2017 Kalitta Motorsports Recap

By Ashley Oberhofer, Kalitta Motorsports
Photos By NHRA Staff and Gary Nastase

The 2017 season was full of excitement for everyone at Kalitta Motorsports from the very start. We encountered a huge change in J.R. Todd making the switch from a Top Fuel dragster to a nitro Funny Car, and we also had the addition of Troy Coughlin, Jr., who would be taking over the seat of the SealMaster dragster in his rookie season. The other half of our program stayed the same, with Doug Kalitta piloting the Mac Tools dragster and Alexis DeJoria wheeling the Patron Camry. There were some expected learning curves for both J.R. and Troy as they adjusted to their new positions, and then we had another unexpected change thrown into the mix after the Las Vegas event: the addition of a fifth Team Kalitta dragster piloted by none other than 2013 Top Fuel Champion Shawn Langdon! Steve and Samantha Bryson of Global Electronic Technology decided just a few races into the 2017 season that they wanted to get more heavily involved in the sport by having a car of their very own out at the track, and this plan came to fruition in Houston as Shawn made his debut for Kalitta Motorsports in the Global Electronic Technology Top Fuel dragster.

As with any big change, we encountered some bumps in the road as we made the transition to a five-car team. It was a tight squeeze in our shop, and there were a lot of long days and nights needed to get Shawn’s new car ready to race. Thanks to all the hard work and dedication of everyone at Kalitta Motorsports, we were able to get a new car ready for Shawn in just about two weeks! After his successful debut in Houston, we continued to adjust to what would become our new routine. We eventually found success during the infamous Western Swing where we picked up our first win of the year when J.R. Todd won the Toyota Sonoma Nationals in Sonoma, CA – his first win in a Funny Car! This win was even more special because he had won the race in 2016 as well, and he is now only the second person in history to win back-to-back races in different categories.

Our Funny Car success continued at the Brainerd, MN event when Alexis DeJoria picked up her first win of the season! It was an exciting win for the Patron team as it broke a long dry spell, and they were all happy to get back in the Winner’s Circle. Following our successful few weeks on the road, we headed back to the Midwest for the annual test session in Indy to prepare for the U.S. Nationals. We saw some promising results during the test session and felt pretty good about where our cars were at when we headed back to our shop in Ypsilanti, MI.

Upon leaving the Indy test session, Troy Coughlin, Jr. decided to step out of the seat of the SealMaster dragster to gain more experience behind the wheel of an A-Fuel dragster. With Troy’s decision, there would be a vacancy in the SealMaster car for the remainder of the season. A call was made to 2014 Rookie of the Year and U.S. Nationals winner Richie Crampton to see if he was available to drive the car for the rest of the season. Richie said yes to the opportunity for the ride, and he joined us in Indy for the U.S. Nationals. There had only been two times in Kalitta Motorsports history that we earned a Wally at the U.S. Nationals: in 1994 with Connie piloting the American International Airlines Top Fuel dragster, and in 2014 with Alexis DeJoria driving the Patron XO Café Toyota Camry. Indy is one of the most prestigious events that racers can hope to win, and in his rookie year of driving a Funny Car, J.R. Todd added his name to a list of legends and earned Kalitta Motorsports a third Indy trophy. The yella fellas went through quite a few struggles at the beginning of the season, but all their hard work was really starting to pay off and we couldn’t have been any prouder!

We made a lot of changes throughout the course of the year, and we have even more changes on the horizon for 2018. Before Dallas, it was announced that Alexis would be retiring from the sport of NHRA drag racing to focus on her family. While we are sad to see her go, we understand her decision and wish her all the best in the future. With this development came another big change – Shawn Langdon would make the switch from Top Fuel dragster to nitro Funny Car in 2018! Shawn had expressed interest in driving a Funny Car at some point, and with Alexis’ retirement there would be a vacant seat. We also wanted to keep what was the Patron team together in 2018; Nicky Boninfante and Tommy DeLago were consistently tuning the car to some stout passes, and the crew was really gelling together. We didn’t want to put an end to a good thing! So, with the support of Connie Kalitta and Steve and Samantha Bryson, we decided that the best thing we could do was put Shawn behind the wheel (and the engine) of a nitro Funny Car. Steve and Samantha Bryson developed a strong relationship with Shawn during the 2017 season and felt that he was a great representative for Global Electronic Technology, so they decided to make the switch from Top Fuel to Funny Car along with Shawn in 2018. Upon finalizing everything, Shawn made some test laps in the Patron Camry on Monday after the Las Vegas event, and he is licensed and ready to hit the track in a flopper in 2018!

Between the World Finals in November and the Winternationals in February is the time we call the “offseason.” This name is misleading, as this is when we do a LOT of work. There are trailers and cars to be re-wrapped and painted, new crew shirts and firesuits to be designed, hero cards ordered, new merchandise designs finalized, and many other minute details that the marketing team has to work on to get ready for the upcoming season. For all the crews, this is the time that parts from the previous year get serviced, cars get new front and/or back halves, bodies are mounted for Funny Cars, and SO much more to make sure everything is ready to run when we head to Phoenix for the pre-season test session the week before the Winternationals in Pomona.

2017 was a pretty good year, and we can’t wait to see what 2018 has in store! Make sure you keep following along with us, because with a leader like Connie Kalitta, you never know what we could have up our sleeves…

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