Scott Kalitta Scott Kalitta is back. The two-time Top Fuel champion (1994-'95) took some time off from the fury of quarter-mile racing, but now he is back. Not only is he back, but he intends on winning again...soon. Kalitta - winner of 15 races...
Scott Kalitta is back. The two-time Top Fuel champion (1994-'95) took some time off from the fury of quarter-mile racing, but now he is back. Not only is he back, but he intends on winning again...soon. Kalitta - winner of 15 races in 30 final rounds - teamed up with Mac Tools and Jesse James to sponsor the new dragster. James is the founder of West Coast Choppers and the host of Discovery Channel's Monster Garage. The attention of having such a high-profile sponsor and the return to racing has made life interesting for the son of legendary driver and tuner, Connie Kalitta. The family business doesn't stop with father and son. Doug Kalitta, Scott's cousin, finished second to Larry Dixon and the Miller Lite team this season. But the Kalittas have high expectations and part of the plan includes championships. The final race of the 2003 season is the Auto Club of Southern California NHRA Finals at Pomona (Calif.) Raceway, starting today and concluding Sunday. In this Q&A session, Kalitta talks about what it is like to be back in a 6,000 horsepower dragster, what he likes about being part of a two-car threat and what he learned during his time away from racing.
Q: How does it feel to be back in racing?
Kalitta: It feels really cool, especially being involved with Jesse James and the Mac Tools deal. It's a lot of fun and the fact that I got to come back before the end of the season and not have to worry about points makes it more fun and a little easier. You don't have the pressure of the points in the back of your mind.
Q: What did you miss most about being away from racing?
Kalitta: All of it. We've been trying for a while to get back into racing. I sold my business in 1998, and I drove half a season in 2000. Just shortly after that, I think it was sometime in 2001 we started to put something together and it just took this long to put it together. I really missed the excitement of making good runs. I missed the camaraderie of the guys on the teams and the other racers. I miss the support and the look in the eye of the fans.
Q: Does it make it worse to sit out, especially since you have done so well in the past and you already have two championships?
Kalitta: No, not really. In a way it actually makes it easier because we have already done it all. Doing it again would just be a bonus. Everybody wants to win the championship but having done it allows you to have less pressure. That item has been marked off your 'to-do' list already.
Q: Talk about the team's crew chief situation. Your dad will oversee both cars, but Jim Oberhofer will make the tuning calls for your car while Rahn Tobler will take over the tuning for Doug's car once his wife and driver, Shirley Muldowney, retires.
Kalitta: I think it is great that my dad has finally come into his own. Over the years he has been hit or miss and wanted to try so many things. But he is really getting into it and doing an excellent job. The funny thing is that if he thought about this stuff as much as these other guys do, he would be that much better. He has a business and other things and he thinks about it half as much as the other tuners out here do. The other teams have multiple advisors and crew chiefs and having another knowledgeable individual like Rahn will be very beneficial. Sometimes we will all have to band together and gang up on the old man when he does want to try some crazy things but for the most part that doesn't happen. But the old man has to think out of the box and try this and that otherwise you won't continue to progress.
Q: What are your expectations for the 2004 season?
Kalitta: I think the only thing we need and this is one of the things that will be an asset with Rahn, is another head. Rahn has always been conservative and consistent. I don't see any reason why - if we can gain the consistency - we shouldn't be No. 1 and 2 next year. We are going to have the ability absolutely.
Q: What is the biggest benefit to having a two-car Top Fuel program?
Kalitta: For the most part we run the cars 99.9 percent the same. That provides us with twice as many runs on any given weekend. This year it has worked out because we aren't in the points chase and I always end up having to line up first for qualifying, at least on the first day. So far, Doug has benefited more than I have because our car would have a problem and they have a second chance. They can make a couple of changes and he has gone out and done well. That's the biggest thing, having twice as many chances to gather information and get down the race track.
Q: How well do you and Doug work together and what do each of you have to offer the teams?
Kalitta: Just like anything there are certain pieces to the puzzle that each personality can provide to a team. It's good that this two-car team has two people who can discuss everything. We talk about driving techniques and where to watch out for bumps in certain lanes and everything else. It's really good that we can work together and help each other in that aspect. We grew up together and I remember as kids that every couple of weeks we would go over to their house or they'd come over to our house. Each year we get together with our dads and we all go hunting every year. That is something we all do together. Over the last several years, especially when I moved out of Michigan, we had some distance, but we still all have good relationships. Doug is kind of quiet and laid back and sometimes you have to pry things out of him, but we know how to get that out of each other.
