Steve Torrence
Pomona1: Qual. No. 6; Lost to Clay Millican
Topeka: Qual. No. 9; Lost to Clay Millican
Brainerd: Qual. No. 9; Lost to Clay Millican
Indianapolis: Qual. No. 3; Beat Krista Baldwin; Lost to Billy Torrence
Langdon Starts Countdown with Bounty Hunter Look and Championship Aspirations
For the second race in a row Shawn Langdon will be racing one of the most legendary looking and feared Top Fuel dragster in NHRA history. Last weekend the DHL Kalitta Air Top Fuel team surprised team owner and crew chief Connie Kalitta by revealing the gold and white Bounty Hunter livery on Langdon’s Top Fuel race car for the weekend. It was an immediate crowd favorite with t-shirts emblazoned with the retro look flying off the Fatheadz souvenir trailer every day. The response was so positive the team decided to bring the race car back to start the 2021 Countdown at Maple Grove Raceway.
“This is one of the best-looking race cars I have ever driven, and we want to continue to honor Connie,” said Langdon. “We didn’t get the results we wanted in Indy, and I am determined to go some rounds in Reading. We only got one qualifying run on Friday night, and we missed on that tune up so I had to pedal it to get us in the show. I am looking forward to getting three qualifying runs at Maple Grove and seeing what we can do on race day.
Langdon and the DHL Kalitta Air team enter the Countdown as the No. 5 seed and sit just 50 points out of first place now that the points have been reset. With 20 points per round on the table four win lights on Sunday could easily cut into the gap. Also, the addition of a seventh Countdown race gives Langdon and the rest of the Top Fuel class more of an opportunity to make up ground on the drivers in front of them.
“I feel like you have a great shot of winning the championship from where we are seeded,” said Langdon. “Really you can win a championship from anywhere in the Countdown if you get off to a hot start. You could see some great performance numbers this weekend and I feel good about our chances to put up some low ETs. Qualifying bonus points are a big deal in the Countdown and when you get down to the last couple of races in the season they can really add up.”
On the way to his first Top Fuel championship Langdon picked up his lone win at Maple Grove Raceway. The last time he was at the track he was racing his Toyota Camry Funny Car so the return to his Top Fuel roots has Langdon eager to get back on a track where he has had some success.
“They always have a great crowd in Reading and that track can be really quick,” said Langdon. “We are jumping right into the Countdown with three races in a row, so drivers are going to have to be on their game. I am looking forward being in the seat every weekend because you really can get into a good groove.”
2019 NHRA Reading Nationals Highlights (event not contested in 2020): In Funny Car; Qual. No. 8; Lost to Matt Hagan
Last Event Recap (2021 NHRA U.S. Nationals): Qual. No. 16; Lost to Brittany Force
Career Stats: 280 events, 277 starts, 309 round wins, 17 wins, 35 finals, 19 No. 1 qualifiers in Top Fuel: 232 events, 229 starts, 15 wins, 32 finals, 270 round wins, 19 No. 1 qualifiers
Gatornationals: RUNNER-UP; Qual. No. 6; Beat Doug Foley, Leah Pruett, Antron Brown; Lost to Josh Hart
Las Vegas1: Qual. No. 6; Beat Troy Buff and Rob Passey; Lost to Doug Kalitta and Steve Torrence
Atlanta: Qual. No. 11; Beat Leah Pruett, Mike Salinas; Lost to Steve Torrence
Charlotte1: Qual. No. 11; Lost to Antron Brown and Krista Baldwin
Houston: Qual. No. 7; Beat Josh Hart, Justin Ashley; Lost to Doug Kalitta
Epping: Qual. No. 8; Lost to Doug Kalitta
Norwalk: Qual. No. 16; Lost to Steve Torrence
Denver: Qual. No. 8; Lost to Clay Millican
Sonoma: Qual. No. 9; Beat Clay Millican; Lost to Antron Brown
Pomona1: Qual. No. 5; Beat Jim Maroney; Lost to Antron Brown
Topeka: Qual. No. 7; Beat Antron Brown, Billy Torrence; Lost to Clay Millican
Brainerd: Qual. No. 7; Lost to Antron Brown
Indianapolis: Qual. No. 16; Lost to Brittany Force
J.R. Todd Looking for Another Maple Grove Win to Jump Start Championship Chase
The 2018 NHRA Funny Car champion knows that getting on a hot streak at the right time can be the difference between winning and losing a championship. J.R. Todd and the DHL Toyota Camry Funny Car team have a feeling they are gaining momentum at just the right time to make a serious run for his second world championship. His Toyota Funny Car has been one of the quickest and most consistent race cars in the category all season advancing to at least the quarterfinals at every national event except for one. They won the season opening Gatornationals and added on three more final rounds including two in the last four national events.
