Kalitta, Todd race to closest Top Fuel finish in NHRA history in Southern Nationals

(Photos/videos courtesy of NHRA)
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Veteran Top Fuel drag racer Doug Kalitta roared to his second consecutive race win in the final round of Sunday’s Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Southern Nationals at Atlanta Dragway in Commerce, Georgia.

But this win, the 40th of Kalitta’s career – moving him into sole possession of fourth place on the NHRA all-time Top Fuel wins list – was more than just big, it was record setting.

And in a big way.

Kalitta squared off with teammate J.R. Todd in the finals, the first time two Team Kalitta dragsters have faced each other in the final round since 2006.

And when their respective runs were over, Kalitta beat Todd in the closest margin of victory in NHRA Top Fuel history: 0.000 seconds.

In fact, NHRA scorekeepers had to break out their calculators for this one, as no one initially knew who won the race. Finally, after reviewing data, Kalitta (3.801 seconds at 323.19 mph) was scored the race winner over Todd (3.780 seconds 320.66 mph) by less than one ten-thousandth of a second.

Kalitta won the race by having a better reaction time at the starting line.

“What an incredible race,” Kalitta said in a team media release. “It just shows how much effort and time goes into these race cars at Kalitta Motorsports. I could not be more proud to a part of this team and part of what the Mac Tools guys are doing. To win two in a row is stellar and I could not be more excited.”

Added Todd: “You never want to come that close and not get it done. However, it is great to see both Team Kalitta cars in the final and the SealMaster team knows we can definitely get the job done in Topeka.”

Kalitta is now fourth on the Top Fuel wins list, passing Kenny Bernstein and Antron Brown, who drop to a tie for fifth place with 39 career wins apiece in a dragster.

Kalitta is now 12 wins behind third-ranked Joe Amato (52 wins), preceded by Larry Dixon (62) and Tony Schumacher, who not only has the most career Top Fuel wins (80), he also has the most career Top Fuel championships (eight).

Also, it’s the first time Kalitta has earned back-to-back wins since 2006. In addition to it being his second career win in three years at Atlanta, Kalitta also took over first place in the NHRA Top Fuel standings, leading Antron Brown by 64 points.

In Funny Car, 2014 season champ Matt Hagan (3.965 seconds at 314.90 mph) earned his first win of the season and 19th of his career. Hagan also snapped a 19-race winless streak dating back to last season, defeating Don Schumacher Racing teammate Jack Beckman (smoked the tires).

“We’ve been trying to dig our way out of a hole we dug for ourselves in the beginning of the season with a new chassis and some new parts and different things like that,” Hagan said. “We went back to what we know and pulled our old car back out. We won a championship with it. We all knew it was just a matter of time before we figured it out. We’re really happy to get that monkey off our back.”

Also getting the monkey off his back was Beckman, who qualified No. 1 and reached the final round for the first time this season. And even with his runner-up showing, Beckman still improved to second place in the Funny Car points standings.

In Pro Stock, Jason Line (6.611 seconds at 209.75 mph) just keeps rolling along. With a great jump at the starting line, Line earned his fourth win in seven races thus far this season (and 41st of his career), defeating teammate Greg Anderson (6.593 seconds at 210.50 mph).

In addition, Line extends his streak of reaching the final round in every race thus far this season – meaning he has an outstanding four wins and three runner-up finishes (all to Anderson).

He also has won the last two races at Atlanta and three overall in his career.

“It’s a great day anytime you can win in front of your sponsor,” said Line, who is sponsored by Summit Racing Equipment. “This is a very tricky racetrack. I haven’t been on an Atlanta track like this ever. We struggled hard with it, but again, I’m a little bit in awe that I’ve been able to race in all the final rounds this year.”

Lastly, in Pro Stock Motorcycle, Eddie Krawiec (6.824 seconds at 196.66 mph) earned his second win of the season, defeating Jerry Savoie (6.851 seconds at 195.79 mph).

The win was Krawiec’s fourth at Atlanta and the 33rd triumph of his two-wheel career. Krawiec, who remains atop the PSM points standings, has also reached the finals of all three of this season’s events thus far.