Q: What changes have you made over the break? Are you looking at anything different now that you have had time away from the sport?
Kalitta: Everyone gets a little older and more laid back. My dad is a perfect example of that. Mellowing over time and kids has helped my patience grow over the years. I take it seriously, but I don't take it too seriously where it can be a detriment. Some people can get caught up in it. Whatever is going to happen will happen and the only thing we can do is try our best and go out and have fun. Even when I was winning championships I believed then, and I still believe, that when you quit having fun, that is when you need to quit.
Q: Was the break a good thing for you?
Kalitta: I have a lot different perspective now. I don't think I take it too seriously to the point where you can become your own worst enemy. If it is meant to be, it will all happen. It makes a difference that we have a great car. I will admit that for a couple races there we were stumbling a little bit and our car wasn't running real well and I was getting a little frustrated. All that does is make us work that much harder. I wouldn't be human if I said that it didn't get to me a little bit, but it does make me want to work harder.
Q: Have you thought about what it would be like to earn the first win since your return?
Kalitta: We actually thought we should have won Dallas. We changed a couple of things that we shouldn't have. It will be nice to be able to prove that we can still do it and be a thorn in the sides of the rest of the guys out here and wonder why I don't go back to being on vacation.
Q: What do you think about the Top Fuel competition?
Kalitta: We have to try to stay focused and not worry about what the other guys are doing. That is one of the problems that we do have occasionally over here. Especially when Alan Johnson went over to Schumacher Racing and they started running well around Indy. We just have to stay focused and not worry about what everyone else is going to do. If we do the best we can, the cars are going to run as good if not better than anyone else out here. We just have to run our race and not worry about anyone else. Next year will be fun and it will be good for the sport because there is going to be six great Top Fuel cars that consistently run in the 4.50's and 40's. It will be real good for the fans because there won't be a runaway with points next year, not by any stretch of the imagination.
Q: How has your relationship with your dad grown over the past few years?
Kalitta: Aside from racing, it's good because he is going to be 66 this February and I moved away for a while and I still don't live in the same area. That's good because you get to a certain point of your life and you realize how important time with your parents is and you value that relationship more. It's kind of neat because I see my mom more now than I used to because she lives in Florida and since I moved there, we have become closer over the last 10 years. Before, I only saw her twice a year. For the last few years, that is how it has been with my dad. I only got to see him occasionally. Because I have gone in a different direction businesswise and where I live, it's good that we can spend some time together now. When people mellow with age you learn to appreciate the family relationships you have.
Q: What kind of business are you in outside of racing?
Kalitta: I sold my airline in 1998 and last year I bought a marina boat yard in Florida and that is what I do everyday that I am not at the race track. I also have a couple of kids and that is like having another part-time, if not full-time job. The kids think it is great that I am back, and my wife, Kathy, doesn't mind, but it is more work for her when I am gone. They will all come out to the race track next year, but only when the kids are not in school. I don't want to take them out of school to come to the races. Corey is 10 and Colin will be 4 years old in December.
Q: What is the biggest goal that you want to accomplish?
Kalitta: I want to win races. Depending on how many rounds you can win and how many races you win, you could go on to be the champion at the end of the year and that is just a bonus from winning. I want to win races and have fun.
Q: Have you had to make any adjustments to your driving style because of any changes to the car?
Kalitta: No, because I ran in 2000 and last year I did some testing for them at Gainesville. I made 10 runs there. At the beginning of the year this season I tested with the car after the first event in Las Vegas. Jim (Oberhofer) and I have been friends for 15 years and every week we talk, even when I wasn't running. Every couple weeks if not every week, we talk. We have been like brothers for so long I think that is one reason why he wanted to move over to my car. We have a real good rapport with each other and that is something that I think a lot of teams don't have. I was the first person that he went full-time racing with and we get along good and we think a lot alike in certain aspects. We talk about the car's tuneup and everything and I think it is going to work very well. The other thing that I think has been real good this year, especially under the circumstances, is the fact that we have done well, with basically Jim doing two cars. Once Rahn gets here next year we can focus on one car. We are still going to share information and help both teams, but Jim won't be spread so thin.
Q: Has there been anything that has been difficult to adjust to?
Kalitta: This is such a great deal with Mac Tools and Jesse James. He appears to be really into this deal and it's great to know that he is excited and that he wants to come out to the races. He brings a lot of added attention. That has been the hardest thing for me to adjust to because I have never had corporate sponsorship. Ever since I was racing, it was my dad sponsoring the car through his businesses only. Now the corporate deals are taking a little time to get used to.