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Top Fueler Kalitta Not Celebrating Anything Yet

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Friday, May 20 2016
Yes, Doug Kalitta is super hot in Top Fuel as he arrives in Kansas, but he is also remembers what happened two years ago. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Harold Hinson)

Yes, Doug Kalitta is super hot in Top Fuel as he arrives in Kansas, but he is also remembers what happened two years ago. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Harold Hinson)

By Jim Pedley | Manging Editor
RacinToday.com

TOPEKA, Kan. – Driver Doug Kalitta is the No. 1, El Supremo, Big Kahuna hottest nitro driver in the NHRA. He’s won two straight NHRA national events. He is the Top Fuel points leader and that lead is a solid 64 points over former champion Antron Brown.

nhra logoWhat possibly could make him even slightest bit uneasy as he takes to the track for this weekend’s Kansas Nationals at Heartland Park Topeka?

2014 for one thing.

That season also started off hot for the 51-year-old Kalitta. He won in Gainesville at the Gatornationals. He went on to win at Seattle on the Western Swing. Those wins and regular-season-long consistency carried Kalitta and his Kallita Motorsport team into the six-race Countdown playoffs with the points lead.

What followed has stayed with Kalitta and team vice president of operations Jim Oberhofer the last year and a half and it bowed both their heads as they sat in their team hauler at Heartland Park on Friday.

Kalitta suffered first-round losses in four of the Countdown events and poof, gone were hopes for a Top Fuel championship.

Doug Kalitta has collected two Wallys in the last two events. (Photo courtesy of the NHRA)

Doug Kalitta has collected two Wallys in the last two events. (Photo courtesy of the NHRA)

“Not what we were looking for,” Kalitta said softly. “It was disappointing to let it slip away like that.”

Hence the less than party-time atmosphere in the hottest hauler in Topeka.

There is, however, no desire on the team to forget what happened two years ago. On the contrary, the memory of events of that autumn are readily discussed, the problems readily referenced because they serve as a learning experience for a team that is looking for its first Top Fuel season Wally.

There will be no looking ahead in 2016. There will be no holding back or detuning even though a Countdown berth is the most solid of bets – even this early.

“You got to go for the throat every week,” Oberhofer, who has been with Kalitta Motorsports for 29 years, said. “Our intentions are when we show up at a race track, we’re there to win. 2014, we had a great car, we had a great start to the season, we left the U.S. Nationals (the final event before the Countdown) first in points. And, we stumbled in the Countdown.”

Why? How?

Too much looking ahead.

“We prepared so much for the Countdown,” Oberhofer said. “We had chassis ready, we had clutch packs ready and all that and we really lost sight of what got us there. And that was that we had fun racing. We got into the Countdown and we tensed up a little bit. I made some poor decisions on the tuning side of things and it just wasn’t meant to be.

“But I learned so much about myself and I learned a tone about our team and our cars and our

Last time out, Doug Kalitta, front, edged teammate J.R. Todd in the finals at Atlanta.

Last time out, Doug Kalitta, front, edged teammate J.R. Todd in the finals at Atlanta.

equipment and I feel right now as a tuner, as a crew chief, I’m more comfortable than I have in my entire career.”

So, there will be no celebration if Kalitta were to win in Topeka on Sunday. The Wally will be added to the sizable pile of statuettes the team has built since drag racing icon Connie Kalitta founded the team.

And a win is possible, if history means anything. Doug has just one victory at Heartland Park (2006). His predecessor, cousin Scott Kalitta, owns six victories in Topeka – a number that is second only to 16-time Funny Car champion John Force’s nine.

Doug Kalitta said that if he were to get a third-straight victory Sunday, it might come with an assist from Scott.

Scott Kalitta was one of the best ever nitro drivers. He was an 18-time winner and won back-to-back Top Fuel championships in 1994 and ’95. But in 2008, Scott was killed in a wreck at in Englishtown, N.J.

Not a day goes by when he fails to inspire.

“Scott, he loved this sport,” Doug said. “Everything that he accomplished out here. Yes, he’s still part

Doug Kalitta bring big momentum into Kansas. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Harold Hinson)

Doug Kalitta bring big momentum into Kansas. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Harold Hinson)

of it. He’s out here supporting us.”

Oberhofer, who wrenched on Scott’s cars, rolled up his sleeve and showed a tattoo reading “319” – Scott’s car number.

“Scott’s with me every day,” Oberhofer said. “He was truly one of my first mentors who taught me how a nitro car worked. He was The Man. He’s always with us.”

Doug says, yes, one of the best parts of winning a nitro championship would be that it would help put him on the same page as Scott and Scott’s father, NHRA pioneer Connie “The Bounty Hunter” Kalitta.

Doug was asked about getting that championship this year. He was asked if his gut told him that 2016 was The Year. He was asked if he thought a party – complete with blues band, like the one the team threw after Doug Worsham won the Funny Car championship for Kalitta Motorsports last year – was in the offing.

Doug Kalitta, as scholarly looking as Scott was tough looking, only offered, “We’re where we need to be right now.”

Oberhofer nodded along, then said, “People are excited about winning two (races) in a row, that we’re leading the points. But, nothing matters until we leave the world finals (in Pomona, Calif. at the end of the season). If we’re leading the points after the world finals are done, then we might have a big party.”

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Friday, May 20 2016
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