Out of the 106 final-round appearances that Doug Kalitta has racked up in his standout career, he hasn’t experienced a closer final round than what took place at Atlanta Dragway five years ago.
In fact, nobody has in Top Fuel, and nobody probably ever will.
Kalitta and his then-Top Fuel teammate J.R. Todd put on a show for the ages in the finals in Atlanta in 2016, culminating in the closest race in class history.
Kalitta won by a barely legible margin — less than .0001 of a second, or four-tenths of an inch. It was as close as close can get, and there was no way Kalitta could tell he had squeaked past Todd at the finish line, but it’s a victory that still draws marvel and excitement from the veteran, especially as the NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series races for the final time at the track on May 1-2.
"It drew a lot of attention since the race was so close. I was just glad we got the win for Mac Tools with my guys,” said Kalitta, who has 49 career victories. “Atlanta Dragway just has a ton of history, and I have won there numerous times. The fans have always been great and super supportive.”
The near dead-heat final round wasn’t the only big moment Kalitta has enjoyed at the track, but it is certainly the most historic. He has three wins in Atlanta, one away from tying Antron Brown and Larry Dixon for most in class history at the facility, and a victory this year would be the 50th of his career.
Of course, with next weekend being the final race at the track, Kalitta can have the perfect send-off, getting that fourth Atlanta and also picking up his 50th career Top Fuel victory, a huge landmark number in his illustrious career.
The added measure of that is the Top Fuel final would be due to wrap up final eliminations on Sunday as it typically does, meaning Kalitta would also be in the final pair to go down Georgia’s House of Speed.
"That would be something very cool for me for sure,” said Kalitta, who also won in 2005 and 2006 in Atlanta. “My Mac Tools dragster has been running really well, so we will be trying to make sure we are the last dragster down the track at the Southern Nationals."
Kalitta seems to be closing in on a victory this year in his 11,000-hp Mac Tools dragster. After a second-round loss in Gainesville to open 2021, he advanced to the final quad at last weekend’s four-wide race in Las Vegas, finishing as runner-up to Steve Torrence.
He’s qualified well at both races and generally ran well, meaning the only thing left to do this year is grab the victory.
Doing so in Atlanta has plenty of dramatic storylines, but ultimately, the veteran standout is focused on continued early-season improvement from a team that continues to perform at a high level.
"My guys are rock solid and super hungry to win like me,” said Kalitta, who is currently fourth in points through two races. "It has been fun working with these guys and going rounds at the first two races of the season."