“Atlanta has treated me well,” said Krawiec, a three-time world champ. “I got my first win here and it’s one of those things where if you just feel comfortable and you’re in a groove, you’ll have confidence.

“For me, I think all of that has fallen into place. The track was a little tricky for us but we were able to figure out our chassis set up and as we made more laps throughout the weekend it got better and better. It was definitely a good, exciting, fun weekend for me.”

The next NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series event is the NHRA Kansas Nationals, May 20-22 at Heartland Park Topeka (Kansas).

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TOP FUEL: 1.  Doug Kalitta; 2.  J.R. Todd; 3.  Shawn Langdon; 4.  Antron Brown; 5.  Steve Torrence; 6. Brittany Force; 7.  Tony Schumacher; 8.  Richie Crampton; 9.  Clay Millican; 10.  Pat Dakin; 11. Kyle Wurtzel; 12.  Leah Pritchett; 13.  Scott Palmer; 14.  Terry McMillen; 15.  Chris Karamesines; 16.  Terry Haddock.

FUNNY CAR: 1.  Matt Hagan; 2.  Jack Beckman; 3.  Tommy Johnson Jr.; 4.  Courtney Force; 5.  Alexis DeJoria; 6. Del Worsham; 7.  Ron Capps; 8.  Robert Hight; 9.  Tim Wilkerson; 10.  Chad Head; 11.  Dave Richards; 12.  John Hale; 13.  Cruz Pedregon; 14.  John Force; 15.  Jeff Diehl; 16.  Jim Campbell.

PRO STOCK: 1.  Jason Line; 2.  Greg Anderson; 3.  Allen Johnson; 4.  Kenny Delco; 5.  Jeg Coughlin; 6.  Alex Laughlin; 7.  Chris McGaha; 8.  Vincent Nobile; 9.  Erica Enders; 10.  V. Gaines; 11.  Bo Butner; 12.  Drew Skillman; 13.  John Gaydosh Jr; 14.  Shane Gray.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: 1.  Eddie Krawiec; 2.  Jerry Savoie; 3.  Angelle Sampey; 4.  Karen Stoffer; 5.  Chip Ellis; 6. Hector Arana; 7.  Melissa Surber; 8.  Scotty Pollacheck; 9.  LE Tonglet; 10.  Matt Smith; 11. Michael Phillips; 12.  Andrew Hines; 13.  Steve Johnson; 14.  Hector Arana Jr; 15.  Cory Reed; 16. Shawn Gann.

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Top Fuel — Doug Kalitta, 3.801 seconds, 323.19 mph  def. J.R. Todd, 3.780 seconds, 320.66 mph.
Funny Car — Matt Hagan, Dodge Charger, 3.965, 314.90  def. Jack Beckman, Charger, 8.073, 79.59.
Pro Stock — Jason Line, Chevy Camaro, 6.611, 209.75  def. Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.593, 210.50.
Pro Stock Motorcycle — Eddie Krawiec, Harley-Davidson, 6.824, 196.56  def. Jerry Savoie, Suzuki, 6.851, 195.79.

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ROUND ONE — Tony Schumacher, 3.743, 320.28 def. Leah Pritchett, 3.950, 303.23; Brittany Force, 3.765, 319.29 def. Clay Millican, 3.785, 320.74; Richie Crampton, 3.749, 325.92 def. Chris Karamesines, 6.383, 98.26; Doug Kalitta, 3.737, 328.22 def. Terry Haddock, Broke; J.R. Todd, 3.759, 326.00 def. Kyle Wurtzel, 3.853, 309.84; Steve Torrence, 3.766, 325.69 def. Scott Palmer, 4.029, 288.33; Antron Brown, 3.749, 317.57 def. Pat Dakin, 3.820, 303.50; Shawn Langdon, 3.749, 326.48 def. Terry McMillen, Foul – Red Light; QUARTERFINALS — Todd, 3.757, 324.36 def. Force, 3.784, 320.97; Brown, 3.772, 318.02 def. Torrence, 3.772, 324.90; Langdon, 3.781, 324.44 def. Crampton, 3.822, 287.90; Kalitta, 3.782, 326.24 def. Schumacher, 3.789, 325.06; SEMIFINALS — Kalitta, 3.779, 324.20 def. Brown, 9.833, 72.21; Todd, 3.782, 322.96 def. Langdon, 3.817, 318.77; FINAL — Kalitta, 3.801, 323.19 def. Todd, 3.780, 320.66.

