NHRA's Team Kalitta preps for strenuous schedule and rare-air racing in Denver Morrison, Colo., July 12, 2005 - If you say "Western Swing" to a face in the crowd walking down a sidewalk in Anytown, U.S.A., the response might be, "The CD category...
NHRA's Team Kalitta preps for strenuous schedule and rare-air racing in Denver
Morrison, Colo., July 12, 2005 - If you say "Western Swing" to a face in the crowd walking down a sidewalk in Anytown, U.S.A., the response might be, "The CD category next to Jazz Fusion at the record store?", but to NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series fans and participants, the term Western Swing will most likely elicit simultaneous smiles and smirks.
This weekend at Denver's scenic Mopar Mile-High NHRA Nationals, July 15-17, the NHRA's Western Swing, three national events in three weekends from Denver to Seattle, Wash., to Sonoma, Calif., begins with yo-yoing emotions of anticipation and trepidation at Bandimere Speedway, just ten miles west of downtown Denver in Morrison, Col.
For Kalitta Motorsports, the NHRA's only full-time, three-car Top Fuel dragster team, the picturesque setting of Colorado's Rocky Mountains offers up more than just inspiration. It also puts knots in the stomachs of Team Kalitta's race car tuners when they think about aspirations of racing over 5,800 ft. above sea level.
There are three essentials in drag racing engines - fuel, air, and spark. The same can be said for the engines in every NHRA fan's passenger car, but the cars that fill the parking lots at Bandimere Speedway this weekend won't undergo the radical adjustments that Team Kalitta's 7,000 horsepower, nitro-fueled machines will.
"The altitude makes tuning these cars an adventure," Kalitta Motorsports Team Manager Jim Oberhofer said. "Since the air is so much thinner up there, we make several adjustments to the engines to help compensate.
"First, we add more compression to the engines by using thinner head gaskets. Then, we add more timing to the ignition for more spark. But, since less "good" air is getting in the blower (supercharger), we have to pump less fuel volume in, about three gallons per run, to keep the fuel-to-air mixture right."
Top Fuel championship points leader Doug Kalitta, driver of the Mac Tools dragster, knows that the altitude will not only affect his bright red race car, the world's quickest (4.420 seconds - Chicago 1, 2004), but it will also affect his competitors and make the competition on the paved quarter-mile even closer.
"We all have to deal with it," Doug said. "I think that makes the racing that much closer because it levels the playing field, just like rain at a football game."
"I'm the only Kalitta who hasn't won in Denver. I need to take care of that this year. That would be a good way to start the Swing."
Kalitta Motorsports team owner, head tuner and drag racing legend Connie "the Bounty Hunter" Kalitta won in Denver in 1984 and 1985. He retired from his driving duties in 1998. His son and Doug's cousin Scott Kalitta is the winningest active Top Fuel driver at Bandimere Speedway by way of his winner's circle visits in 1994, 1995 and 2004.
Doug, 40, is an eight-year Top Fuel veteran and former USAC National Sprint Car Champion (1994). He has 22 career NHRA event wins, including three in 2005 (Gainesville, Fla., Bristol, and Atlanta). He was the 1998 Auto Club of Southern California Road to the Future Award winner for NHRA rookie excellence.
Defending Mile-High Nationals Top Fuel champ and two-time Top Fuel World Champion (1994-1995) Scott will be racing with a special, one-race-only paint scheme, the Coors/Mac Tools/Jesse James Top Fuel dragster, this weekend in Denver to commemorate Golden, Colorado-based Coors beer's involvement in the cult classic movie Smokey and the Bandit (1977). In the film, characters portrayed by Burt Reynolds and Jerry Reed smuggle Coors from Texas to Georgia.
"It should be a blast for us and the fans," Scott said. "This is a great opportunity for Coors and our Kalitta Motorsports team to bring the excitement of NHRA drag racing to the Rocky Mountains and beyond."
Scott, 43, who won the opening event of the 2005 NHRA season in Pomona, Calif., in February, also won the Top Fuel title in Joliet, Ill., last month and is currently seventh in Top Fuel championship points. He has 18 (17 Top Fuel, 1 Funny Car) NHRA national event victories in his 24-year career.
Third Team Kalitta driver "Aussie Dave" Grubnic, pilot of the black and electric blue-flamed Zantrex-3 Top Fuel hot rod, is hoping to repeat his successes of 2004's Western Swing, but this year, he wants to add event wins, not just round wins, to his career tally.
"We had a great Swing last year," Grubnic said. "Even though we lost in the second round in Denver, we went on to make the finals in both Seattle and Sonoma."
"We need to seal the deal this year and get two or three wins. We're right back in the championship hunt now, and we need to get a few wins to really get up there and challenge for it."
Native Australian Grubnic, 42, got an emotional first NHRA national event win in Topeka, Kan., May 29. His win was historic in the fact that he became the first non-native North American to win an NHRA national event in Top Fuel.
Grubnic had made seven final-round appearances in his 11-year career before his big win in Topeka. He also won the 2004 Budweiser Shootout special $100,000 event in Las Vegas last fall. He is currently fourth in Top Fuel championship points, just 99 markers behind teammate and leader Doug.
The Mopar Mile-High NHRA Nationals begins Friday, July 15, for the Top Fuel class with two qualifying sessions. Two more qualifying sessions follow on Saturday. The top sixteen qualified cars will race Sunday in final eliminations.
The Mopar Mile-High NHRA Nationals is the 13th of 23 national events in the 2005 NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series.