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.”
John Force may be 69 years old, but Sunday he proved he is still a major force to reckon with in NHRA Funny Car competition.
The winningest driver in NHRA history, the 16-time NHRA Funny Car champion won his 149th national event Sunday, capturing the Dodge NHRA Mile-High Nationals at Bandimere Speedway in Morrison, Colorado (suburban Denver).
Force (4.075 seconds at 315.42 mph) defeated 2016 Funny Car champ Ron Capps (4.067 seconds at 308.71 mph) in the final round to earn his first win in over a year.
Force has now won at least one race in each of the last 31 seasons and qualifies for the upcoming six-race Countdown to the Championship playoffs.
“The fire is back in me, I’m fighting,” Force said. “I got tired of hearing me snivel to myself. My wife doesn’t even want to talk to me. … I don’t know why I won this race but I have a lot more fight in my belly.”
Admittedly, before Sunday, he has struggled for much of the last year since his last win.
“I found myself with all the crashes and everything that happened probably at the lowest point in my career,” Force said. “It has been worse than when I crashed in 2007 (in the worst wreck of his career).
“I have been fighting to get back. I never let on to anyone but it showed that I just looked like a mess. I am fighting to get back. I had four crashes (this season) and after my last one I had John Bandimere (owner of Bandimere Speedway) call me and say, ‘We have to talk.’ I said ‘I know you love God and I know where you want to go.’ He told me to listen to him and he set me straight.
“I didn’t know if I would ever get back in position to win a race. Bandimere told me I could and I won’t stand here and preach the Gospel but he said when I get to Denver I will be fixed. He didn’t say I was going to win but that I would be fixed. He told me to go out there and show me who John Force is.”
It was Force’s eighth win (and first there since 2016) and 13th final round appearance at Denver in his career, making him the winningest Funny Car driver ever at Bandimere Speedway.
Force defeated daughter and No. 1 qualifier Courtney Force in the semifinals to set up the deciding run vs. Capps. Prior to defeating Courtney, Force beat Matt Hagan and Cruz Pedregon in the first two rounds of eliminations earlier in the day.
“I had to beat a lot of great racers today, Hagan, Cruz, Capps, I love them all,” Force said.
Here are more tidbits about Force’s day, which leaves him one win away from 150 career wins:
Force now has 1,303 round wins in his career. He has beaten 137 different drivers en route to that mark.
376 of those round wins came against 15 world champions including two-time champ Matt Hagan, against whom he improved his record to 21-17 with today’s first round victory.
Force claimed 152 round wins at the expense of the Pedregon brothers: Cruz, Tony and Frank.
He has beaten fathers and sons (Jim and Mike Dunn, Paul and Mike Smith, Tim and Dan Wilkerson) and brothers (Cruz, Tony and Frank Pedregon along with Ron and Jon Capps)
He has beaten Cruz Pedregon 70 times, more often than any other driver
He earned 21 round wins against daughters Ashley Force Hood and Courtney Force and 22 against Robert Hight, his protégé and the father of granddaughter Autumn Hight.
He has won rounds on 27 different tracks in 18 states and Canada
He has won 128 rounds in three different events at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona, the most at any single track
He has won 76 rounds in the Lucas Oil Nationals at Brainerd, the most in any single event
Other winners in the first of the NHRA’s annual three-race “Western Swing” (Denver; Sonoma, California; and Seattle) included Leah Pritchett in Top Fuel, Greg Anderson won his first race of the season in Pro Stock and Hector Arana Jr. earned his first Pro Stock Motorcycle win since 2015.
The race was the 14th of the 24-race NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series schedule.
In Top Fuel, Pritchett (3.831 seconds at 316.45 mph) earned her second win of 2018 and seventh of her career. She was No. 1 qualifier for the event (also for the second race in a row and 10th No. 1 of her career) and defeated Doug Kalitta (3.852 seconds at 319.82 mph) for the win.
Prior to facing Kalitta, Pritchett defeated Terry Totten, Scott Palmer and Clay Millican in the first three rounds.
“Our crew has really impressed, attitude of gratitude, as high as the altitude here,” Pritchett said. “They chipped away at it and didn’t let themselves get down earlier this year when we were in a slump and they didn’t let me get myself down in a slump either. I always have my confidence in them and they have their confidence in me and this weekend we pulled it all together.”
In Pro Stock, Anderson earned his first win of the season, his third at Bandimere and 91st triumph of his career.
Anderson (6.943 seconds at 196.53 mph) defeated Summit Racing Equipment teammate Jason Line (6.947 seconds at 196.19 mph). Also, the victory put Anderson back atop the Pro Stock points standings.
