Drag racers usually make guest appearances ahead of NHRA national events to help promote the events and encourage attendance. However, this week, a couple of championship drivers from Kalitta Motorsports made appearances at key venues to celebrate their prowess. 

Doug Kalitta, who is the 2023 NHRA Top Fuel champion, his status earned him a chance to throw out the first pitch at a Detroit Tigers baseball game. 

Kalitta’s teammate, J.R. Todd, a past NHRA Funny Car champion, visited the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C., to view a display honoring his achievement as NHRA’s first African-American Top Fuel winner during the 2006 season. 

For Kalitta, he took time out from his day job as a commercial pilot to live a dream millions of kids have every day. He got to throw out the ceremonial first pitch on June 12, 2024.

“My daughter (Avery) helped me practice a little bit,” Kalitta admitted. “One thing that really helped, the guy who met us and took us down to the field was adamant, ‘Do not hit the dirt with the ball.’ For whatever reason, that’s frowned upon. We managed not to do that, and the guy caught it, so that was positive. It was a little wide to my left, but he caught it, so that was a victory there. It was definitely cool. I grew up down the road from there, and my grandfather was a big Tigers fan, so it was really special. 

“I appreciate everyone that helped make that happen for me, and they put a nice sign up on the scoreboard out there so yeah, it was cool.”

As a Junior Dragster driver, Todd admittedly dreamed that one day, he’d race in the big leagues of Top Fuel. But, being a part of the Smithsonian admittedly traveled well beyond his dreams. 

Todd became the first African American driver to win a Top Fuel race in 2006; his fire suit was donated to the Smithsonian. He will make his first official visit on Friday ahead of the NHRA Virginia Nationals. 

“I think for any drag racer to have their gear in there is a pretty cool deal,” Todd said. “I’ve never been to the Smithsonian, so I’m looking forward to going there to check that place out. I’ve been getting pictures from fans who have gone there and seen it over the years, so that’s pretty neat.”