The reward is a 30-point lead heading into the Countdown to the Championship
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Doug Kalitta has been impressively successful and consistent during the 2014 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series regular season. The next step for the Top Fuel points leader is replicating that effort during the upcoming NHRA Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship.
Through 18 races Kalitta has racked up a remarkable nine final round appearances, winning twice and only suffering two first-round exits. The reward is a 30-point lead heading into the Countdown to the Championship, which kicks off at zMAX Dragway with the seventh annual NHRA Carolina Nationals, Sept. 12-14.
With all eyes on Kalitta as he aims for his first career world championship title in his 10,000-horsepower Mac Tools dragster, the laid-back Top Fuel star simply wants to keep a winning combination that has already been wildly successful since the season started in February.
It is all about the heart and then winning these races,
“I'm super proud of my guys, just all of them working together incredibly,” Kalitta said. “We've got a good, consistent car, so we're really excited about taking this thing to Charlotte and starting the Countdown and hopefully repeating the performance that we've had pretty much all year. We've got something great and everybody here has worked real hard at putting the people in the right places. It's a good effort and we're pretty proud of what we've put together.”
Morgan Lucas (Top Fuel), Robert Hight (Funny Car), Jeg Coughlin (Pro Stock) and Andrew Hines (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were last year’s winners of the NHRA Carolina Nationals, a race that will once again be televised nationally on ESPN2.
The event marks the kickoff event of the six-race playoff series, the NHRA Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship, as the top 10 in Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle compete to win world championships in their respective categories.
Kalitta, who has finished second in Top Fuel three times and third three times, including last year, has already recorded more final round appearances than he did previously in any season in an NHRA career that has featured 35 wins and 77 final round appearances.
Kalitta and his team, headed by crew chief Jim Oberhofer and assistant crew chief Troy Fasching, have also posted five No. 1 qualifiers in a banner campaign. But Kalitta, who won his first career race in the Countdown a year ago in Dallas, knows the intensity will be raised during the Countdown and he must adjust his own approach accordingly.
“It is all about the heart and then winning these races,” Kalitta said. “Just wanting it just as bad or worse than anybody else out there is what keeps you out there. My car has been more consistent this year than it's been in a number of years (and) it's probably the best year that I've had that I can remember. So that's our mission for sure is to go to each one of these (Countdown events), qualify good, be consistent and be ready to go rounds on Sunday. We definitely plan on continuing what we've been doing.”
That Kalitta has posted such consistency in a star-driven class like Top Fuel makes his year even more impressive, but there are plenty of championship contenders including 2012 world champion Antron Brown and reigning world champion Shawn Langdon, who start the Countdown in second and third, respectively.
Other championship hopes
Other drivers with championship hopes are Tony Schumacher, Spencer Massey, Richie Crampton, who won the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals, Khalid alBalooshi, Brittany Force, Steve Torrence and J.R. Todd.
Todd slipped into the Countdown in the 10th spot, giving Kalitta Motorsports two Top Fuel teams in the Countdown. Paired with Funny Car standouts Alexis DeJoria, who won the prestigious Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals, and Del Worsham, the Kalitta Motorsports team has four cars in the Countdown, something that Kalitta thinks could pay big dividends throughout the rigorous six-race playoff sprint.
“It has definitely brought the confidence up,” Kalitta said. “With Alexis winning her races, we've had J.R. winning there in Denver and we've got a lot of positive stuff going on within our organization. It's a big relief for really everybody at Kalitta Motorsports to get all four of our cars in the Countdown this year.
We're all feeding off one another.
“Obviously with Alexis winning in Indy, that was huge for all of the four teams and we're going to be definitely ready and hit the ground running when we get to the next six races and the excitement of what the Countdown format has brought our sport. It will be fun to watch and be a part of.”
In Funny Car, Hight took home the victory last season and will enter Charlotte ready for a run at a second world championship. He will have to get past teammate, reigning world champion and playoff top seed John Force, who has advanced to the last six final rounds. The list of championship talent reads long and includes Matt Hagan, Ron Capps, Courtney Force, DeJoria, who has three wins in 2014, Tommy Johnson Jr., Worsham, Tim Wilkerson and Cruz Pedregon.
Coughlin’s win in Charlotte catapulted him to a fifth career championship in Pro Stock. Everyone is chasing points leader Jason Line while championship contenders in the loaded class include Erica Enders-Stevens, who has four victories in 2014, Allen Johnson, Vincent Nobile, Dave Connolly, Shane Gray, who won the most recent event in Indy, rookie Jonathan Gray, V Gaines and Chris McGaha.
Hines, the class of the Pro Stock Motorcycle field in 2014, is after his third straight win at the Countdown-opening event. Hines’ teammate Eddie Krawiec is second in points and won the event in 2011, and also is riding momentum following his first Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals win. Other standouts in the two-wheeled category include Hector Arana, Hector Arana Jr., reigning world champ Matt Smith, 2008 Charlotte winner Steve Johnson, Angie Smith, John Hall, Michael Ray and Scotty Pollacheck.
As always, fans will have the opportunity to interact with their favorite drivers as they’re granted an exclusive pit pass to the most powerful and sensory-filled motorsports attraction on the planet. This unique opportunity in motorsports gives fans direct access to the teams, allowing them to see firsthand the highly-skilled mechanics service their hot rods between rounds, and enjoy some cherished face time and get autographs from their favorite NHRA drivers.
Fans also will want to visit NHRA’s popular Nitro Alley and Manufacturers Midway, where sponsors and race vendors create a carnival atmosphere, with interactive displays, simulated competitions, merchandise, food and fun for the entire family.
The event will also feature thrilling competition in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series and NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series.