Team Kalitta enters the first race of the 2021 NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series season with title hopes for Funny Car driver J.R. Todd and the DHL Toyota Camry Funny Car team as well as Doug Kalitta and Shawn Langdon in the Top Fuel ranks, racing the Mac Tools and DHL/Kalitta Air dragsters, respectively.
Doug Kalitta Starts 20th Season with Mac Tools Looking for Fourth Gatornationals Win
The past three seasons Doug Kalitta has started the season off with four straight win lights on race day and a trip to the winner’s circle behind the wheel of his Mac Tools Top Fuel dragster. For the perennial championship contender the traditional season opening NHRA Winternationals has been his playground. This year if Kalitta wants to extend his win streak to four, he will have to make it happen on the opposite coast. The start of the 2021 NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series will kick off at the historic Gatornationals for the first time ever this weekend.
“I love running Gainesville,” said Kalitta, a three-time Gatornationals Top Fuel champion. “I’ve always been a big Don Garlits fan and that’s his home. To be able to go there and start the season with a win would be huge for us.”
With his next victory Kalitta will become just the fifth driver in NHRA history to win 50 Top Fuel events. Last year he won his 700th round of racing continuing to add his Hall of Fame career stats. The history of successful season starts has Kalitta confident in his chances of winning his fourth consecutive season-opener.
“I feel confident that we can do it,” said Kalitta, during pre-season testing. “The car has been testing well and was running well at the end of last year. We’ve had more time than we ever wanted to get the season started, so we’re ready to get the 2021 season going.”
For the twentieth season in a row Kalitta will be representing Mac Tools, making the association one of the longest in the history of the NHRA. The partnership has remained strong due to Kalitta’s on-track performance but also his ability to connect with Mac Tools distributors, guests and executives.
“Mac Tools has been with us 20 years now. They’re a strong group and they love drag racing,” explained Kalitta. ”We’re happy to have the opportunity to represent them. They’re a part of everything we do – not only in racing, but back at the shop and with the airplane. They’re not just a sponsor, but a true partner. Bob Lawson and everyone in our marketing program have put together a terrific group of sponsors. We’re fortunate to not only have Mac Tools behind us, but other sponsors like Toyota and TRD, Mobil 1, SealMaster, NGK Spark Plugs and Revchem.
Leading up to the Gatornationals Kalitta’s team tested at West Palm Beach to shake the rust off his 11,000 horsepower Top Fuel dragster and reintroduce Kalitta and his team to the rhythms of building and rebuilding the race car after each run.
“I’m fortunate to have the guys on this Mac Tools team. We really didn’t have much turnover from last year. We had just one change and the person we brought in had been with us for three or four years previously,” added Kalitta.
2020 NHRA Gatornationals Highlights: Qual. No. 6, Lost to Terry McMillen
Last Event Recap (2020 NHRA Las Vegas Finals): Qual. No. 3; Lost to Justin Ashley
Career Stats: 524 events, 517 starts, 711 round wins, 49 wins, 105 finals, 50 No. 1 qualifiers
Shawn Langdon and DHL Top Fuel Team Racing for Grand Slam at Gatornationals
Last year Shawn Langdon and his DHL/Kalitta Air Top Fuel team took home the title at the biggest race of the season, the prestigious U.S. Nationals and finished sixth in the Top Fuel point standings. After two years in a Funny Car where he became just the 17th driver ever to win in both Funny Car and Top Fuel, the return to the dragster ranks was an easy transition. This year after multiple days of testing in West Palm Beach Langdon is ready to make a run at one more historic win. Already the owner to championship trophies from the U.S. Nationals, the Winternationals and the NHRA Finals, a Gatornationals victory would give him the “Grand Slam” of historic wins.
“For me, it’s just about winning races,” said Langdon. “That’s the biggest thing. The Gatornationals is a big race and it’s a track that I haven’t won at. Regardless of where it is, I’d like to win at every track and Gainesville is one of them. Gainesville is a track that I haven’t won at yet. So, I definitely have a lot of motivation there to do well. This year it’s the season kick-off and I’m looking forward to going there and, hopefully, we can have some success. It’s eluded me for a number of years and I’d like to get that checked off the list.”
As a 15-time Top Fuel winner Langdon knows what it takes on race day to get a win. The biggest hurdle all the NHRA competitors will have to overcome is a longer than usual off-season. It has been almost five months since Langdon has filled the seat of his DHL/Kalitta Air Top Fuel dragster in competition conditions.
“It’s different. I definitely filled my time working on my bracket cars and working on getting a junior dragster ready for my nephew out in California,” said Langdon. “I kept busy the whole time and about everything I did was racing related, so even though it may have actually been four months off, in my mind it wasn’t. I’d still be practicing on my practice tree and racing on my iRacing simulator. There’s still a lot of stuff I do seven days a week that’s racing related.”
