Kalitta Motorsports is entering the 2020 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season opener with confidence. Doug Kalitta, the defending event winner in Top Fuel will be joined by 2013 Top Fuel world champion Shawn Langdon. 2018 Funny Car world champion J.R. Todd will also be looking for a strong start to the season.
Doug Kalitta, Mac Tools Striving for Third Consecutive Winternationals Victory
Only two drivers have more Top Fuel wins at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona than perennial NHRA Mello Yello championship contender Doug Kalitta. The veteran driver from Michigan is looking to add one more win and move into a tie for first place on the all-time Auto Club Raceway win list. This season Kalitta will bring a new look Mac Tools Top Fuel dragster to the west coast to start the season and attempt to make it three wins in a row at Auto Club Raceway as well as his third win in a row at the historic Winternationals. The 60th annual Winternationals will be the chance for Kalitta to make another run at his first NHRA Top Fuel championship.
“I love going to Pomona,” said Kalitta. “It’s a place that has always been special and it’s been very good to us. To me, the cool thing about Pomona is the history of the place. I’ve seen so many of the greats race there and I love the museum. I hope the fans take some time to visit there. Personally, I grew up watching Connie (Kalitta) there over the years and it was just the coolest place to race. Hopefully, we can keep running well there.”
Kalitta fell just three points shy of earning his first Top Fuel title last season. He picked up his first win at the historic U.S. Nationals and raced to three finals in the Countdown including a win at the season finale. He has now finished in the top three in the point standings three times in the last four years. His 47 career Top Fuel victories are good for fifth all-time. Past success continues to motivate Kalitta for the ultimate prize.
“We’re just hoping to be running up front the whole season,” said Kalitta. “We need to start off strong. We’ll try to go back to Pomona and pick up where we left off. We tested well in Spring Training in Vegas. Qualifying is one of the things that we’re going to be focusing on this year. Usually on race day, we’re consistently good, so qualifying a little bit better will help us be there at the end again this year. The points you gain in qualifying can make a big difference in the point standings. I think the addition of NGK and Mobil 1 should be a big plus as well. We’re really looking forward to having them aboard this year. I’m excited to get to Pomona.”
Throughout his over two decade long career Kalitta and the Mac Tools team have consistently been in the championship mix. Last year they spent eighteen races in either the No. 1 or No. 2 spot in the Mello Yello point standings.
“I’ve been very fortunate over the years. I’m really proud of what this Mac Tools Toyota team has accomplished, especially last year,” said Kalitta. “The car was running good throughout the year. I think what benefits us the most is simply that we have the ability to stay consistent. We don’t seem to have many long stretches where we struggle and that allows us to enter the Countdown in a good position to challenge for a title. This team is something special and I’m looking forward to the coming season.”
Throughout the seasons Kalitta has been in the unique position to evaluate his competition as the Top Fuel class has grown both in size and in competition level. Every season the number of teams that are considered serious championship contenders grows. The upcoming 2020 NHRA season is no exception.
“It’s going to be a really strong field again this year,” added Kalitta. “All of the top teams from last year are back. With Shawn (Langdon) moving back to Top Fuel, we’re adding another world champion. I think our Toyota teammate Antron Brown is going to be right back in the hunt, especially with Brian Corradi back with them. Plus, you have all the young kids who came up last year like Austin Prock and Jordan Vandergriff. There’s never an easy round out there.”
2019 NHRA Winternationals Highlights: Qual. No. 7, WINNER; Beat Scott Palmer, Billy Torrence, Terry McMillen and Steve Torrence
Last Event Recap (2019 NHRA Auto Club Finals): Qual. No. 6; WINNER; Beat Terry McMillen, Justin Ashley, Leah Pritchett, Richie Crampton
Career Stats: 513 events, 506 starts, 690 round wins, 47 wins, 101 finals, 50 No. 1 qualifiers
J.R. Todd and DHL Toyota Camry Looking for Funny Car Win at Winternationals
The DHL Toyota Camry and driver J.R. Todd will be in hot pursuit of their second NHRA Funny Car world championship this weekend at the NHRA Winternationals at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona. Todd will be looking to become the first driver since icon Don Prudhomme to win the historic event in both Top Fuel and Funny Car. He picked up his Top Fuel win in 2007 and will be looking for his tenth career Funny Car victory this weekend.