ROUND ONE — Robert Hight, Chevy Camaro, 3.953, 327.43 def. Cruz Pedregon, Toyota Camry, 4.833, 167.49; Jack Beckman, Dodge Charger, 3.911, 328.86 def. Jim Campbell, Camry, 8.382, 80.36; Matt Hagan, Charger, 3.906, 329.02 def. Chad Head, Camry, 4.349, 271.30; Courtney Force, Camaro, 3.915, 327.74 def. Jeff Diehl, Toyota Solara, 5.617, 106.68; Alexis DeJoria, Camry, 3.950, 324.05 def. Dave Richards, Ford Mustang, 4.355, 213.57; Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 3.960, 319.45 def. John Hale, Charger, 4.736, 150.61; Del Worsham, Camry, 3.975, 287.11 def. Tim Wilkerson, Mustang, 4.064, 310.48; Ron Capps, Charger, 3.938, 324.83 def. John Force, Camaro, 5.564, 130.22; QUARTERFINALS — Johnson Jr., 7.146, 97.74 def. DeJoria, Foul – Red Light; C. Force, 3.950, 327.35 def. Hight, 8.205, 88.55; Hagan, 3.926, 327.19 def. Worsham, 3.972, 325.45; Beckman, 3.989, 323.81 def. Capps, 3.992, 320.81; SEMIFINALS — Beckman, 3.967, 323.58 def. Johnson Jr., 3.992, 317.79; Hagan, 3.939, 325.06 def. C. Force, 5.845, 115.75; FINAL — Hagan, 3.965, 314.90 def. Beckman, 8.073, 79.59.

ROUND ONE — Jeg Coughlin, Dodge Dart, 6.648, 208.17 def. Drew Skillman, Chevy Camaro, 8.920, 105.96; Allen Johnson, Dart, 6.600, 209.79 def. Vincent Nobile, Camaro, 6.602, 208.78; Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.624, 208.33 def. Erica Enders, Dart, 6.644, 207.91; Kenny Delco, Camaro, 7.299, 148.38 def. Shane Gray, Camaro, 11.690, 76.83; Alex Laughlin, Camaro, 6.664, 205.57 def. Bo Butner, Camaro, 7.227, 135.95; Jason Line, Camaro, 6.559, 211.06 def. John Gaydosh Jr, Chevrolet Camaro, 9.016, 104.59; Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.584, 211.06 def. V. Gaines, Dart, 6.685, 207.82; QUARTERFINALS — Delco, 7.856, 171.34 def. McGaha, 9.635, 155.72; Johnson, 6.680, 209.33 def. Laughlin, 6.838, 207.34; Anderson, 6.574, 210.80 was unopposed; Line, 6.585, 211.03 def. Coughlin, 6.669, 208.36; SEMIFINALS — Line, 6.603, 210.24 def. Johnson, 6.656, 208.20; Anderson, 6.582, 210.83 def. Delco, Foul – Red Light; FINAL — Line, 6.611, 209.75 def. Anderson, 6.593, 210.50.

