Team Kalitta Photo (Crampton, Langdon, Todd, Kalitta): Gary Nastase Photography

NHRA: Kalitta Motorsports leads all teams in combined Top Fuel/Funny Car wins in 2018

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Quick, after the first four races of the 24-race 2018 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series, which organization has the most combined wins in the nitro classes of Top Fuel and Funny Car?

You might be surprised if you said John Force Racing or Don Schumacher Racing – because you’d also be wrong with either of those choices.

Of the eight final rounds in Top Fuel and Funny Car in the first four races, Kalitta Motorsports has won the most: three.

Doug Kalitta won the Winternationals in Top Fuel, Richie Crampton won the Gatornationals in Top Fuel and J.R. Todd won this past Sunday’s Four-Wide Nationals in Las Vegas in Funny Car.

It’s only the second time in team history that Kalitta Motorsports has won three of the first four events, and first time by three different drivers.

The other time was 2014 with Doug Kalitta winning Gainesville and recently-retired driver Alexis DeJoria winning Phoenix and Las Vegas.

As for the other winners in the first four races thus far this season:

* DSR has two wins: Matt Hagan (Funny Car) at the Winternationals and Jack Beckman (Funny Car) at Gainesville.

* JFR has one winner: Courtney Force (Funny Car) at the Arizona Nationals.

* Steve Torrence (Top Fuel) has two wins at Arizona and Las Vegas.

To say that the boss man, legendary driver and team owner Connie Kalitta, is happy at how his four-car operation has started this season is an understatement.

But ever the wise man of drag racing, Kalitta knows how quickly good fortune in the sport can turn bad, so he’s taking things in stride.

“I am pleased with the start we have had as an organization, but know this is not our ultimate goal,” Kalitta told MotorSportsTalk. “My desire for this season is to compete for and win championships in both classes, and this is a small sample size.

“I am ready to start our first extended run of the year with three-straight events starting in Houston (next week, April 20-222). The plan is to continue the run of success.”

Here’s a more detailed look at the organization’s run of success to date:

* Doug Kalitta, Connie’s nephew, not only won the season-opening race at Pomona, but was runner-up at Las Vegas on Sunday. He also has six round wins and is fifth in the Top Fuel point standings.

“Starting off the season with a win for the Mac Tools Toyota was huge for our confidence,” Kalitta told MotorSportsTalk. “We know we have a car that can compete for a championship and wins weekly, so to start that way was awesome.”

* Crampton’s win at Gainesville is the lone time he’s reached the finals thus far this season. But he also has five round wins and is also right behind teammate Doug Kalitta in sixth place in the Top Fuel standings.

“It was really excellent to get a win out of the gate with this Kalitta Air Toyota team,” Crampton said. “Ever since I started in 2017 with Kalitta Motorsports, it was evident that we had everything we needed to get wins and contend for the championship. It does not stop here; we plan on scoring a few more wins as the season goes along.

“Having worked with Shawn and J.R. in the past, and racing with Doug, getting to be their teammates is awesome this season. We have a lot that we can feed off from each other, and I have been able to learn a lot.”

* Todd, the most recent winner in the Kalitta stable at Las Vegas, also has reached the final round just once with his win Sunday, but has five overall round wins and is sixth in the Funny Car standings.

“It is nice to get some good momentum rolling early in the season,” Todd said. “It gets team morale up and keeps us hungry.

“In my opinion, we have the best drivers under one umbrella. It is great to be able to go to one another and bounce ideas off each other. Having Shawn (Langdon) in a Funny Car, I think is going to help us become better Funny Car drivers. There is no other place I’d rather be.”

* Lastly, Langdon has yet to reach the winner’s circle in 2018, but has two semi-final finishes in the first four races and is eighth in the point standings.

That’s not a bad showing considering this is the first time Langdon has ever competed in a season in a Funny Car; he previously only drove a Top Fuel dragster in the nitro division.

“It has been a great start to the 2018 season,” Langdon said. “For the team to have wins in three of the first four races is awesome. We are so close to breaking through with the Global Electronic Technology Camry. Two semis in the first three races is solid. We just had a little hiccup in Las Vegas, but we have been working closely with J.R. and the DHL team, who just won Vegas. We are close.”

Todd’s win at Las Vegas was made all the more special because all four drivers were able to celebrate in the winner’s circle afterward.

