LAS VEGAS - Larry Dixon may have just wrapped up his second consecutive NHRA POWERade Top Fuel championship, but he better enjoy it now. The 2004 season could be quite interesting. To say the least, there will be three Kalittas on his case, looking to steal away the Top Fuel honors.
As if Dixon didn't have enough competition from Doug Kalitta, driver of the Mac Tools dragster, and Connie Kalitta, legendary driver-turned-tuner, there is now an additional family member who will try to make Dixon's life on the drag strip more difficult.
Scott Kalitta, the 1994-'95 Top Fuel champion, is back in action after more than two years and has joined his brother Doug to form a two-car team. Scott Kalitta drives the Jesse James/Mac Tools entry and is coming off a runner-up finish in Ennis, Texas. Not only does he want to challenge for the '04 championship, but he knows the 2003 season isn't over yet. There are still two more trophies to be earned.
"We have been doing a little testing, but we test the same thing on both cars to get more information and to see if it is going to work or not," Kalitta said. "We are still trying to race the track, run fast and win rounds. We didn't come out thinking it was completely out of the question that I could win a race this year."
Kalitta will be making his first official appearance in the desert at the third annual ACDelco Las Vegas NHRA Nationals, Oct. 23-26, at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Larry Dixon, John Force, Coughlin and Angelle Savoie are the defending winners of the $2 million race. It is the 22nd of 23 events in the $50 million NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series.
While Kalitta has never raced there during NHRA competition, he has been in a Top Fuel car for a quick test session following the spring race in April.
"We made a couple of runs there and the first time, we wanted to try new things and that didn't work out too well," Kalitta said. "The next run we went 4.57 (seconds) at 320 (mph) and it was like riding a bike."
While Kalitta is the first to admit that he hasn't totally mastered the art of dealing with Corporate America and the media, the driving aspect has been smooth. During his first race this season, Kalitta earned the No. 2 spot at the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis, going 4.502 at 327.51.
"It has been a lot of fun getting back in the car," Kalitta said. "There hasn't been a whole lot that has changed with the car. It's a matter of getting used to racing, not driving, but racing. I'm happy with the progress that I have made so far and the progress the team has made. I think we got spoiled during the first race back. We have kind of been struggling since then, but it has been nothing to hang our heads for."
Kalitta said his sponsor has helped him adjust to life in the spotlight. Jesse James, the host of the Discovery Channel's Monster Garage and the founder of West Coast Choppers, brings the spotlight wherever he roams.
"The best thing has been the fans and all of their support to coming back," Kalitta said. "Granted, we have Jesse James involved and that has sparked a lot of fan interest. It's very cool to be involved with him.
"I'm still learning about the corporate involvement in this sport and I'm dealing with it. I've never been good with the media in the sense that I am not John Force. But I'm learning that too. I was out of the sport for a while and now I have an entirely new perspective on what it takes to compete on and off the track."
Kalitta has also learned how to deal with his father and crew chief, Connie. The father and son, at times, were known to be a little hot under the collar when dealing with each other.
"We're working very well together," the younger Kalitta said. "We've both gotten older and while we've been known to both be hot heads, we get along better now. He is doing an excellent job. I always knew he could the minute he applied himself to racing. All year long, as Doug has been more and more competitive, my dad's been finally getting the respect that I thought he deserved all along."
Scott Kalitta knows how to be patient. So waiting for 2004 and having two more chances to win is no problem. He waited months to get back in the car, a few more to have an entire season won't hurt.
"We kept (the return) under wraps for a while," Kalitta said. "I came to Columbus for the press conference and it was Father's Day weekend so I went home on Saturday. But I would have been just as happy if we started then. Who knows, maybe this championship race could have been different. Maybe Doug could have caught Larry by now. I didn't even want to wait three months."