ROUND ONE — Jerry Savoie, Suzuki, 6.853, 192.77 def. Michael Phillips, Suzuki, Foul – Red Light; Karen Stoffer, Suzuki, 6.860, 193.77 def. Shawn Gann, Buell, Foul – Red Light; Chip Ellis, Buell, 6.889, 190.81 def. Cory Reed, Buell, 8.262, 105.09; Scotty Pollacheck, Buell, 6.865, 193.79 def. Andrew Hines, Harley-Davidson, 6.932, 193.79; Angelle Sampey, Buell, 6.799, 195.59 def. Steve Johnson, Suzuki, 6.952, 192.11; Eddie Krawiec, Harley-Davidson, 6.850, 194.13 def. Matt Smith, 6.877, 193.05; Melissa Surber, Buell, 6.863, 193.27 def. LE Tonglet, Suzuki, 6.843, 194.88; Hector Arana, Buell, 6.934, 174.75 def. Hector Arana Jr, Buell, 7.227, 148.54; QUARTERFINALS — Savoie, 6.843, 196.73 def. Pollacheck, 10.299, 80.08; Stoffer, 6.904, 195.39 def. Ellis, 6.935, 192.17; Krawiec, 6.874, 196.47 def. Surber, 7.134, 189.42; Sampey, 6.870, 195.39 def. Arana, 6.941, 191.76; SEMIFINALS — Savoie, 6.871, 195.00 def. Sampey, 6.901, 193.74; Krawiec, 6.847, 196.42 def. Stoffer, 6.904, 195.17; FINAL — Krawiec, 6.824, 196.56 def. Savoie, 6.851, 195.79.

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Top Fuel: 1.  Doug Kalitta, 586; 2.  Antron Brown, 522; 3.  Brittany Force, 518; 4.  Steve Torrence, 474; 5. J.R. Todd, 418; 6.  Clay Millican, 387; 7.  Tony Schumacher, 349; 8.  Richie Crampton, 337; 9.Leah Pritchett, 308; 10.  Terry McMillen, 293.

FUNNY CAR: 1.  Courtney Force, 522; 2.  Jack Beckman, 482; 3.  Tim Wilkerson, 476; 4.  Ron Capps, 471; 5. Robert Hight, 458; 6.  Del Worsham, 429; 7.  John Force, 416; 8.  Alexis DeJoria, 394; 9.  Matt Hagan, 390; 10.  Tommy Johnson Jr., 351.

Pro Stock: 1.  Jason Line, 812; 2.  Greg Anderson, 716; 3.  Bo Butner, 553; 4.  Drew Skillman, 432; 5.  Chris McGaha, 393; 6.  Allen Johnson, 392; 7.  Jeg Coughlin, 308; 8.  Vincent Nobile, 294; 9.  Erica Enders, 289; 10.  Alex Laughlin, 272.

Pro Stock Motorcycle: 1.  Eddie Krawiec, 353; 2.  Andrew Hines, 233; 3.  Hector Arana, 207; 4.  Jerry Savoie, 204; 5. Chip Ellis, 193; 6.  Angelle Sampey, 179; 7.  LE Tonglet, 143; 8.  Matt Smith, 124; 9.  Karen Stoffer, 118; 10.  Scotty Pollacheck, 117.

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The Thermal Club wants an IndyCar race, and series executives liked its initial impact at test

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THERMAL, Calif. – Many teams in the NTT IndyCar Series questioned the relevancy of having a two-day preseason test at The Thermal Club.

The team owners, drivers and engineers believed the 17-turn, 3.067-mile race course that winds and twists its way through a gated private community (about 45 minutes southeast of Palm Springs) had no relevance to any track on the 17-race schedule.

To the leaders of IndyCar, however, there was plenty of relevance to hosting its “Spring Training” at a sort of motorsports country club that caters to extremely wealthy residents who also are automotive enthusiasts.

“Both with our stakeholders and the media that covers IndyCar, we wanted them to know that we are going to do things differently,” Penske Entertainment CEO Mark Miles told NBC Sports from the private VIP viewing area that overlooks the long straights and twisting turns of the course. “This is going to be a year when we expect our growth to go to a whole new level.

“What better way to send that message than to be at a place we have never been that is exceptional?

“The quality of this place; the facilities are off the charts. The customer service, the welcoming feeling you get from the staff here. The track itself is fast. The drivers are having a great time on it.

FRIDAY SPEEDSThird session l Fourth session l Combined

‘AN AMAZING PLACE’: IndyCar and its big plans for Thermal

“It really sent a message to our other promoters and our drivers and team owners that something is up. We want fans around the country and the sports industry to know that something is going on with IndyCar this year.”

