Doug Kalitta is the kind of mild-mannered, soft spoken guy who doesn’t look to call attention to himself.
But because he’s one of the best Top Fuel drivers out there, that attention just naturally finds Kalitta.
At last weekend’s SpringNationals in suburban Houston, Kalitta and his team had reason to celebrate not only his second win at Royal Purple Raceway, but a monumental achievement:
With his first win of 2016, Kalitta moved into a tie for fourth place on the all-time NHRA Top Fuel wins list. He joins two of the sport’s best: Kenny Bernstein and Antron Brown, all three now with 39 career wins in a dragster.
Next up on the list is third-ranked Joe Amato (52 wins), preceded by Larry Dixon (62) and Tony Schumacher, who not only has the most career Top Fuel wins (80), he also has the most career Top Fuel championships (eight).
The 51-year-old Kalitta, nephew of legendary team owner Connie Kalitta and cousin of late Funny Car great Scott Kalitta, has been making his mark in the Top Fuel world now for 18 seasons. He was a late-comer of sorts to drag racing, having joined the NHRA ranks in 1998 after a very successful career in USAC racing.
Kalitta was USAC Rookie of the Year in 1991 and won the 1994 USAC sprint car championship. In just seven seasons on the dirt track circuit, Kalitta won 21 USAC events: 14 in midget cars and seven in sprint cars.
Think of it: Kalitta has averaged at least two wins in each of his 18 seasons in the NHRA ranks. While he’s yet to win a Top Fuel championship, he’s finished runner-up in the point standings three different seasons (2003, 2004 and 2006).
But with the start he’s had this season – one win and two runner-up finishes (including in the 4-Wide Nationals at Charlotte), and is just one point behind Top Fuel points leader Brittany Force – Kalitta could very well be en route to finally winning that elusive first Top Fuel championship this season.
Granted, the season is just one-fourth old, with six races of the 24 on the schedule having been contested. But with what he’s accomplished thus far this season, including having qualified in the top two starting spots in four of the first six races, the driver of the Mac Tools Top Fuel dragster is off to one of the best season starts of his career.
In addition to his 39 wins, Kalitta has 83 final round appearances, fourth-most in NHRA Top Fuel annals.
And while the NHRA schedule doesn’t reconvene until May 20-22 with the Southern Nationals in Commerce, Georgia, Kalitta is riding a crest of success and happiness.
“I am so proud of Jim O (crew chief Jim Oberhofer), Troy (assistant crew chief Troy Fasching) and this entire Mac Tools team,” Kalitta said after his win at Houston. “I am really happy and any time you can get a win is huge.
“It was the first time that we were able to put a Team Kalitta Toyota dragster in the winner’s circle, so that is huge as well. Thank you to all of our partners, Mac Tools. Red Line Oil, SealMaster, Champion, we could not do it without you. It was a close race out there. I had struggled with the lights today and to deliver that in the final was huge.”
The win at Houston – Kalitta’s sixth since 2014 – also locked him into this year’s Traxxas Nitro Shootout.
To have the kind of career he’s had, with all the wins and success, it’s hard to comprehend that Kalitta has not won even one championship in his NHRA career.
But if he keeps going the way he has thus far this season, and builds upon the momentum and the milestone he achieved at Houston, that long wait for a championship may finally be over six months from now.
And there wouldn’t be a more deserving champion than Doug Kalitta, indeed. He’s paid his dues, he’s fought the good fight and now it’s time for him to reap the rewards.
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