Kalitta ready to turn strong qualifying runs into Top Fuel win
Thursday, June 27, 2013

Doug Kalitta has had no trouble turning in top runs in qualifying in his Mac Tools Top Fuel dragster during the 2013 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series, taking the No. 1 spot at four races, including last weekend’s NHRA debut at New England Dragway.

The next step is turning those No. 1 qualifiers into wins; Kalitta is still seeking his first one in what has otherwise been a standout season.

Kalitta’s next chance to put his 8,000-horsepower dragster in the winner’s circle comes this weekend at the O’Reilly Auto Parts Route 66 NHRA Nationals presented by Super Start Batteries, June 27-30 at Route 66 Raceway near Chicago. Antron Brown (Top Fuel), Jeff Arend (Funny Car), Erica Enders-Stevens (Pro Stock), and Andrew Hines (Pro Stock Motorcycle) are the defending winners of the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series event, which will be televised nationally on ESPN2HD.

Currently fifth in the points standings, Kalitta is the only driver in the top five in Top Fuel, Funny Car, and Pro Stock without a victory. It certainly means that Kalitta has done something right this year, and he was the only driver to reach the 3.7s last weekend in Epping, qualifying No. 1 with a run of 3.795 seconds at 323.97 mph.

He took that momentum to the semifinals before falling to eventual event winner Spencer Massey, and Kalitta, who has 35 No. 1 qualifiers, hopes to take the next step in Chicago, where he has scored three of his 32 victories.

“We’re very excited and encouraged about the way our Mac Tools dragster is performing this season, and that’s what we have to focus on,” said Kalitta, an Ann Arbor, Mich., native. “We’ve had one of the top-running cars all season, but we haven’t been able to pick up a win yet.

“We’ve had a really strong car all year, and about the only thing we haven’t done is win a trophy. We know it is capable, so we need to just get it done. Jim [Oberhofer, crew chief] and the guys have really been on top of it all year, and it feels good to have such a great hot rod, but we’re more than ready to get back in the winner’s circle.”

With victories at Route 66 Raceway in 2006, 2004, and 2002, it’s a track that has certainly been kind to Kalitta, who has posted the quickest run at three events in 2013.

The key has been putting it all together, something that the entire Kalitta Motorsports team has been trying to perfect in 2013.

The group of Kalitta, Top Fuel driver David Grubnic, and Funny Car drivers Del Worsham and Alexis DeJoria has only one final-round appearance, Worsham in Gainesville. Kalitta has three semifinal showings, but he knows there’s work to be done.

“We’re definitely trying to make it happen with everybody on the team,” Kalitta said. “Del’s car has been running plenty strong, and we’re proud of the job David and Alex are doing. I think we’re inching in on it, and we’re getting closer to where we want to be.”

The key continues to be consistency, but Kalitta liked the improvements he saw in Epping. Grubnic posted a strong qualifying time in the heat, and Kalitta is confident that the team can run well in warmer conditions in the midst of a rigorous stretch that includes four races in four weeks.

The O’Reilly Auto Parts Route 66 NHRA Nationals represents the third race in that span, and with the three-race Western Swing coming quickly, Kalitta realizes this is an important time of the season.

“When it comes to drag racing, you take it up there and see what you’ve got,” Kalitta said. “If you get a car going A to B in this temperature, you know something has to be going right.”

Fans will have the opportunity to get up close and personal with their favorite drivers because every ticket is a pit pass that grants full access to the Professional pit area. The whole weekend will be a true sensory-overload experience: Fans will be treated to the special Two Nights of Nitro (Friday and Saturday) and what promises to be an exciting Championship Sunday in addition to jet-car exhibition runs Friday night and the popular JEGS Allstars special bonus race Saturday, exclusively for qualified competitors in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series.

Qualifying for the O’Reilly Auto Parts Route 66 NHRA Nationals will begin Friday, June 28, with sessions at 4:30 and 7:15 p.m. The final two qualifying sessions will take place Saturday, June 29, at 4:15 and 7:15 p.m. Final eliminations will begin at 11 a.m. Sunday, June 30.

To purchase tickets, log on to Route 66 Raceway, www.route66raceway.com, or call 888-629-RACE (7223).