The Thermal Club is a concept driven by Tim Rogers, who made his fortune by supplying gasoline to 7-Eleven stores in 36 states. He wanted to create a private community that mixed multimillion-dollar homes and luxury villas with a high-speed race course.

The two-day IndyCar “Spring Training” was the most ambitious motorsports project yet for The Thermal Club.

Rogers wants it to be the first step in a long-term goal for the community.

“Our endgame is we want to host an IndyCar Series race at The Thermal Club one day,” Rogers told NBC Sports as IndyCar hit the track again Friday morning. “This was a good trial to see how the facility can handle it and if the facility works for them.”

Felix Rosenqvist makes laps in the No. 6 Arrow McLaren Dallara-Chevrolet during the first day of NTT IndyCar Series testing (Andy Abeyta/The Desert Sun / USA TODAY Sports Images).

The two-day test was closed to the general public. It was open only to credentialed news media, members of the Thermal Club and a limited number of their guests.

With the spectacular backdrop of the Coachella Valley that is rimmed with snow-capped mountains, The Thermal Club could provide a great setting for an NBC telecast of an IndyCar Series race (and possibly line up a big sponsor for a return on its investment with a larger than normal audience during a ripe time such as the first weekend of February).

NASCAR is using that same model Sunday at the Los Angeles Coliseum by hosting the Busch Light Clash. The National Football League’s AFC and NFC Championship games were last weekend and next Sunday is the Super Bowl.

“That could work, but we have room where we could separate the public and the private members area, too,” Rogers said. “We could accommodate 4,000 or so of the general public.

“This would be a premium event for a premium crowd.”

Rogers’ dream of The Thermal Club began 11 years ago. He will talk to IndyCar about a return for Spring Training next year with hopes of getting a date on the schedule for 2025.

“Whatever fits,” Rogers said.

Miles and Penske Entertainment, the owners of IndyCar, Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and the Indianapolis 500, realize Rogers has an ambitious dream of getting a race on the schedule.

Miles, however, isn’t ready to indicate that a race at Thermal is part of IndyCar’s future (though drivers seem open to the concept).

“Tim and everybody at The Thermal Club have done a phenomenal job of being hosts here for this test,” Miles said. “Everybody is very happy we are here, and I expect we will find a way to continue to be here. Whether that means a race and when is really a bridge we aren’t ready to cross yet.

“We really like opening the championship season each year in St. Petersburg, Florida. We’ll have to see. But it’s a great way to start the season in this way, and right now, we are happy to be here.”

Indycar Series Test - Day 1
Defending IndyCar champion Will Power takes laps at The Thermal Club during the first day of the track’s first test (Matthew Ashton – AMA/Getty Images).

On track, it was a successful two-day test session with 27 car/driver combinations that will compete in IndyCar in 2023. It’s the largest field for IndyCar since the 1990s. There were a few spins here and there but no major incidents across 2,560 laps.

Kyle Kirkwood led the final session Friday while getting acquainted with his new No. 27 team at Andretti Autosport. Kirkwood has replaced Alexander Rossi at Andretti, whom Kirkwood drove for in Indy Lights.

His time of 1 minute, 38.827 seconds (111.721 mph) around the 3.067-mile road course was the fastest of the fourth and final session. But the fastest speed over two days was defending Indy 500 winner Marcus Ericsson of Chip Ganassi Racing in the Friday morning session (1:38.4228, 112.182 mph in the No. 8 Honda).

Callum Ilott of Juncos Hollinger Racing was second in the final session at 1:38.8404 (111.707 mph) in the No. 77 Chevrolet. Rookie Marcus Armstrong of New Zealand was third at 1:38.8049 (111.707 mph) in the No. 11 Honda for Chip Ganassi Racing. Alex Palou of Chip Ganassi Racing was fourth at 1:38.8718 (111.672 mph) in the No. 10. Defending NTT IndyCar Series champion Will Power of Team Penske rounded out the top five at 1:38.9341 (111.602 mph) in the No. 12 Chevrolet.

