Topeka: Kalitta Motorsports preview

Team Kalitta eyes triumphant return in Topeka TOPEKA, Kan., (May 30, 2007) -- After a rare three-week absence from rocketing down the quarter-mile in their 8,000-horsepower, nitro-fueled racing machines, the roster of drivers at Kalitta ...

Team Kalitta eyes triumphant return in Topeka

TOPEKA, Kan., (May 30, 2007) -- After a rare three-week absence from rocketing down the quarter-mile in their 8,000-horsepower, nitro-fueled racing machines, the roster of drivers at Kalitta Motorsports are anxious to get back to NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series competition this weekend, June 1-3, in Topeka, Kans., at Heartland Park Topeka for the annual running of the O'Reilly NHRA Summer Nationals.

When the NHRA national event in Bristol, Tenn., was postponed from May 18-20 until July 7-10, it gave the drivers and fans of the world's most exciting motorsport almost a month away from the drag strip. Now, Dave Grubnic and his Team Kalitta teammates are more eager than usual to get back behind the wheel of their respective 330-mph race cars at a race track that has become one of the favorite venues of the Ypsilanti, Michigan-based multi-car team.

Native Australian Grubnic, driver of the black and blue Zantrex-3 Top Fuel dragster, became the first non-native North American to win an NHRA national event in Top Fuel, the sport's quickest and fastest professional class, in Topeka in 2005. That emotional first win for the fan-favorite veteran will always make Topeka a highlighted circle on the 23-event calendar for the lanky Aussie.

"You bet, Topeka will always be one of my favorite places," Grubnic said. "I had raced Top Fuel cars for over a decade before finally breaking through there for that first win, so it was very emotional for me and our whole team. This year will be no different. We would certainly like to get a chance to get our Zantrex-3 machine back to its winning ways in Topeka."

In early 2004, Grubnic, a 44-year old resident of Ennis, Mont., was hired to drive for Kalitta Motorsports. Since joining Team Kalitta, Grubnic has posted consecutive top-five championship points finishes. In the fall of 2004, he won the lucrative and coveted Budweiser Shootout in Las Vegas, becoming only the fourth driver in the special event's history to win its $100,000 prize in his first attempt. His only other event victory came at the 2006 running of the famed Gatornationals in Gainesville, Fla.

Grubnic's teammate and Top Fuel ace Doug Kalitta, driver of the bright red Mac Tools dragster, also has an affinity for the quarter-mile strip at HPT. He enters this weekend as the defending Top Fuel event champ and as the track record holder for elapsed time, 4.487 seconds (2004). The perennial championship contender and his Mac Tools team have struggled to gain their fast footing so far in 2007 with only three elimination-round wins in the first seven events.

"We have been struggling so far this year, no doubt," Doug, a 42-year old resident of Ann Arbor, Mich., said. "I think some people may even be counting us out for this year, but we think we can prove them wrong. We've got a great group of [crew] guys and a race car that is more than capable of winning rounds and races. We have stumbled a bit this year, but hopefully we can turn that all around with another win in Topeka. All it takes is one good weekend, and our whole season could change for the better. We're hoping this is that weekend."

Since winning the NHRA's equivalent of Rookie of the Year, the Automobile Club of Southern California's Road to the Future Award, after the 1998 drag racing season, Kalitta has driven his dragster to 29 Top Fuel national event titles, which already ties him for sixth in career wins for the sport's quickest and fastest class. In the past four NHRA seasons, Kalitta has solidified his place among the best Top Fuel pilots of all-time. Last season was arguably the best of his straight-line career. He won a career-high five national events in 2006 and led the POWERade points for almost the entire second half of the season. After finishing just 14 points shy of his first NHRA championship, Kalitta garnered his third career runner-up points finish in 2006. He was also points runner-up in 2003 and 2004.

Doug's Cousin Scott Kalitta, a 45-year old resident of Palmetto, Fla., hopes that he and his DHL Toyota Solara Funny Car team can continue their recent return to consistency this weekend in Topeka and somehow translate Scott's HPT success in a Top Fueler into a win in his yellow and red clad, nitro-fueled flopper.

Scott's six visits to the Top Fuel winner's circle at HPT is three times more than any other Top Fuel victor at the facility. The 26-year nitro veteran was the king of the long, skinny cars in the Heartland twice in 1993 and again in'95 (Topeka hosted two NHRA national events from 1993 until '97). His other victories there came consecutively in 1996 and '97.

"Topeka has always been one of my favorites for obvious reasons," Scott said. "We just always seem to know how to run there. Our DHL Funny Car has been getting a lot better lately, too. We've been running better numbers at the last couple of races, and we are certainly getting down the track more often. Maybe everything will come together for us this weekend and we can get back in winner's circle at Heartland Park -- This time in a Funny Car."

Kalitta returned to the Funny Car class last season after many successful years at the helm of a Top Fuel dragster. He won the NHRA Top Fuel World Championship in 1994 and 1995 as well as 17 NHRA national event trophies, but got his first professional NHRA national event win under the carbon fiber canopy of a Funny Car in Houston in 1989.

Hillary Will, driver of the Kalitta Motorsports-managed, Ken Black-owned KB Racing, LLC Top Fueler, lost in round one of eliminations last year at HPT in her rookie appearance in Topeka.

The O'Reilly NHRA Summer Nationals begins Friday, June 1, for the Top Fuel class with one qualifying session at 5:00 p.m. (CT), and then another qualifying session at 8:00 p.m. Two more qualifying sessions follow on Saturday at noon and 2:30 p.m. The top sixteen qualified cars will race Sunday in final eliminations beginning at 11:00 a.m.

All times and dates subject to change.

The O'Reilly NHRA Summer Nationals is the 8th of 23 national events in the 2007 NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series.

-credit: km

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Series NHRA
Drivers Doug Kalitta , Scott Kalitta , Hillary Will , Ken Black