Share this:

" />

Kalitta Motorsports off to a fast start on NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series circuit

by Mike Haag | Posted on Saturday, April 21st, 2018

BAYTOWN, Texas – After four races on the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Top Fuel and Funny Car circuits, Kalitta Motorsports drivers Doug Kalitta, Richie Crampton, J.R. Todd and Shawn Langdon are off to a successful start.

As the drivers get ready to compete this weekend at the NHRA SpringNationals at Royal Purple Raceway, no team has won more races than Kalitta Motorsports.

Doug Kalitta. NHRA photo

While Toyota drivers Kalitta, Crampton and Todd have already notched early-season victories, Langdon is looking to become the fourth Kalitta driver to win this season.  He already reached two semi-finals in his first season behind the wheel of his Global Electronic Technology Camry.

“We are very excited and pleased to have all four of our teams doing so well this season,” Kalitta said.  “We are off to a great start.”

Kalitta, who is the nephew of team owner and legendary drag racer Connie Kalitta, kicked off the season for Kalitta Motorsports by winning the Top Fuel race at the NHRA Winternationals.

Doug Kalitta. NHRA photo

“Starting the win with my car out in Pomona was a great motivator for everybody so that worked out nice,” Kalitta said.  “There was a lot of energy after that win and we are very fortunate so far with the effort that we got going on.”

Kalitta, a 21-year veteran driver of the Mac Tools dragster, has 44 career NHRA Top Fuel victories.  Three of those victories were wins at Royal Purple Raceway (2015-16, 2003).  After finishing third in the points standing in 2017, Kalitta is aiming for his first world championship despite finishing as the runner up four times in his racing career.

Richie Crampton. NHRA photo

“I am real proud of the group effort with my Mac Tools car,” Kalitta said.  “My crew chief Jim Oberhofer and all of the guys that work on my car have done a great job.  We usually don’t have a lot of turnover year after year and we are hungrier than ever to get a bunch of wins and get that championship this year.  It’s pretty exciting for my guys and we are looking forward to having a good weekend out here.”

Crampton, who drives the Kalitta Air / DHL dragster and is Kalitta’s teammate, is enjoying his return to the class after missing the first 17 races of the 2017 before joining the team.  He scored his first victory of the season by winning the Top Fuel race at the Gatornationals in Gainesville, Fla.

Richie Crampton. NHRA photo

“It’s been a huge start to the 2018 season for everyone here at Kalitta Motorsports,” Crampton said.  “I was fortunate enough to get a win in Gainesville and before that Doug had won at Pomona and then J.R. wins at Vegas. That’s the whole organization and that’s what you want. Everyone is gaining valuable championship points.  Most importantly we are winning and doing the right thing for everyone that sponsors us.”

Crampton, who has eight career wins, has never won at Royal Purple Raceway.  He enters this weekend’s event ranked sixth in the standings.  After two rounds of qualifying on Friday, Crampton was seventh fastest on the grid after running a pass clocked at 3.774 at 316.23 mph.  He was just one spot behind Kalitta who was sixth fastest with a time of 3.772 at 320.05 mph.

“There is no easy round wins in the Top Fuel category and there are no pushovers,” Crampton said.  “I think it’s a pretty impressive group of Top Fuel drivers this year and I am glad to be a part of it.  When you go up to the starting line you have to be on your game and your race car is going to have to be fast to win.   I think that is what is making it pretty exciting for the fans. We are seeing a lot of close racing and a lot of different winners too.  It’s pretty exciting to be a part of it.”

J.R. Todd. NHRA photo

Crampton added, “To be racing with my buddies J.R., Shawn and Doug for me has just been great to have those guys to feed off of and it’s pretty cool to be a part of this awesome group that we’ve got now.”

Todd, who drives the DHL Toyota Camry, is fresh off a victory after winning the DENSO Spark Plug Four-Wide Nationals in Las Vegas two weeks ago.  He is looking to record his fourth win in the last 15 Funny Car events.  He is tied with John Force Racing’s driver Robert Hight for the most Funny Car wins dating back to last year’s Toyota Nationals in Sonoma in July.

“I feel like our team as a whole really struggled last year and it wasn’t until the summer where we started clicking off wins,” Todd said.  “We have showed that we can run with these other team.  We still have some work that we can do and hopefully we can carry this momentum that we have throughout the rest of the season and parlay that into a run for the Countdown for the Championship.”

J.R. Todd. NHRA photo

Todd enters the race ranked sixth in the Funny Car standings.  He has 12 career victories and he is one of just 16 drivers to win in both Funny Car and Top Fuel.  If he wins on Sunday he could join Del Worsham as the only drivers to win both classes at Royal Purple Raceway.

“I feel like Funny Car is the most competitive class in the sport right now,” Todd said.  “Just to qualify for these races right now is getting more and more tough.  To make the top 10 is just going to be a feat within itself. “

After two rounds of qualifying Friday night, Todd was sixth fastest with a time clocked at 4.010 at 323.37 mph.

J.R. Todd. Photo by Gary Nastase.

“We got our work cut out for us but getting an early jump and having early success with the win at Vegas kind of help us move up in the points,” Todd said.  “Now we just need to maintain that this summer.  We just have to work on consistency so we can run with the Robert Hights and Jack Beckmans out there.”

One of the challenges that the four Kalitta Motorsports will face is the new layer of asphalt on the quarter-mile dragstrip.

Doug Kalitta. Photo by Gary Nastase.

“We are excited to run on the new pavement,” Kalitta said.  I talked with Jim Oberhofer and he’s saying that there is not a lot of rubber out there on the track.  It still feels pretty green.  This place always has a lot of cars and I am sure with a few rounds of qualifying there will be more rubber put down on the track.  By tomorrow at the end of qualifying we should be dialed in pretty good.  As long as the track has plenty of grip then we should have pretty good runs.”

Crampton agreed and added, “I think the weather conditions could help make us run some pretty impressive times. Cloud cover, cool ambient temperature and a cool race track surface are all the things that we want as race car teams. I think we have everything we want here today to put on a good show.  The two sessions today are going to be pivotal to make sure you are in the show.  Because if you are not in and it rains tomorrow that could make a bad Sunday for us.  Hats off to them for laying down a new surface.  I believe this is going to make the performance of the cars better and I am really looking forward to getting out there on it.”

Richie Crampton. Photo by Gary Nastase.

Todd said that he thinks that the track’s new surface could determine the outcome of the race.

“This weekend is going to just be a matter of survival just because the new track surface and the threat of weather tomorrow can play a factor in qualifying,” Todd said.  “Come Sunday it might just be who can get down the track.  That’s the name of the game.  Not necessarily the fastest and whoever can make the most power and who can just maintain that power.  We got our work cut out for us and hopefully we can get off to a good start in qualifying here and get some good notes to do it from and get to work on our race day setup.”

Two more rounds of qualifying will be held on Saturday at 1:30 p.m. and 4 p.m.  The final rounds are set for Sunday at 11 a.m.

About the Author

Mike Haag has covered motorsports in San Antonio and South Texas for more than 33 years. In addition to covering motorsports for the San Antonio Express-News for nearly 28 years, Mike also has co-hosted TrackSmack with Dawn Murphy for 16 race seasons. In addition to being a writer, Mike taught high school English and Journalism for 30 years before retiring in May, 2020.