“I don’t often get to celebrate my teammates wins with our flight schedule, so to be able to be in the winner’s circle with J.R., Shawn and Richie was great,” Doug Kalitta said. “We are proud of the start we have had, but know this is only the beginning of what is a long season.”

Added Crampton, “It is a big family environment, so when J.R. won, we all celebrated with him in the winner’s circle and took a photo. That is what Kalitta Motorsports is all about.”

Added Langdon: “The way I look at we have four great drivers. Doug is great. He has the experience and knows how to win races. Richie is a talented driver and fabricator. He brings additional information to the team on working the car as he was a crew guy for years before jumping in the seat. J.R. is a very experienced driver and has been giving be great info on the learning curve in a Funny Car. We are learning and working closely together. All four drivers give each other tips and help each other out. It is a great place to be.”

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NHRA shocker in Houston: John Force fails to qualify for first time since 2008, snaps 221-race streak

Photo and videos courtesy NHRA
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Sunday’s eliminations in the 31st annual NHRA SpringNationals at Royal Purple Raceway in suburban Houston  just won’t be the same without John Force.

In one of the most stunning turn of events seen in the last decade-plus in NHRA drag racing, the legendary 16-time Funny Car champion and the sport’s all-time winningest driver on Saturday failed to qualify for Sunday’s main event of the race weekend.

It marks the first time Force, who turns 69 on May 4, failed to qualify for a race since Sept. 13, 2008 in Charlotte race, snapping a string of having made the eliminations in each of the subsequent 221 races until failing to do so Saturday.

“That is hard for me,” Force said after failing to go any faster than 222.29 mph in the four qualifying rounds for the race, two on Friday and the other two on Saturday. “You earn what you get. We didn’t put it in the show. We couldn’t get to half-track.

“We have had a lot of problems all year. At least I got my final shot to get in and I didn’t make it. I will be here tomorrow rooting on Robert, Courtney and Brittany (teammates Robert Hight and daughters Courtney and Brittany Force). I’ll be signing autographs for all the fans. I am sorry to all of you fans that I didn’t make it.”

Saturday’s failure to qualify marked only the 22nd time he’s DNQ’d in his 40-year professional drag racing career. He set a drag racing record by qualifying for 395 consecutive events from 1988 until April 2007.

“I am bummed that the boss didn’t get in. That was quite a streak he had going,” Hight said of hoss and father-in-law. “There is nobody better at rallying a team and leading a comeback than John Force.

“He loves the fight and he will do whatever it takes to get his team back on top. It really isn’t something to worry about because two of our Chevys are No.1 and No. 2 right now.

“We have good combinations and we just have to duplicate one of those set ups for John’s PEAK Funny car. He’ll be back next week in Charlotte.”

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As for the other classes (information courtesy NHRA Media Relations):Leah Pritchett set a new Top Fuel track record during the final qualifying session on Saturday to secure the top spot in Top Fuel heading into Sunday.Hight (Funny Car) and Greg Anderson (Pro Stock) are also No. 1 qualifiers in their respective categories at the fifth of 24 events on the 2018 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series schedule.

Defending event champion Pritchett raced her Mopar Dodge dragster to a pass of 3.680-seconds at 326.00 mph. This is her first No. 1 qualifier of the season and eighth of her career.

“We’ve been developing our confidence the last couple of races,” Pritchett stated. “To be able to put it on the track is phenomenal. We know we need to be exceptional because our competition is exceptional.”

Pritchett will line up against Terry Brian in round one of eliminations on Sunday. Defending world champion Brittany Force locked-in the No. 2 spot after a 3.701 at 313.80 in her Monster Energy dragster. Tony Schumacher is seeded third and will face William Litton.

Hight’s final qualifying pass of 3.894 at 317.27 in his Auto Club of Southern California Chevrolet Camaro took him to the top of the Funny Car category. This is his first No. 1 qualifier of the season, second at Houston and 58th of his career.

“This is going to be a new ball game tomorrow,” Hight said. “With fresh asphalt and the sun being out; these cars are going to spin. It’s definitely going to be fun. Two of our Chevy’s are one and two (in Funny Car) which shows we have good combinations.”

Hight will face-off against Todd Simpson Sunday morning in the first round. Teammate Courtney Force sits in the No. 2 position with a pass of 3.911 at 295.14 in her Advance Auto Parts Chevrolet Camaro and two-time world champion Matt Hagan rounds out the top three.