“We have had a heck of a battle this year, we have had great running cars but we have made mistakes on Sunday and haven’t been able to close the deal,” Anderson said. “The class is so tough right now, it is so hard to win. The bottom line is we haven’t put forth our best effort on Sunday, we haven’t lost giving it our best shot and today we did.”
Anderson defeated Joey Grose, Vincent Nobile, and Jeg Coughlin Jr. to advance to the finals showdown with Line.
In Pro Stock Motorcycle, Arana Jr. earned his first win since St. Louis in 2015 and his 12th career NHRA triumph.
In his first final round of the season, Arana (7.170 seconds at 185.89 mph), who earlier this year became the first rider to crack the 200 mph barrier, won easily when 2016 PSM champ Jerry Savoie fouled at the starting line.
“We have had a fast bike all the time, just been working on consistency and then when the bike was good I was making little errors,” Arana Jr. said. “Dedication, hard work, and practicing to bring it all together. Finally got over some hurdles over here and now we should be back on track.”
The Western Swing continues July 27-29 with the Toyota NHRA Sonoma Nationals at Sonoma Raceway.
FINAL FINISHING ORDER:
TOP FUEL: 1. Leah Pritchett; 2. Doug Kalitta; 3. Clay Millican; 4. Blake Alexander; 5. Scott Palmer; 6. Steve Torrence; 7. Jim Maroney; 8. Richie Crampton; 9. Tony Schumacher; 10. Antron Brown; 11. Greg Carrillo; 12. Terry Totten; 13. Bill Litton; 14. Brittany Force; 15. Mike Salinas; 16. Terry McMillen.
FUNNY CAR: 1. John Force; 2. Ron Capps; 3. Robert Hight; 4. Courtney Force; 5. Tommy Johnson Jr.; 6. Cruz Pedregon; 7. Tim Wilkerson; 8. Jack Beckman; 9. J.R. Todd; 10. Jonnie Lindberg; 11. Matt Hagan; 12. Jeff Diehl; 13. Terry Haddock; 14. Bob Tasca III; 15. Shawn Langdon; 16. Todd Simpson.
PRO STOCK: 1. Greg Anderson; 2. Jason Line; 3. Chris McGaha; 4. Jeg Coughlin; 5. Deric Kramer; 6. Vincent Nobile; 7. Alex Laughlin; 8. Tanner Gray; 9. Bo Butner; 10. Drew Skillman; 11. Matt Hartford; 12. Fernando Cuadra; 13. Erica Enders; 14. Alan Prusiensky; 15. Joey Grose; 16. Will Hatcher.
PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: 1. Hector Arana Jr.; 2. Jerry Savoie; 3. Andrew Hines; 4. Karen Stoffer; 5. Scotty Pollacheck; 6. LE Tonglet; 7. Steve Johnson; 8. Matt Smith; 9. Hector Arana; 10. Angie Smith; 11. Jim Underdahl; 12. Angelle Sampey; 13. Ryan Oehler; 14. Joey Gladstone; 15. Cory Reed; 16. Eddie Krawiec.
TOP FUEL: 1. Steve Torrence, 1,132; 2. Clay Millican, 959; 3. Leah Pritchett, 949; 4. Tony Schumacher, 930; 5. Doug Kalitta, 893; 6. Antron Brown, 750; 7. Terry McMillen, 696; 8. Brittany Force, 658; 9. Richie Crampton, 576; 10. Scott Palmer, 544.
FUNNY CAR: 1. Courtney Force, 1,156; 2. Matt Hagan, 946; 3. Ron Capps, 930; 4. Robert Hight, 911; 5. Jack Beckman, 906; 6. J.R. Todd, 832; 7. Tommy Johnson Jr., 746; 8. John Force, 735; 9. Shawn Langdon, 647; 10. Bob Tasca III, 596.
PRO STOCK: 1. Greg Anderson, 1,044; 2. Tanner Gray, 976; 3. Erica Enders, 969; 4. Vincent Nobile, 947; 5. Chris McGaha, 875; 6. Drew Skillman, 842; 7. Jeg Coughlin, 838; 8. Bo Butner, 782; 9. Jason Line, 778; 10. Deric Kramer, 725.
PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: 1. Andrew Hines, 591; 2. Eddie Krawiec, 564; 3. Hector Arana Jr, 501; 4. LE Tonglet, 493; 5. Jerry Savoie, 481; 6. Scotty Pollacheck, 417; 7. Matt Smith, 411; 8. Angie Smith, 304; 9. (tie) Hector Arana, 289; Angelle Sampey, 289.