JOLIET, Ill. – 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 different races, including last weekend’s NHRA debut at New England Dragway.
The next step is turning those No. 1 qualifiers into wins, as Kalitta is still seeking out 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 Route 66 NHRA Nationals, 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 Kalitta has done something right this year and he was the only driver to reach the 3.70s last weekend in Epping, N.H., 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, but Kalitta, who has 35 career No. 1 qualifiers, hopes to take the next step in Chicago, where he has three of his 32 career 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 in Chicago in 2006, 2004 and 2002, it’s a track that has certainly been kind to Kalitta, who has posted the quickest run in three different events in 2013.
The key has been putting it all together, something 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 finals appearance among them, that being Worsham at Gainesville. Kalitta has three semifinal showings thus far, 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 (Grubnic) and Alex (DeJoria) 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, N.H. Grubnic posted a strong qualifying time in the heat, and Kalitta is confident 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 Route 66 NHRA Nationals represents the third straight 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.”
In 2013, the Top Fuel category has produced incredible side-by-side racing, with Al-Anabi Racing driver Shawn Langdon, who has three event wins in 2013, holding a slim points lead over three-time Chicago champ and seven-time world champ Tony Schumacher. Massey, who won at Chicago in 2009, has advanced to two straight finals and currently is in third, while a host of other contenders include defending world champ Brown, Khalid alBalooshi, Morgan Lucas and Clay Millican.
In Funny Car, 2011 world champ Matt Hagan is leading the charge after two wins in his Mopar/Rocky Boots Dodge Charger this season. Two-time world champ Cruz Pedregon also has won twice in his Snap-on Tools Toyota Camry and is right behind Hagan in the points standings. Versatile Johnny Gray has raced to three victories this season, the most in the category, in his Pitch Energy Dodge Charger and sits in third. The John Force Racing team is also surging, as 15-time Funny Car world champ John Force has advanced to back-to-back finals, winning in Bristol, while his daughter Courtney beat him in the finals at New England Dragway, giving the 2012 Rookie of the Year her second victory of the season. This loaded field also includes Robert Hight, defending world champ Jack Beckman, Ron Capps, Springfield, Ill., native Tim Wilkerson and veteran driver Del Worsham. All are eager to roar down famed Route 66 Raceway for fans at the most family-friendly, driver-accessible event in the world of motorsports.
In Pro Stock, Enders-Stevens made NHRA history last season in Chicago as the first woman to win in the category and seeks continued success in the ultra-competitive class; she is fifth in the points standings. Her biggest rivals include points leader and 2009 world champ Mike Edwards, who is having another dream season with nine No. 1 qualifying positions and three wins in his Interstate Batteries/I Am Second Chevy Camaro and is a two-time champ at Route 66 Raceway; and the Mopar/J&J Racing Dodge Avenger tandem of defending world champ Allen Johnson and four-time Chicago winner Jeg Coughlin; as well as Winternationals champ Vincent Nobile and past event champions Greg Anderson and Jason Line.
In Pro Stock Motorcycle, Hector Arana Jr. has won three races aboard his Lucas Oil Buell and has been battling a large contingent of challengers in the two-wheel category, including Viper Motorcycle Co. Buell rider John Hall, who is coming off his first career win, defending world champ Eddie Krawiec on one of the Screamin’ Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidsons, veteran Suzuki rider Steve Johnson, two-time Chicago champion Hines, Englishtown winner Michael Ray and many others.
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.