“I have a race car that can make quick runs and win rounds,” said Todd, the 2018 Reading Nationals winner. “We have a couple final rounds and a semifinal in our most recent races and we had a part issue in the quarterfinals at the U.S. Nationals and we still had a chance to go to the semis.”
Todd’s exceptional driving skills were on display in both the first and second rounds at Indianapolis Raceway Park. Racing against Jim Campbell on a track that had been reworked overnight after losing a full day of racing to torrential rainstorms Todd’s Funny Car overpowered the left lane as soon as he hit the throttle. For the second time this season and third time in recent memory Todd let his race car settle down and then reeled in his opponent in dramatic fashion to get a win light. Campbell was almost over half a track in front of Todd when he lost power and through Todd’s driving savvy, he was able to fly past him at the finish line to get the victory.
In the next round Todd ran into a problem after completing his burnout. His team had to physically push his car back to the starting line. NHRA rules state race cars have to stage under their own power, so Todd had to hit the throttle perfectly to lurch forward into the staging beams. It was an incredible display of driving finesse that had people throughout the sport stunned by what they had witnessed. Unfortunately, he was not able to translate his starting line heroics into another win light.
Coming into the Reading Nationals Todd has the unique distinction of being one of only three racers who have won at Maple Grove Raceway in both the Top Fuel and Funny Car classes. Todd picked up his Top Fuel win in 2006 and grabbed his Funny Car win 12 years later. He joined Hall of Famers Kenny Bernstein and Gary Scelzi as the only double nitro class winners.
In 2018 Todd won the championship from the No. 5 seed and this season he will get to start the pursuit of championship number two as the No. 4 seed. Only two rounds of racing, 40 points, separates Todd from the top spot. Qualifying bonus points can cut into the deficit starting on Friday evening.
“In 2018 we got hot winning Indy and then coming right to Reading winning again,” said Todd, a 10-time Funny Car national event winner. “We have had a lot of success at the Countdown race tracks and we are focusing on getting off to a good start this weekend in Reading.”
2019 NHRA Reading Nationals Highlights (event not contested in 2020): Qual. No. 10; Beat Tommy Johnson Jr., John Smith; Lost to Jack Beckman
Last Event Recap (2021 NHRA U.S. Nationals): Qual. No. 5; Beat Jim Campbell; Lost to Cruz Pedregon
Career Stats: 248 events, 240 starts, 272 round wins, 19 wins, 39 finals, 14 No. 1 qualifiers; in Funny Car: 96 events, 96 starts, 10 wins, 19 finals, 124 round wins, 5 No. 1 qualifiers
Gatornationals: WINNER; Qual. No. 6; Beat Blake Alexander, Tim Wilkerson, Cruz Pedregon and Robert Hight
Las Vegas1: Qual. No. 9; Beat Cruz Pedregon and Jonnie Lindberg; Lost to Ron Capps and Bob Tasca III
Atlanta: Qual. No. 1; Beat Alexis DeJoria, bye; Lost to John Force
Charlotte1: RUNNER-UP; Qual. No.4; Beat Terry Haddock, Jim Campbell, Tim Wilkerson; Beat Mike McIntire, Terry Haddock; Lost to John Force, Beat Cruz Pedregon, Alexis DeJoria
Houston: Qual. No. 8; Beat John Force; Lost to Bob Tasca III
Epping: Qual. No. 9; Beat Cruz Pedregon, Lost to John Force
Norwalk: Qual. No. 9; Beat Mike McIntire, Lost to Ron Capps
Denver: Qual. No. 7; Lost to Bob Tasca III
Sonoma: Qual. No. 12; Beat John Force; Lost to Robert Hight
Pomona1: RUNNER-UP; Qual. No. 7; Beat Jeff Diehl, Robert Hight, Jim Campbell; Lost to Ron Capps
Topeka: RUNNER-UP; Qual. No. 1; Beat Bye, Ron Capps, Blake Alexander; Lost to John Force
Brainerd: Qual. No. 11; Beat Robert Hight, Tim Wilkerson; Lost to Cruz Pedregon
Indianapolis: Qual. No. 5; Beat Jim Campbell; Lost to Cruz Pedregon