“We have the same goal we start every season off with – looking for another shot at the championship like we won with the DHL Toyota in 2018,” said Todd. “We didn’t have the season we were hoping for last year, but we’ve regrouped. We have some new crew guys this year and we’ve added some key associate sponsors on board. Things are looking up and we’re hoping on hitting the ground running in Pomona.”
A Funny Car win at the Winternationals would mean a lot to Todd. As a student of NHRA history and a fan of the legends that raced before him he understands the impact of a win to start the season.
“With the 60th anniversary of the Winternationals this year, it’s a big race where everyone wants to get a win under their belt,” said Todd. “I’ve been fortunate to win the Winternationals in dragsters, so if I could add my name to that list to win in both nitro classes that would be pretty special. You always want to start the season off with good momentum going into the year. It’s a long season, but if we can come out of Pomona with a win, it will set the bar high for us.”
This year Todd will be the lone Funny Car in the Kalitta Motorsports camp with the move of Shawn Langdon to the DHL Top Fuel dragster. Being the only Kalitta-backed Funny Car will not affect how Todd approached the season.
“There are pros and cons of multi-car teams. I think for us, with Toyota and TRD’s support and their focus on our DHL Toyota Camry, that’s a good thing for us,” said Todd. “I don’t think it will hinder our performance being a one-car Funny Car team. We have two great dragster teams here at Kalitta Motorsports that we work really well with.”
The synergy between sponsors like Toyota Racing Development and the DHL team give not just Todd but the entire team added confidence. The constant race informational updates go hand in hand with the research and development elements of the partnership.
“We have a TRD-support center parked right next to us at every race,” explained Todd. “The information they provide us, whether it’s track conditions or different ideas on things we can try with the body and chassis, is great. I don’t think there’s any other manufacturer that provides support like that to the other teams out here. I’m really looking forward to this season. We have some things in the works with Toyota and TRD for 2021, so I expect to be testing some new things later this season.”
In addition to the support from DHL and TRD Todd has seen new names and companies join the racing operation in the off-season. Moving into 2020 season he knows that there will be new faces and sponsors to represent on and off track. He sees the new team partners as an extension of the success the team has experienced over the past few seasons.
“It’s great because the products they supply to us our exclusive to Kalitta Motorsports. Getting NGK on board is huge. They’ve been around the sport for a long time and have a great history,” said Todd. “Mobil 1 has already put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into making sure this product was right. We did some testing with it last season and they perfected it. It’s a great product and exclusive to our team, so I think that could be crucial for us in the performance area. We’ve seen the benefits of their oil by not tearing up parts with issues we’ve had in the past. When you look at things like that in the long run, it’s going to save our teams money and gives the crew chiefs a bit of advantage where they can stand on the tune-up a little harder because they know the oil is going to hold up to whatever they’re giving it. That can make hundredths or thousandths of a second difference at the finish line. Little things like that can mean a lot and go a long way in this sport.”
2019 NHRA Winternationals Highlights: Qual. No. 9; Lost to Bob Tasca III
Last Event Recap (2019 NHRA Auto Club Finals): Qual. No. 10; Beat Tommy Johnson Jr.; Lost to Jack Beckman
Career Stats: 224 events, 216 starts, 237 round wins, 18 wins, 33 finals, 12 No. 1 qualifiers; in Funny Car: 72 events, 72 starts, 9 wins, 13 finals, 88 round wins, 3 No. 1 qualifiers
Return to Top Fuel Has Shawn Langdon Fired Up for Winternationals and 2020 Success
For the first time since 2017 Shawn Langdon will not be sitting behind a 10,000 horsepower engine when he rolls to the starting line for the 60th annual NHRA Winternationals. The 2013 NHRA Top Fuel champion will be returning to the class that started his professional career. His two year stint behind the wheel of a Toyota Camry Funny Car gave the racer a unique experience and perspective but the Californian does not express any race car preference.
