Doug Kalitta can sense that his first victory of the 2017 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series is coming soon. Racing at a track that has already been home to three victories for the Top Fuel standout may provide just the scenario to put Kalitta over the top.
The Top Fuel veteran is the only driver in the class top five without a win in 2017, something he wants to change at this weekend’s 17th annual NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals at Bristol Dragway. Kalitta’s three victories (2006, 2005, 2001) at the picturesque track rank as the second-most in Top Fuel, giving Kalitta added confidence, but it is how close his team has been in turning the corner this season in his 10,000-horsepower Mac Tools dragster that gives the longtime standout the belief a win is right around the corner.
“The Mac Tools team is working very hard and I feel like we are very close,” said Kalitta, whose 42 career wins are the fifth-most in Top Fuel history. “(Crew chief Jim Oberhofer, assistant crew chief Troy Fasching) and all of my guys are focused on winning. We have missed out on some close races that are going to go our way at some point.”
Shawn Langdon (Top Fuel), Tommy Johnson Jr. (Funny Car) and Jason Line (Pro Stock) were last year’s winners of the event that will be televised on FOX Sports 1, including final eliminations coverage starting at 6:30 p.m. (ET) on Sunday, June 18. It is the 11th of 24 events in a solid 2017 season, but Kalitta is now looking for the spectacular.
He fell to eventual Englishtown winner Steve Torrence in the semifinals on Sunday, a theme that has put Kalitta, currently fifth in points, close to victories almost all year. Kalitta has four semifinal and one final round appearance this season, as Torrence, who has three wins, Leah Pritchett, who also has three victories, points leader Antron Brown, the defending back-to-back world champion, and Tony Schumacher, a five-time Bristol winner, have dominated the winner’s circle celebrations.
But the always-calm Kalitta has never been prone to panic and he’s not about to do so now. Still, Kalitta knows the importance of putting together momentum during this stretch of four straight races and with the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship approaching.
“It is important to get focused and have everything aligned for a deep run in the playoffs,” Kalitta said. “This four-race swing is great to get momentum rolling. It is just important to be in the running, and then in those six races run strong. We know our Mac Tools Toyota team is capable of a run to the title.”
Coming on Father’s Day Weekend, the NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals provides a memorable storyline at one of the most popular tracks on the NHRA circuit. Racing at Bristol Dragway has already provided a plethora of memorable moments for Kalitta over the years, but with his last victory at the track coming more than a decade ago, he is ready for another thrilling weekend.
“Bristol is such a cool place,” Kalitta said. “The sound there is unlike any other. Any win is huge, but with our previous success there, it is always good to add another. It is cool because it falls on Fathers' Day. My father was a huge part of my career, and to win on that day in the Mac Tools Toyota makes it even more special.”
Mello Yello Drag Racing Series qualifying will feature two rounds at 5 and 7:30 p.m. on Friday, June 16 and the final two rounds of qualifying on Saturday, June 17, at 1 and 3:30 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for noon on Sunday, June 18.
To purchase general-admission or reserved seats, call Bristol Dragway at (423) 989-6900. Tickets also are available online at www.bristoldragway.com. Kids 12 and under are free in general admission areas with a paid adult on Sunday. To honor the Salute to First Responders, military and first responders can save 20 percent on general admission tickets at the gate.