Team Kalitta heads to nearby Norwalk with anticipation and heavy hearts NORWALK, Ohio, (June 27, 2007) -- The inaugural running of this weekend's, June 28-July 1, Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals at Summit Racing Equipment Motorsports Park...
Team Kalitta heads to nearby Norwalk with anticipation and heavy hearts
NORWALK, Ohio, (June 27, 2007) -- The inaugural running of this weekend's, June 28-July 1, Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals at Summit Racing Equipment Motorsports Park in Norwalk, Ohio, will be a homecoming of sorts for the Michigan-based Kalitta Motorsports professional nitro racing operation, which competes with four race cars in the NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series.
The legendary quarter-mile racing facility in Norwalk is a short two-hour drive from the 50,000-square feet Kalitta Motorsports race shop in Ypsilanti, which sits just a few miles southwest of Detroit on I-94. The new event in Norwalk is now the closest NHRA national event for the drag racing conglomerate started by auto racing legend and team owner Conrad "Connie" Kalitta.
Connie's nephew Doug Kalitta, driver of the bright red, 330-mph Mac Tools dragster, thinks the event in Norwalk will become one of NHRA's crown jewel events.
"Norwalk has always been a great place to go to see a race," Doug said. "I'm really glad it's one of the NHRA's tracks now. The surface of the track is good, and the facility is top-notch. They have made a lot of improvements to the pit area and the to the whole place from what I understand, so we're really looking forward to getting our Mac Tools car out there to see what we can do."
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, Doug, a 42-year old resident of Ann Arbor, Mich., 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, Doug 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, Doug garnered his third career runner-up points finish in 2006. He was also points runner-up in 2003 and 2004.
Doug's Top Fuel teammate and native Australian Dave Grubnic, driver of the black and blue, 8,000-horsepower Zantrex-3 dragster, echoes his colleague's enthusiasm about racing at the northern Ohio landmark.
"I'm really excited about racing in Norwalk," Grubnic said. "I've never raced there in NHRA or anything else for that matter. I've been there to watch a couple races, but I've never competed there. The grandstands are huge at Norwalk. I'm sure we'll pack the house this weekend with NHRA fans, so I'm looking forward to rolling to the starting line in the Zantrex-3 machine and seeing the big crowds."J 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.
Scott Kalitta, driver of the yellow and red, nitro-fueled Toyota Solara Funny Car, does have a mixed-emotions memory of racing down the drag strip at Summit Racing Equipment Motorsports Park.
"We made the debut of the new Toyota Solara body at the IHRA race in Norwalk last year," Scott recalls. "Evidently, we fouled up with the mounting on the parachutes, and I went for an extra long ride when the 'chutes didn't open on one lap. There was no sand trap, so I just went off the end of the track and into the field out there. That was a wild ride. Hopefully we can keep the DHL Funny Car on the pavement this time and get a win to redeem our off-roading excursion."
Scott, a 45-year old resident of Palmetto, Fla., is the son of team owner Connie and Doug's cousin. He 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, won her first Top Fuel title at Norwalk last year while competing in an IHRA event at the venue.
Team Kalitta also heads to Norwalk in mourning. A beloved member of the team's family, Doug Kalitta, Sr., the father of Doug and brother of Connie, lost his battle with cancer Tuesday. He was 67. He passed away at his home in Mt. Clemens, Mich.
"Senior", as he was known to the drag racing community, was a staple of the Kalitta Motorsports team even though he generally remained behind the scenes. He could be spotted at the race track hopping from pit to pit joking and laughing and looking for coffee. His laugh was unmistakable and could often be heard over the roar of his son's dragster. His standard reply to questions, "Yeah, yeah, yeah", became his trademark along with often resting his eyeglasses on his forehead.
A "Senior" tribute decal will be displayed on all of the Team Kalitta race cars in Norwalk.