NHRA: Kalitta Motorsports Double-up in Nitro Categories; Enders, Herrera Post Wins

(Photo by Nancy Delander Beecher/Florida Sports Wire)

GAINESVILLE (Florida Sports Wire) – For the first time in team history, Kalitta Motorsports doubled-up in the nitro categories on Sunday at Gainesville Raceway, as Shawn Langdon and J.R. Todd picked up wins in Top Fuel and Funny Car, respectively, to kick off the 2024 NHRA Mission Foods Drag Racing Series season at the 55th Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals.

Erica Enders (Pro Stock) and Gaige Herrera (Pro Stock Motorcycle) also won the first of 21 races during the 2024 NHRA Mission Foods Drag Racing Series.

After 18 previous attempts to win in both Top Fuel and Funny Car in one weekend, Langdon wrapped up the successful nitro sweep for Kalitta Motorsports on Sunday, picking up his first victory in Gainesville with a run of 3.711-seconds at 335.40 mph in his 11,000-horsepower Kalitta Air Careers Toyota dragster in the final round against Billy Torrence.

Langdon qualified No. 1 with new crew chief Brian Husen and rolled off a string of strong runs on Sunday to collect his 18th career victory and first since 2020, knocking off Cody Krohn, Justin Ashley and Antron Brown to reach the final round. There, he quickly tracked down Torrence, setting off a memorable first-time celebration for Kalitta Motorsports.

“It feels really good,” Langdon said. “You keep your head down and keep working hard, and I’m just with a great group. J.R. and I are out here having fun and living our dreams. I can’t say enough as Brian. It’s his first race as a crew chief and he gave me an absolute flawless car.

“There were so many pressure situations going into the final round: going for my first Gatornationals win, the first double-up for Kalitta Motorsports. But I just took a deep breath and told myself, ‘Don’t screw this up.’ We’ve had a rough time (in recent seasons), but we’ve just kept our heads down and kept working.”

Torrence reached his 13th career final round by knocking off Brittany Force, Mike Salinas and his son, Steve Torrence.

Before Langdon finished the job for the nitro sweep, Funny Car’s J.R. Todd picked up his second Gatornationals victory with a run of 3.889 at 329.10 in his 11,000-horsepower DHL Toyota GR Supra to knock off No. 1 qualifier Austin Prock. Todd struggled to make a clean run through the first three rounds but found himself in the final round after getting past Blake Alexander, Ron Capps and Bob Tasca III.

Todd, though, and the team delivered in the championship round, making their best run of the weekend with the Wally and the Golden Gators trophy on the line. It gave Todd his 21st career victory and special moment being part of the Kalitta Motorsports double-up.

“It’s probably the most bizarre day I’ve had in drag racing and the final round was the first clean run we’ve had all weekend,” Todd said. “We’ve been trying to double up for a while and for whatever reason, we couldn’t get it done. The stars just aligned here in Gainesville and it’s pretty awesome.

“I’m proud of my guys for digging deep and not giving up. You can’t take anyone lightly in this class and it’s so tough from top to bottom, but this sets a good tone and gives us momentum. All the greats have done well at this race and you want to put your name on that list (in Gainesville). It’s always great to win here.”

Prock, making his NHRA Funny Car debut, rolled to his ninth career final round by defeating John Smith, John Force and Chad Green.

The wait for a Gatornationals victory is over for six-time and reigning Pro Stock world champion Erica Enders, as motorsports’ winningest female won in Gainesville for the first time on Sunday after defeating Elite Motorsports teammate Cristian Cuadra in the final round with a standout pass of 6.494 at 211.93 in her Johnson’s Horsepowered Garage/Melling Performance/SCAG Power Equipment car.

She picked up her 48th career Pro Stock win in the process, knocking off Kelley Murphy, Aaron Stanfield and longtime rival Greg Anderson to reach the final round. After qualifying No. 1 with a 6.549, Enders dipped into the 6.40s three times during eliminations, including a stunning 6.483 at 211.96 to defeat Anderson in the semifinals. That helped set up a memorable final round for Enders, who claimed Gatornationals glory on Sunday, as well as the special Golden Gators 55th anniversary trophy.

“We’ve been chomping at the bit to get this done,” Enders said. “I’ve been to three final rounds here and we finally got it done. It’s pretty cool to win this one. There’s certain track that have special (trophies) and to get the Golden Gator and the 55th win, it’s awesome. It will sit proudly on our shelf and seeing a packed house at the Gators, it’s so special. Being able to check off these boxes and get a win like this, it’s really special and we’re just going to keep working.”

Cuadra reached his second career final round on Sunday, taking down Larry Morgan, Jeg Coughlin Jr. and Dallas Glenn.

At the site of his first career Pro Stock Motorcycle victory a year ago, Gaige Herrera was simply dominant on Sunday in Gainesville, capping off a spectacular day with a run of 6.636 at 204.39 on his RevZilla/Mission Foods/Vance & Hines Suzuki in the final round to get past Matt Smith. Herrera, who was also the No. 1 qualifier, won his sixth straight race dating back to his remarkable championship season in 2023, and earned his 12th career victory and not much was in doubt on Sunday. He put together four straight runs in the 6.60s at more than 200 mph, defeating Joey Gladstone, John Hall and Angie Smith leading into the final round.

That included a track-record best of 6.629 at 204.54 in the second round, which was the second-quickest run in class history, behind only his record-setting run last year in Dallas.

“Today was good and we ran really well,” Herrera said. “The weather was really close to Dallas (last season), where I set the national record. Everyone kind of picked up in the class and we expected to as well. Overall, I had a very consistent motorcycle. We actually hurt the motor in the semifinals, so we had to swap motors for the finals. Overall, I had a very consistent, smooth motorcycle all day. As long as I didn’t miss a beat, the bike didn’t miss a beat. Even though I didn’t do any testing during the off-season, it felt like I didn’t even have an off-season and I’m glad to come home with a win.”

M. Smith went to the finals for the 76th time in his career thanks to round wins against Chris Bostick, Mark Ingwersen and LE Tonglet.

The NHRA Mission Foods Drag Racing Series returns to action March 21-24 with the 64th annual Lucas Oil NHRA Winternationals at In-N-Out Burger Pomona Dragstrip in Pomona, Calif.

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