(From the NHRA)
TOPEKA, Kan. — Doug Kalitta has enjoyed enough success throughout his standout Top Fuel career to know what a win can do for his team.
Coming off his latest victory, which included a landmark achievement at the most recent event in Houston, Kalitta hopes this one builds to something even bigger during the 2016 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season.
That would certainly include more victories and Kalitta’s next chance for that in his 10,000-horsepower Mac Tools dragster comes May 20-22 at the 28th annual NHRA Kansas Nationals at Heartland Park Topeka. The Houston victory was noteworthy in that it gave Kalitta 39 career Top Fuel victories, tying him with the legendary Kenny Bernstein and two-time and defending world champion Antron Brown for fourth all-time in class history.
Kalitta, who moved to second in Top Fuel points with the victory, celebrated that moment, while also noting the ultimate goal his team is chasing this season.
“It is always great to get that first win of the season,” said Kalitta, who is seeking his first world championship. “It makes you just want the next one even more. The Mac Tools team is not complacent. We have one goal this year, a title. To earn the title, one win is not enough. Our plan is to utilize what we learned and continue to grow and be prepared to make a run in the (Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship).”
Richie Crampton (Top Fuel), Jack Beckman (Funny Car) and Erica Enders (Pro Stock) were last year’s winners at the multipurpose motorsports facility in the Kansas capital city. The race will be televised on FOX Sports 1, including live finals on Sunday. It is the eighth of 24 races during the 2016 campaign, marking the completion of the first third of the year.
It’s been a successful start for Kalitta, who trails two-time 2016 winner Brittany Force by just one point. A victory was the only thing missing from the first portion of the season for the Kalitta Motorsports standout, advancing to the final round to open the year and the final foursome at the NHRA Four-Wide Nationals.
But winning in Top Fuel is no easy feat and Kalitta was impressive in Houston, also commenting on what it meant to match Bernstein and Brown for career Top Fuel victories.
“Kenny is somebody when I first started hanging around drag racing, he was the guy to watch,” Kalitta said. “He’s been one of my heroes for sure, so it’s a great accomplishment for me to be able to tie him. And the same goes for Antron. He’s one of the best in our field and obviously the defending champ. I’m just real proud to tie them.”
Kalitta has been as consistent as they come in a Top Fuel career that has spanned more than 400 races. He has finished in the top 10 every year since he started his Top Fuel career in 1998, but Kalitta is more than happy to share the credit.
After winning in Houston, which also gave him a berth in the Traxxas Nitro Shootout, Kalitta talked about the job crew chief Jim Oberhofer has done. He noted the team has been improving and building to a win from the outset. He has been impressed with how every car in the Kalitta Motorsports camp (J.R. Todd in Top Fuel, defending world champion Del Worsham and Alexis DeJoria in Funny Car) has performed.
“We felt good about the performance we’ve had all year, and we were just hoping that was the day,” Kalitta said in Houston. “I’m super proud of the job Jim is doing with our car and everything that he does overseeing our other three cars and working with the guys. He’s definitely put a great team effort together and he’s doing a heck of a job tuning these cars. I’m real proud of him. Anytime you can get a win and get some momentum you’re real happy. It just charges everybody up.”
Getting a second win at the Kansas Nationals won’t come easy for Kalitta, who must knock off an impressive lineup in Topeka. Richie Crampton is the defending winner, while other standouts include Brown and eight-time world champion Tony Schumacher, Houston finalist Steve Torrence, series leader Force, Clay Millican, Todd and Terry McMillen.
But Kalitta has great confidence in his team, noting an incredible atmosphere, culture and environment that has been evident for years within the Kalitta Motorsports team.
“As most NHRA fans know, Team Kalitta is a family and to see Del win the title last year, Alexis have early success this year and J.R. and the SealMaster team making a ton of progress is thrilling,” Kalitta said. “Each one of us is truly excited to have each one of our teammates succeed too, and that is something that I appreciate about the culture we have developed at Kalitta Motorsports. What happened in Las Vegas is the goal every weekend for both our Top Fuel and Funny Car teams, and we are definitely on track to do that on a more regular basis.”
In Funny Car, fans witnessed what was at the time a record 15 three-second runs in the class last year. Race winner Beckman made five of those three-second runs, including a 3.984 second sprint in the finals to defeat 16-time world champion John Force. Beckman is after his first win of 2016, while others to watch include two-time season winner Tim Wilkerson, who is tied with Houston winner Courtney Force for the points lead, reigning world champion Worsham, Gatornationals winner Robert Hight, three-time Topeka winner Ron Capps, four-time Topeka winner Cruz Pedregon, Chad Head, Las Vegas winner DeJoria and two-time world champ Matt Hagan.
In Pro Stock, Enders claimed her third victory of the 2015 season by racing past Greg Anderson one year ago. The two-time defending world champ will be looking for her second win in Topeka and first of 2016, as Greg Anderson and Jason Line have dominated the new era of Pro Stock, which features cars with fuel-injected engines, shorter wheelie bars, flat hoods and a 10,500 RPM rev-limiter. Points leader Line and Anderson both have three wins this season. Others to watch in the 200 mph factory hot rod category include Bo Butner, Chris McGaha, 2014 top rookie Drew Skillman, 2012 world champ Allen Johnson, five-time world champion Jeg Coughlin, Vincent Nobile, Shane Gray and Gas Monkey Garage Chevy Camaro driver Alex Laughlin.
As always, fans will have the opportunity to interact with their favorite drivers as they’re granted an exclusive pit pass to the most powerful and sensory-filled motorsports attraction on the planet. This unique opportunity in motorsports gives fans direct access to the teams, allowing them to see firsthand how the highly-skilled mechanics service their hot rods between rounds, and get autographs from their favorite NHRA drivers.
The event also will feature thrilling competition in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series.
Mello Yello Drag Racing Series qualifying will feature two rounds at 4:30 and 7 p.m. on Friday, May 20 and the final two rounds of qualifying on Saturday, May 21, at 1:30 and 4 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sunday, May 22.
To purchase general-admission or reserved seats, call (800) 884-NHRA (6472) or visit www.NHRA.com/tickets. Kids 12 and under are free in general admission areas with a paid adult. For more information about the NHRA visit www.NHRA.com.
Before heading to Topeka, the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series will make a stop at Atlanta Dragway in Georgia for the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Southern Nationals, May 13-15. Keep up with all the NHRA action on FOX Sports 1.