Ypsilanti – Doug Kalitta checked off one of his career goals when he won the prestigious U.S. Nationals – drag racing’s Super Bowl – in Indianapolis over Labor Day weekend.
Now the 55-year-old Ypsilanti driver has his sights on another – the NHRA series top fuel championship, something that has eluded him during his 20-plus year career with Kalitta Motorsports.
The NHRA playoffs – the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship – gets underway this weekend with the running of the Dodge Nationals in Reading, Pa.
“Yes, that was cool,” said Kalitta of winning the U.S. Nationals; he lost in the finals the previous year. “It was good timing. We wanted to win Indy for a real long time and watching Connie over the years trying to win that thing and finally getting it done. It’s just one of those races that you always want to win so bad when you go there, and finally after 21 years got that thing done.”
Connie Kalitta won the top fuel U.S. Nationals in 1994 and funny car driver J.R. Todd was the first Kalitta Motorsports driver to win at Indy since then, in 2017 and again in ’18.
“Going into the next few races, it’s great momentum builder for my guys and we’re definitely going to try and do what J.R. and the DHL boys did and just keep the momentum going,” Kalitta said. “It’s one of those deals that will be tough, but we’re up for the challenge for sure.
“I’m just real proud of my guys and everybody at the shop. We have a good package here and the plan is to make the best of it.”
The U.S. Nationals was Kalitta’s 500th career race day start. It was also his 46th career win.
Todd is the defending series champion. He won back-to-back U.S. Nationals and was trying to make history but didn’t get his DHL Toyota down the 1,000-feet track in the semifinals.
Kalitta finished second in points in his Mac Tools dragster during the regular season to defending series champion Steve Torrence and will start the six-race playoffs with 2,080 points, 20 behind Torrence.
Kalitta held the top fuel points lead heading into the 2006 season finale, but Tony Schumacher won the race and the series championship. It was the closest Kalitta ever came to the title.
“We’ve been close a number of times,” Kalitta said. “It’s obviously not the end of the road, but it’s definitely on the to-do list, so it would be real cool, especially with everything that everybody over the years has done to get me to this point.”