A new season-opening venue doesn’t bother a veteran like Langdon. Throughout the season last year the avid sportsman racer took to the track at big money races across the country to keep his reaction times and racing skills sharp. The diversity of racing classes and locations gives Langdon a sense of balance and motivation as the season starts with a brand new feeling.
“I’d like to pick up where we left off last year. We really started running a lot better towards the end of the year,” said Langdon. “(Crew Chiefs) Kurt Elliott and Connie (Kalitta) have done a great job of working on the car, tuning it and giving me a chance to win on Sunday and that’s all I need. As long as I have a chance, I feel like I can keep us competitive with reaction times. I know that every one of these crew guys busted their butt all off-season, double and triple-checking everything making sure we are very prepared and ready to go. No matter what happens this year with the pandemic, I feel that we’re ready to run all the races, test as much as we need to and contend for a championship.”
2020 NHRA Gatornationals Highlights: Qual. No. 7; Beat Justin Ashley; Lost to Billy Torrence
Last Event Recap (2020 NHRA Las Vegas Finals): Qual. No. 5; Lost to Clay Millican
Career Stats: 267 events, 264 starts, 297 round wins, 17 wins, 34 finals, 19 No. 1 qualifiers; in Top Fuel: 219 events, 216 starts, 15 wins, 31 finals, 258 round wins, 19 No. 1 qualifiers
Racing Passion has J.R. Todd and DHL Toyota Camry Team Focused on Gatornationals Victory
DHL Toyota Camry Funny Car driver J.R. Todd has a passion for NHRA Camping World Drag Racing as well as a wide variety of other forms of motorsports. He grew up in the Junior Dragster League and throughout his career he has taken a keen interest in learning from other forms of racing to give himself an edge on the drag strip. His experience and at-track education have afforded him the chance to be successful in the Top Fuel and Funny Car ranks tallying nine national event victories in each class. This weekend at the 52nd annual Gatornationals Todd will be looking for his tenth Funny Car win and first at the historic event on the east coast.
“For me, Gainesville is right up there at the top with winning Indy,” said Todd, a two-time U.S. Nationals Funny Car winner. “It’s one of the biggest races in our sport along with the U.S. Nationals and the Pomona races. It’s one that I’ve always wanted to check off the list, but haven’t been able to. Hopefully, we can do that here in 2021. The Gatornationals is one of the most historic and prestigious races on the tour. It’s like the east coast version of the Winternationals and it brings out a lot of the legends of our sport and some great memories. We’d like to add our name to that list of winners.”
Todd enters the 2021 campaign looking for his second Funny Car world championship in the last four years after winning the title in 2018. Last year Todd and his DHL Toyota Camry Funny Car team battled through a tough season that did not allow the team to establish a rhythm. They raced to a number of final rounds but could not run the table on race day.
“There was just so much unknown,” explained Todd. “We didn’t know where we were going to race or when we were going to race. At the end of the day, we were just glad to be able to run the races that we did and have some fans at the track. Moving forward, hopefully, we can run the majority of races that are on the schedule for 2021 and get more fans out to see some NHRA Camping World Drag Racing.”
This off-season Todd continued to dedicate himself to improving his physical fitness as well as his mental agility at PitFit gym outside of Indianapolis. His goal entering the 2021 season has also remained consistent with previous seasons.
“Contend for a championship, that’s the goal every season. We need to show up and win races and contend for a championship. Anything short of that is not acceptable for us. We hold ourselves to a high standard. That’s the goal,” added Todd.
Another championship would be an amazing accomplishment for Todd and the DHL Toyota team. For Todd looking ahead to the 2021 season the Funny Car champion is looking for a return to normalcy. Throughout his life that has meant weekends at a race track either racing or enjoying watching one of his friends turn laps on dirt or asphalt.
“I was pretty much born and raised at the racetrack watching my dad race flat track motorcycles. Growing up in Indiana, you’re either a basketball fan or motorsports fan and growing up I was always at the track with my dad,” said Todd. “I fell in love with dirt track motorcycles and was shied away from that by my parents due to safety concerns. Then I started in junior dragsters. Pretty much the connections I’ve made throughout drag racing and meeting different people is how you grow to love other forms of motorsports like sprint car racing, dirt late model racing. I have a handful of buddies who’ve come up through those ranks and made it onto the NASCAR circuit, so I have an interest in keeping up with them.”
2020 NHRA Gatornationals Highlights: Qual. No. 7; Lost to Tommy Johnson Jr.
Last Event Recap (2020 NHRA Las Vegas Finals): Qual. No. 9; Beat Tim Wilkerson.; Lost to Ron Capps
Career Stats: 235 events, 227 starts, 250 round wins, 18 wins, 35 finals, 12 No. 1 qualifiers; in Funny Car: 83 events, 83 starts, 9 wins, 15 finals, 102 round wins, 3 No. 1 qualifiers