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Team Kalitta Scores First Double-Up Victory in Team History; J.R. Todd, Shawn Langdon Race to Victory in Season-Opening Race

Seventeen times. That’s how many chances Kalitta Motorsports had over the years to win the Top Fuel and Funny Car titles at the same race. On the day Doug Kalitta received his 2023 championship ring on the weekend his cousin, the late Scott Kalitta, was inducted into the International Drag Racing Hall of Fame, the 18th time was the charm. Team Kalitta made history when Funny Car driver J.R. Todd and Top Fuel driver Shawn Langdon raced to the winner’s circle in the season-opening Amalie Oil NHRA Gatornationals at Gainesville Raceway in Florida.

“We’ve been trying to double up for a long time,” Todd said. “There were times when I was driving Shawn’s car that Del (Worsham) and I were in the finals together. Then I’d be in the final with Shawn or Doug, but for whatever reason, it just never worked out. You’re definitely not rolling up to the starting line thinking about doubling up, but leading up to it, you know there’s an opportunity. It’s in the back of your mind, but more than anything, I was worried about racing Austin Prock – he had the best car all weekend long.

“The stars lined up for us here in Gainesville. Scott’s sons were here, Scott’s wife, Kathy, was here, and I think it was her first time at the race track since 2008 so it was pretty awesome. I’m just the lucky one who gets to drive Scott’s car – that’s forever his car; his name is still on the side of it. I almost screwed it up in the second round today, but I’m just happy we were able to redeem ourselves and get the trophy for DHL, Revchem, Safety-Kleen, SealMaster and everyone else that supports us.”

Todd was the No. 6 qualifier; he and the DHL Toyota team defeated Blake Alexander, Ron Capps and Bob Tasca on the way to the final round, but the DHL GR Supra had problems in each of the first three rounds. In the final round against Prock, the car was perfect, and Todd won the race with a 3.889-second pass at 329.10 mph. It was Todd’s second Gainesville final round in as many years, and the win was the 21st of his career. Todd leaves Gainesville in first place in the NHRA Funny Car point standings. He leads second-place Austin Prock by eight points.

“You can’t take anybody lightly in Funny Car,” Todd added. “Jim Head’s car (Blake Alexander) in the first round – that’s a team that can always step up. Capps was probably gonna beat us in the second round, and then we got by Tasca in the semifinals – we missed it, but he never drove by us. And then in the final round, you just kind of go for broke and see what happens. It’s a matter of survival on race day. I’ll take one of these trophies any day of the week.”

In his first race with longtime assistant crew chief Brian Husen serving as the Kalitta Air Careers team’s crew chief, Langdon had a flawless weekend racing to the No. 1 qualifier, his first since the 2020 U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis which is, coincidentally, also his last race win. Langdon defeated Cody Krohn, Justin Ashley, Antron Brown and Billy Torrence on his way to the winner’s circle. It was his 17th-career victory. Langdon leaves Gainesville in first place in the NHRA Top Fuel point standings. He leads second-place Steve Torrence by 39 points.

“Weekends like this just really make you appreciate the life you have,” Langdon said. “Being able to race for a legend like Connie Kalitta is something I don’t take lightly, and he gave me the keys to his race car. To come here, go to Scott’s Hall of Fame induction, and then you take step back and realize you’re just so lucky to be a part all this, really. Win, lose or draw, we’re very fortunate to be able to race for Team Kalitta and be a part of a great team. To be a part of the first double-up, you just kind of pinch yourself and say, ‘I don’t really know what I’m doing here, but it’s great, man.’ I’m just really excited for this opportunity.

“I couldn’t be happier for Brian (Husen),” Langdon added. “This is my first Gatornationals win, and we’re doubled up, but I’m just so happy for Brian. He puts in so much time and effort behind the scenes, and he deserves every ounce of credit and success he gets. I’m so thankful to be his driver. I feel like it’s a long overdue opportunity for him dating back to when we worked together years ago at the Al-Anabi team. He and AJ (Mac Tools Crew Chief Alan Johnson) worked together for many years so he learned from the best. For him to have an opportunity to come and qualify No. 1 with a really good race car and then win his first race is just a credit to Brian and this Kalitta Air Careers Toyota team.

“I’m so excited for him, I’m so excited for the guys – they put in a lot of hours in the off season changing the chassis and changing a lot of parts to accommodate the changes Brian wanted to make. For me, I’m happy for them and happy to be able to talk to sponsors like Kalitta Air, Fifth Third Bank, Mahle, Safety-Kleen and Toyota about the all the positive changes and winning the first race of the season. We have a lot of racing to go this season, but so far so good.”

Reigning NHRA Top Fuel champion Doug Kalitta opened his title defense after receiving his 2023 championship ring during driver introductions. Kalitta was the No. 7 qualifier; he defeated Clay Millican in the first round and reached 337.15 mph – it was his career best speed. He won that round but lost to Steve Torrence in the second round when the tires on the Mac Tools dragster lost traction. Kalitta leaves Gainesville tied with Justin Ashley for sixth place in the NHRA Top Fuel point standings. They trail fifth-place Mike Salinas by seven points and lead eighth-place Josh Hart by one point.

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“We definitely had a good streak going, but it’s just one of those deals when you smoke the tires,” Kalitta said. “The Mac Tools car was running really well – real proud of my guys, Alan and Mac Savage. It’s just one of those racing deals, and we’re ready to go again right now. Shawn and J.R. obviously doubled up today, which was awesome, so we’ll see what happens as the season goes on – really appreciate everything Mac Tools, Applied Innovation, Fifth Third Bank, Revchem and Toyota do for our team – we couldn’t do it without them.”

This story was originally published on March 11, 2024. Drag Illustrated

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