Story By: SCOTT SMITH / NHRA – TOPEKA, KS – It has already been a great start for Kalitta Motorsports during the 2018 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season, and Top Fuel standout Doug Kalitta now hopes to get team owner Connie Kalitta one step closer to a major accomplishment at this weekend’s Menards NHRA Heartland Nationals presented by Minties at Heartland Motorsports Park.
Doug Kalitta already has one victory this year in his 10,000-horsepower Mac Tools dragster, and with Connie Kalitta sitting at 98 career wins as a team owner, a strong showing would put the legendary team owner one step closer to his 100th win. Should Kalitta or Richie Crampton win in Top Fuel and either Shawn Langdon or J.R. Todd, who has two wins in 2018, follow suit in Funny Car, that major achievement would be reached, setting off a huge celebration in Topeka.
“The Mac Tools team is firing on all cylinders and we have proven that we have a strong setup for the heat of the summer months,” Doug Kalitta said. “We have been consistent, which is very important. The Mac Tools team is working hard and together, and we are motivated for season long success. We are ready and are focused on picking up many more round wins and victories and getting Connie to win 100 here very soon.”
Antron Brown (Top Fuel), Ron Capps (Funny Car) and Tanner Gray (Pro Stock) were last year’s winners of a race will be televised on FOX Sports 1, including a live finals broadcast on Sunday, May 20 at 2 p.m. (ET). It is the eighth of 24 races during a 2018 season that started with a win at the season-opening race in Pomona for Kalitta, who is currently third in Top Fuel points.
Kalitta hasn’t replicated that success in terms of another win, but the 44-time Top Fuel event winner remains in the thick of championship contention, sitting just three points back of second-place Tony Schumacher. It’s part of a tremendous start for the Kalitta Motorsports team, which has four wins overall counting Crampton’s Top Fuel win in Gainesville. It has helped push each driver and Kalitta has noticed the positive effect that has had throughout the team.
“It is great to have so many talented teammates that are all capable of winning each week,” Kalitta said. “We challenge each other to be better and are not afraid to go to each other for advice. The message is we are one team. Whatever we can do to help each other is the plan. We would love to stop racing each other in the first round and instead be racing for the win, but that will come.”
Kalitta has raced Crampton in the first round at the past three events and five times overall this season, something he hopes changes at Topeka. The longtime standout picked up his first career win at Heartland Motorsports Park in 2016, but will face difficult challenges from the likes of points leader Steve Torrence, who has three wins in 2018, Atlanta winner Leah Pritchett, and defending world champion Brittany Force, who won in Houston. But Kalitta, who is chasing his first career world championship, feels confident about where his team is headed.
“We have the right people in the right places with talented drivers and teams,” Kalitta said. “All of the teams work well together and with the incredible support of Toyota Racing and Toyota Racing Development (TRD) we have the knowledge and support to go far.”
Ron Capps is after his fifth Funny Car win at Heartland Motorsports Park and first of 2018 against the likes of points leader Courtney Force, who has two wins in 2018, Charlotte winner Cruz Pedregon, Gainesville winner Jack Beckman, Todd, and defending world champ Robert Hight.
Tanner Gray will look for his second win in 2018 in Pro Stock. He won in Gainesville, but there have been six different winners through seven races, including points leader Vincent Nobile, defending world champ Bo Butner, Matt Hartford, Erica Enders, and Chris McGaha.
The E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series presented by J&A Service makes the fourth of 12 stops in 2018 at Heartland Motorsports Park. The event also features thrilling competition in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series, showcasing the future stars of the sport, as well as the 2018 Mickey Thompson Tires Top Fuel Harley Drag Racing Series.
Those in attendance will have the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to interact with a few of the most renowned names in drag racing during the NHRA Legends Tour. This will feature meet-and-greets, autograph sessions, and a variety of other activities. Legends scheduled to attend the Menards NHRA Heartland Nationals presented by Minties include John Wiebe, Ray Motes, and more.
Along with the exciting on-track action, the Menards NHRA Heartland Nationals will honor first responders with NHRA’s “Salute to First Responders” celebration.
As always, fans can interact with their favorite drivers as they’re granted an exclusive pit pass to the most powerful and sensory-filled motorsports attraction on the planet. This unique opportunity gives fans direct access to the teams, allowing them to see firsthand the highly-skilled mechanics service their hot rods between rounds, and get autographs from their favorite NHRA drivers.
Fans also will want to visit NHRA’s popular Nitro Alley and Manufacturers Midway, where sponsors and race vendors create a carnival atmosphere, with interactive displays, simulated competitions, merchandise, food and fun for the entire family.
Mello Yello Drag Racing Series qualifying will feature two rounds at 3:30 and 6:30 p.m. on Friday, May 18 and the final two rounds of qualifying on Saturday, May 19, at 1:30 and 4:30 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sunday, May 20.