“I just want to race,” said Langdon during the Las Vegas PRO test session. “If that means racing a Funny Car…perfect. If that means racing a Top Fuel dragster…perfect. I like racing. To me, it doesn’t matter what I race, I just enjoy having an opportunity to compete and compete for wins and a championship.”
As one of only seventeen racers to win in both Top Fuel and Funny Car Langdon is eager to get back to Top Fuel behind the wheel of the DHL Kalitta Air dragster. The transition was announced over the off-season and the 14-time Top Fuel winner is eager to get back in front of the engine. He is also looking forward to being reunited with crew chief and racing legend Connie Kalitta.
“It was an opportunity that presented itself with Connie Kalitta wanting to go to three cars,” explained Langdon. “They asked me if I wanted to go back to drive for him again in the dragster and it was absolutely. I raced with him in 2017. We had a great year and ended on a great note with two runner-up finishes and a semi-final in the final three races. So it’s good to be back racing with the DHL Toyota team. I’m excited for this year.”
Langdon will be returning to his home track in Pomona having grown up 20 miles outside of the city on the outskirts of Los Angeles. He has registered four Top Fuel wins at the track, sweeping both the Winternationals and NHRA Auto Club Finals in 2013 and 2015.
“It’s exciting to get back there and get the season started,” said Langdon. “Obviously, Pomona is a home race for me, so it’s always neat to go back and race in front of my family and friends at a place where I grew up watching my heroes. It’s also the first race of the season, so it’s exciting just to get the season going. It’s good to have enjoyed the success we’ve had there, that’s what you strive for. Some tracks you go to you seem to find the Winner’s Circle and some tracks it seems like you’re always looking for early flights out on Sunday. Fortunately, Pomona is one of those tracks for me where I seem to have great success at. Hopefully, we can start out with another win. That would be awesome.”
The time in Funny Car would be considered a measured success with Langdon picking up two wins last season. He qualified for the Countdown both seasons he was piloting the Camry Funny Car and was a consistent threat each season. For Langdon no matter what he was driving whether it was a Super Comp dragster or Funny Car his goal was always victory.
“I’ve always had the nature that whatever car I get in, I want to be competitive,” said Langdon. “I don’t come out here to race and not win. So whatever I get in, I try to give 100 percent every time. I just try to be a part of a team that’s going to be a championship contender and we were able to have two great years in Funny Car and got two wins out of it. It would be nice, maybe one day in the future, to go back and maybe get a championship in Funny Car, but I’m very pleased to be back working with Connie, Kurt Elliott and the whole DHL team.”
In addition to a new look and new primary sponsor Langdon and the rest of the Kalitta Motorsports team will be enjoying the continued support of Toyota Racing Development (TRD) and well as a handful of new sponsors. Most notably during the off-season NGK Spark Plugs and Mobil 1 announced exclusive marketing and technology relationships with the Michigan based teams.
“It’s great to bring in some prestigious new partners. NGK and Mobil 1 are new to us on the marketing front, but they are great companies that have played a huge role in our sport. So we’re very happy to have them on board and very happy to work with them and showcase their products to the world,” added Langdon.
2019 NHRA Winternationals Highlights: Qual. No. 6; Beat Jim Campbell; Lost to Tommy Johnson Jr.
Last Event Recap (2019 NHRA Auto Club Finals): Qual. No. 4; Beat Jeff Arend; Lost to Robert Hight
Career Stats: 256 events, 253 starts, 287 round wins, 16 wins, 33 finals, 18 No. 1 qualifiers; in Top Fuel: 208 events, 205 starts, 14 wins, 30 finals, 248 round wins, 18 No. 1 qualifiers.