Anderson, four-time Pro Stock world champion, remained atop the field Saturday with his pass of 6.492 at 213.00 in his Summit Racing Equipment Chevrolet Camaro from the first qualifying session on Friday. He notched his third consecutive No. 1 qualifier of the season and is seeking his first victory of the year.

“I haven’t had great Sunday’s yet,” Anderson stated. “I know I’m going to break through one of these days though. The weather is going to be great again tomorrow. I feel good about it, I’m excited and so far it’s just been a great weekend.”

Anderson will race Steve Graham in the first round of eliminations. Jeg Coughlin Jr. qualified in the No. 2 position with a pass of 6.504 at 212.36 in his JEGS.com/Elite Performance Chevrolet Camaro and Tanner Gray is third.

Eliminations at the NHRA SpringNationals begin at 11 a.m. on Sunday at Royal Purple Raceway.

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SUNDAY’S FIRST-ROUND PAIRINGS FOR ELIMINATIONS:

TOP FUEL: 1. Leah Pritchett, 3.680 seconds, 326.00 mph vs. 16. Terry Brian, 4.275, 284.62; 2. Brittany Force, 3.701, 320.20 vs. 15. Terry Haddock, 4.081, 287.17; 3. Tony Schumacher, 3.703, 322.73 vs. 14. Bill Litton, 3.927, 306.60; 4. Billy Torrence, 3.737, 317.87 vs. 13. Kebin Kinsley, 3.819, 313.51; 5. Antron Brown, 3.740, 324.98 vs. 12. Terry McMillen, 3.783, 314.31; 6. Clay Millican, 3.746, 315.78 vs. 11. Mike Salinas, 3.766, 313.73; 7. Doug Kalitta, 3.748, 320.05 vs. 10. Richie Crampton, 3.766, 316.23; 8. Scott Palmer, 3.754, 318.17 vs. 9. Steve Torrence, 3.759, 313.88. Did Not Qualify: 17. Terry Totten, 4.636, 216.34.

FUNNY CAR: 1. Robert Hight, Chevy Camaro, 3.894, 317.27 vs. 16. Todd Simpson, Dodge Charger, 4.318, 288.33; 2. Courtney Force, Camaro, 3.911, 313.58 vs. 15. Jeff Diehl, Toyota Camry, 4.151, 283.49; 3. Matt Hagan, Charger, 3.913, 311.85 vs. 14. Ron Capps, Charger, 4.077, 305.77; 4. Jack Beckman, Charger, 3.918, 317.42 vs. 13. Richard Townsend, Camry, 4.026, 308.99; 5. Cruz Pedregon, Camry, 3.918, 301.94 vs. 12. Del Worsham, Camry, 4.017, 307.51; 6. Tim Wilkerson, Ford Mustang, 3.925, 311.41 vs. 11. Shawn Langdon, Camry, 3.994, 311.34; 7. Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 3.926, 313.00 vs. 10. J.R. Todd, Camry, 3.989, 313.37; 8. Jonnie Lindberg, Camry, 3.927, 316.52 vs. 9. Bob Tasca III, Mustang, 3.938, 314.09. Did Not Qualify: 17. Jim Campbell, 4.341, 273.05; 18. John Force, 4.625, 222.29.

PRO STOCK: 1. Greg Anderson, Chevy Camaro, 6.492, 213.00 vs. 16. Steve Graham, Camaro, 6.775, 205.60; 2. Jeg Coughlin, Camaro, 6.504, 212.36 vs. 15. Alan Prusiensky, Dodge Dart, 6.621, 208.65; 3. Tanner Gray, Camaro, 6.507, 211.99 vs. 14. John Gaydosh Jr, Chevrolet Camaro, 6.592, 210.93; 4. Vincent Nobile, Camaro, 6.513, 212.29 vs. 13. Erica Enders, Camaro, 6.548, 210.67; 5. Jason Line, Camaro, 6.518, 211.99 vs. 12. Rodger Brogdon, Camaro, 6.545, 210.50; 6. Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.525, 212.79 vs. 11. Matt Hartford, Camaro, 6.532, 212.73; 7. Drew Skillman, Camaro, 6.527, 212.29 vs. 10. Bo Butner, Camaro, 6.532, 211.79; 8. Deric Kramer, Camaro, 6.528, 211.93 vs. 9. Alex Laughlin, Camaro, 6.530, 211.33.