NHRA Points Leaders Shawn Langdon and J.R. Todd Strive For Victory; Doug Kalitta Remembers Significant Phoenix Winner’s Circle

Rebilas Photo J.R. Todd, DHL, Supra, Funny Car

One year ago, J.R. Todd and his DHL GR Supra arrived in Phoenix searching for consistency; in 2024, they enter the season’s third race as the points leader looking to make it two wins in the first three races of the young season. The 2024 NHRA Mission Foods Drag Racing Season resumes April 5-7, 2024 at the NHRA Arizona Nationals in Chandler, Ariz.

Todd won the season-opening Amalie Oil NHRA Gatornationals in Florida and enters the season’s third race as the Funny Car points leader. While the Pomona, Calif., outing two weeks ago, with its rain-shortened qualifying and rain-delayed final rounds, left plenty to be desired overall, Todd followed his Gainesville, Fla., win with a Pomona semifinal winning the season’s first six rounds of eliminations. 

“We’ve definitely had some luck on our side, but I’ll take round wins any way we can get them,” the 2018 Funny Car champion said. “I definitely can’t complain about getting to the semifinals at Pomona, but we know we have some work to do to get our GR Supra running the way we know it can. It’s definitely nice to head into Phoenix with the points lead. It’s still way early in the season to worry too much about points, but it definitely feels good to be the points leader. It’s also good to be going into Phoenix getting to run the Mission Foods deal again.”

When Todd advanced to the semifinals, he earned a spot in the Mission #2Fast2Tasty NHRA Challenge at this week’s race. During Phoenix qualifying, the drivers who reached the Pomona semifinals will re-run the semifinals and final earning additional purse and bonus points. Todd will race Matt Hagan in the semifinals rematch, and if he wins, he would face the winner of the other semifinal between Ron Capps and John Force with the overall winner earning $10,000 and championship bonus points. 

“I’m always glad to go back to Phoenix – especially when we thought we weren’t going back,” Todd added. “It’s a place that’s been around a long time with some history to it, and they put a lot of people in that place. I haven’t won there but definitely want to so I hope we can keep going there for years to come. You never want to lose a race track so we’re happy to go back there so we can hopefully put on a great show for everybody.”

After a flawless season debut in Florida, Shawn Langdon’s Kalitta Air Careers Toyota team will roll into the Arizona desert as the points leader that’s ready to return to the form it showed in the season-opening race. The 2024 NHRA Mission Foods Drag Racing Season resumes April 5-7, 2024 at the NHRA Arizona Nationals in Chandler, Ariz.

The Kalitta Air Careers team and first-time crew chief Brian Husen were, indeed, spectacular at the season’s first race. Challenging weather, shortened qualifying and a dropped cylinder eliminated Langdon in the second round at Pomona, Calif., two weeks ago, but the team maintained its points lead and enters race No. 3 poised for a return to the high-level performance it enjoyed in winning the season’s first race.

“It’s good to be the points leader so we’re excited to get to Phoenix to continue what our Kalitta Air Careers team accomplished the first couple of races which have gone very well,” Langdon said. “Everything’s been good so far; we’re just looking to keep progressing with what we have going.”

What they have going is a new crew chief in Brian Husen, a new car along with some crew members who are in different positions as well as others who are new to the team.

“Everybody’s been doing a great job,” the 2013 Top Fuel champion added. “We really haven’t made any mistakes this year which is really good with a lot of new things, new people and a lot of guys in new positions. They’ve done a really good job working together and working as a team. Knowing you have a good team behind you gives you more confidence as a driver.”

That confidence and high-level team performance could give Langdon and team the nudge they need to win this week’s race after posting a runner-up finish in the desert last year.

We feel like we have a car capable of that – that’s definitely the gameplan heading into Phoenix,” Langdon said. “I feel like our Kalitta Air Careers team has some unfinished business.

“I’ve always enjoyed racing in Phoenix,” Langdon added. “I’ve raced there since my junior dragster days in the late 1990s so I have a lot of memories at that track. I enjoy going there – I love the area; it’s an awesome area with great golf courses, and I enjoy going to that track. I’m definitely happy we’re going back, and I hope we get to race there for a long time.”

All winner’s circle celebrations are not equal. They’re all rewarding, but some are more significant than others or bring a different kind of significance. One such occasion happened one year ago in Phoenix when Doug Kalitta celebrated a victory for the first time in, well, a really long time. The 2024 NHRA Mission Foods Drag Racing Season resumes April 5-7, 2024 at the NHRA Arizona Nationals in Pomona, Calif.

Last year in Phoenix, Kalitta won the inaugural Mission Foods #2Fast2Tasty NHRA Challenge; it was his first victory-lane celebration since he won at St. Louis in 2020. He would go on to win three races and the 2023 NHRA Top Fuel title, but that special event winner’s circle celebration in Phoenix was an early indicator that big things were ahead for the veteran drag racer. Everything has to start somewhere. 

“That was our first win in quite a while so it ended up being the start of something really good,” Kalitta said. “This Mission Foods program brought a new level of excitement to our sport last year, and that win ended up being really important with what we had going on last season. We really appreciate what Mission did for our sport then and that they stepped up as our series sponsor.”

Kalitta owns one win in five final-round appearances in Phoenix, and while his SealMaster dragster has made some excellent runs in this new season, Kalitta has yet to find the performance that propelled him to his first Top Fuel title last season. A win this weekend would be a welcome addition to his desert accolades.

“It’s always good to get a win under your belt as soon as you can, that’s how I look at it,” Kalitta said. “It’s just a motivator for everybody, and it shows you can contend early on in the season. When you get to the end, you need all the points you can get so it’s all about the wins for us. Phoenix has been good to us over the years. 

“We’re just super glad, really, that they’re keeping that track open because there was a little debate on that. It’s a cool place to run with a lot of history there, and I’ve had pretty good luck there. I’m looking forward to racing there again this year. We’re always changing things around here and trying to improve on what we’re doing so we’re ready to see what we have when we get there.”

Race Information: 

NHRA Arizona Nationals

Firebird Motorsports Park, Chandler, Ariz.

TV Schedule (All times eastern):   

  • Qualifying 1: 9:30-11 p.m. Friday, April 5 on FS1
  • Qualifying 2: 10:30-Noon Sunday, April 7 on FS1
  • Finals: 6:30-9:30 p.m. Sunday, April 5 on FS1

3 – G Sports PR

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