Last weekend’s Mopar Express Lane Nationals at Reading, Pennsylvania, was just the first race of six in the NHRA’s Countdown to the Championship. But with the resurgence of the Kalitta Motorsports team, seemingly star-crossed Doug Kalitta once again is making a strong run at his first Top Fuel title.
“It’s something I’ve worked at for 21 years now. It would be a huge deal for me,” said Kalitta, who regained the Top Fuel points lead heading to the Sept. 27-29 St. Louis race. “Just all the support we’ve received over the years from so many people. It would be a great way to repay them.”
The driver of the Mac Tools Dragster, to his certain annoyance, has the dubious distinction of being the most successful racer in any pro class without a series crown. He has won 46 events, but he has finished No. 2 in the final standings four times (2003, 2004, 2006, 2016).
Kalitta has been the No. 1 qualifier 50 times. Everybody who has led his respective field more often than that has at least one championship.
Kalitta has won 677 elimination rounds. That puts him ninth in the sport (although he’s sure to improve past two inactive drivers to seventh all-time by the end of this season). Everybody ahead of him on that list has at least one championship.
He was on the wrong end of Larry Dixon’s 2003 title run, which marked the second-largest margin of victory for a Top Fuel championship (330 points). The next year told almost the same story, as Kalitta was No. 2, 326 off Schumacher’s pace. In 2016, his three consecutive victories at Houston, Atlanta and Topeka gave him a middle-season dominance in the standings. He capped an Atlanta thriller, beating teammate J.R. Todd by .0001 second, and he won the season-ending race at Pomona. But he couldn’t catch Antron Brown, falling 130 points shy for second place once again.
Few will forget Kalitta’s fate in 2006.
Kalitta qualified No. 1 and Schumacher No. 2 at the finals. But Kalitta, who had won nearly a dozen races on hole shots (with a slower E.T.), lost on one to Schumacher teammate Melanie Troxel. As Kalitta sat silent on his golf cart at the top end of the track and his family and Schumacher’s sat together in the grandstands, watching the results play out, Schumacher did the impossible: He won the race with a national E.T. record of 4.428 seconds and aced Kalitta out of the championship by 14 points.
Even Schumacher, who called Kalitta a “phenomenal driver,” said, “I felt so bad. I love the guy. Of all the people to battle with, if I couldn’t win it, I’d pray for him to win it. He’s so deserving. They are a championship team. He’s a great driver with a good family. But this sport comes down to being the baddest in the world and being able to pull off miracles.”
“I think this team has been solid all season,” Kalitta, who’s in his 13th Countdown, said. “We have been right in the mix with the top teams. Everything came together for us at the U.S. Nationals, and we are ready for the Countdown. That was a big win for this team. We have six races to show what this Mac Tools team is made of.”
He reached the final round at Reading but lost to teammate Richie Crampton, who said afterward, “I hope this is (Kalitta’s) year. If it’s not him, it’d better be me that gets the big trophy. Doug’s car is running good, and no one can argue that Doug’s not one of the best out here at leaving and driving the race car. To have him as a teammate is a huge asset to me.”
For Kalitta, the even-keeled veteran who has the 1994 national USAC Sprint Car championship in his pocket, staying on point is his objective.
He has done that.
But with six different Top Fuel winners in the past six races, No. 4-ranked driver Antron Brown’s assertion that “it is going to be a wide-open race” is dead on.
“The Countdown is going to be very challenging. There are a lot of good cars out here, and right now there’s no one dominant car. The Kalitta cars have really stepped up, the JFR cars (Brittany Force and Austin Prock), Clay Millican and Mike Salinas are all running well. Both Torrence cars are running phenomenal. Our teammate, Leah Pritchett, is running well and won at Brainerd — and we’ve stepped it up, as well. That’s 10 cars right there.”
Last year, Kalitta Motorsports earned the Funny Car championship with Todd. And Doug Kalitta said it could be his turn this time.
“I’d say so. We’re real proud of the efforts of the DHL Toyota Funny Car in winning the title last year, but we really want to bring it home in the dragster,” he said.
Source: Autoweek Image: NHRA