Ericsson was the fastest in combined times followed by Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing’s Christian Lundgaard at 1:38.5682 in the No. 45 Honda, Kirkwood, Ilott and Armstrong. Positions 3-5 speeds were from the final practice session on Friday.

Indycar Series Test - Day 1
With members’ houses in the background, Romain Grosjean navigates the turns of The Thermal Club in his No. 28 Dallara-Honda (Matthew Ashton – AMA/Getty Images).

Drivers didn’t know what to expect before hitting the track. After the two-day test was over, NBC Sports asked several drivers what they learned from The Thermal Club.

“I think it’s a first-class facility, no doubt,” two-time NTT IndyCar Series champion Josef Newgarden of Team Penske said. “I think the entire facility here at Thermal really rolled out the red carpet for us. They did a tremendous job.

“It was a fairly flawless test, I would say, for two days. I think the great thing about this was we had a two-day test, which was fantastic. You got to have this warmup; this preseason build. That was the biggest positive for me, is that we were here, we were running cars. It was a great facility to do it at.

IndyCar Thermal Club test
Josef Newgarden said his No. 2 team (which has a new lead engineer) used The Thermal Club test as an opportunity for building cohesion (Matthew Ashton – AMA/Getty Images).
Indycar Series Test - Day 2
Josef Newgarden (Matthew Ashton – AMA/Getty Images).

“I think the track was a lot more fun than we anticipated. It was challenging, definitely technical. I don’t know how relevant it is. For us, it wasn’t really relevant to anywhere we’re going, but that’s OK.”

But even though the track has no sector particularly similar to any road or street course on the schedule, there still were benefits.

“In a lot of ways, it is relevant,” Newgarden said. “For us it was relevant for building the team up, trying to work in a competitive environment, be competitive together. That’s everything. So regardless of is the setup going to apply to a certain track or another, (it) doesn’t really matter.

“For us, it was applying the principles of how we’re going to work together. From that standpoint, it was very productive for everybody. Raceability-wise, it’s hard to say. It was chewing tires up. Big drop-off from run one to two. I think from a race standpoint, that would be quite positive. You’d have big tire deg here.

“You’d have to do more work on runoff areas if we wanted to race here, but it’s possible. I don’t think it would take much effort to do the things to run an actual race.”

Indycar Series Test - Day 1
Will Power (Matthew Ashton – AMA/Getty Images)

Kirkwood found speed in his Andretti Autosport machine, but he used the test to create a smooth working relationship with his new crew.

“I wouldn’t say that we found something here that is going to translate to anywhere, right?” the 2021 Indy Lights champion said. “This is a very unique track, although it was a lot of fun to drive, and it kind of surprised me in the amount of grip that it actually produced.

“It was quite a bit faster than what we expected.”

Many of the NTT IndyCar Series teams will test later this month at Sebring, Florida, as they prepare for the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg to kick off the season March 5.

“It’s a very nice facility, a nice area, it’s pretty cool to have two days of testing here with a lot of high-profile people,” two-time NTT IndyCar Series champion Will Power of Team Penske told NBC Sports. “It’s a very technical, tough track.

“It’s pretty good.”

Indycar Series Test - Day 2
IndyCar drivers turns laps on the second day of testing at The Thermal Club, which is nestled in the Coachella Valley that is ringed by mountains in Southern California (Matthew Ashton – AMA/Getty Images).

The Thermal Club received rave reviews, welcomed IndyCar and provided exposure to the movers and shakers of the business community that own the luxury villas and homes in this ultra-rich community.

Could it be a venue of the future for a series that sells lifestyle as much as on-track competition?

“This is a fantastic facility and the circuit is a fast circuit,” team owner Bobby Rahal told NBC Sports. “It’s pretty exciting to watch the cars run around here. I think it would be attractive to people.

“I’ll leave that up to Mark Miles and (IndyCar President) Jay Frye and everybody else whether we have a race here, but why not?

“It’s a great place.”

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500