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NHRA Passes Out The Hardware

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, November 15 2016
Connie Kalitta became the inaugural recipient of the NHRA's

Connie Kalitta became the inaugural recipient of the NHRA’s Lifetime Achievement Award.

Pro Stock Motorcycle rider Cory Reed was named winner of the Automobile Club of Southern California Road to the Future Award as the NHRA’s Rookie of the Year Monday during the 2016 Mello Yello Drag Racing Series awards ceremony.

Reed topped five other rookie candidates for the $20,000 prize during ceremonies honoring 2016 world champions Antron Brown (Top Fuel), Ron Capps (Funny Car), Jason Line (Pro Stock) and Jerry Savoie (Pro Stock Motorcycle) at the Ray Dolby Ballroom at Hollywood & Highland in Hollywood, Calif.

In addition, drag racing pioneer Conrad “Connie” Kalitta was named recipient of the inaugural NHRA Lifetime Achievement Award.

NHRA legends Don “The Snake” Prudhomme, Tom “The Mongoose” McEwen and rival team-owners John “Brute” Force and Don Schumacher all spoke about Kalitta’s far-reaching impact in the sport during a colorful, 50-year tenure.

Kalitta was escorted to the stage by Jim Oberhofer, vice-president of operations for Kalitta Motorsports,  nephew/Top Fuel driver Doug Kalitta and grandson Corey Kalitta, son of the late Scott Kalitta. The NHRA Top Fuel champion in 1994 and 1995, Scott Kalitta _ Connie’s son _ was killed in a crash on June 21, 2008 during the final round of qualifying for the Lucas Oil NHRA SuperNationals at Old Bridge Township Raceway Park in Englishtown, N.J.

Scott Kalitta recorded 17 Top Fuel wins and one in Funny Car. At the time of his death at age 46 he was one of 14 drivers to win in both NHRA nitro categories.

“I’m not usually at a loss for words,” Connie Kalitta said. “Thank you for this. I appreciate everything that each of you said in that piece. I am honored to receive such an award.”

Reed, a 25-year-old resident of Grand Junction, Colo., finished the season Sunday with five quarterfinal and two semifinal finishes aboard his Precision Service Equipment/Star Racing Buell fielded by George Bryce. The only rookie to qualify for the six-race Countdown to the Championship playoffs, Reed finished ninth in the point standings after a first-round loss to five-time world champion Andrew Hines in the 52nd annual Auto Club NHRA Finals at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona, Calif.

Reed raced to his first final-round appearance at the 32nd annual NHRA Keystone Nationals in Reading, Pa., by upsetting  2009 world champion Hector Arana Sr. and Hines before falling short of victory to three-time champ Eddie Krawiec.

Reed received the award based on votes from a panel of the nation’s top motorsports journalists. The other rookie candidates were Jim Campbell (Funny Car), Aaron Strong (Pro Stock), Melissa Surber (Pro Stock Motorcycle), Tripp Tatum (Top Fuel) and Brandon Welch (Funny Car).

Reed has announced plans to field his own PSM team in 2017 with three-time world champion Angelle Sampey as his manager.

The four newly crowned professional world champions were presented with checks and trophies for winning 2016 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series titles.

Brown celebrated his third Top Fuel world championship and second in a row for Don Schumacher Racing. Brown, a 40-year-old native of Chesterfield, N.J., secured his latest title during the penultimate race of the season in Las Vegas over Halloween weekend. The driver of the Matco Tools/U.S. Army dragster raced to a category-best seven victories, including three wins in the Countdown.

Brown, the only African-American driver to win a major U.S. auto racing season championship, is the first driver to win back-to-back Top Fuel titles in seven years.

Capps earned his first Funny Car world championship Saturday during the Auto Club NHRA Finals as the 50-year anniversary season of the class drew to a close. A 51-year-old resident of Carlsbad, Calif., Capps started his title quest with a win at the season-opening Winternationals in Pomona when he defeated 2015 world champion Del Worsham of Kalitta Motorsports.

Capps, driver of the NAPA Auto Parts Dodge Charger R/T fielded by DSR, and his team were a dominant force all season with five victories, five runnerup finishes and seven semifinal round appearances. Capps held the point lead for 17 events during the season, including the last 14 consecutive races.

Line became a three-time Pro Stock world champion at the Auto Club NHRA Finals on Sunday. The driver of the Summit Racing Equipment Chevrolet Camaro fielded by Ken Black Racing concluded the season with eight victories in addition to six runnerup finishes and seven semifinal appearances.

Line, a 47-year-old resident of Mooresville, N.C., was the No. 1 qualifier at seven events throughout the year. Line and teammate/four-time world champ Greg Anderson combined to win the first 13 events of the 2016 season and never conceded the point lead to another team. Line led the points for the final nine races and a total of 22 of 24 national events.

Savoie rode his White Alligator Racing Suzuki to his first Pro Stock Motorcycle world title Sunday at the expense of Screamin’ Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson teammates Krawiec and Hines. Savoie posted two victories this season and finished as runnerup four times, including two consecutive at Commerce, Ga., and Englishtown, N.J. A 57-year-old resident of Cut Off, La., Savoie qualified on-pole at the final three Countdown races.

For the first time in over four decades, and for only the second time in NHRA history, Dodge was named the NHRA Manufacturers Cup winner. Funny Car drivers Capps, Matt Hagan, Tommy Johnson Jr. and “Fast” Jack Beckman _ all of DSR _ Pro Stock racer Allen Johnson and Sportsman competitors James Caro and Kevin Helms led the winning effort for Dodge.

“It is a great honor for the Mopar and Dodge brands to receive NHRA’s coveted Manufacturers Cup,” said Pietro Gorlier, Head of Parts and Service (Mopar), FCA – Global. “This award is very meaningful for us, particularly since it has been a number of years since we’ve reached this goal. On behalf of Mopar and Dodge, I extend our gratitude to the drivers and teams that contributed to this monumental victory. Their dedication to Mopar power and the tremendous effort that they put forth, both in the race shop and on the racetrack, have made this possible.

“We also thank the loyal fans that support and cheer for these drivers and the NHRA for providing the arena for us to showcase the power and speed of the Mopar and Dodge brands at the drag strip.”

Few people have seen or accomplished more than Kalitta in the NHRA’s 65-year history. Kalitta has won as a driver, crew chief and team-owner, with championships in both Top Fuel and Funny Car. Known as “The Bounty Hunter” as a driver, Kalitta was the first racer to reach the 200 mph mark at an NHRA-sanctioned event. From 1980 to 1986 he finished in the top-10 in Top Fuel for seven consecutive seasons, including three times in the top-three.

Kalitta was inducted into the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America in 1992. Two years later, he won the prestigious U.S. Nationals. In 2001, during the NHRA’s 50th anniversary season, Connie was named one of NHRA’s Top 50 Drivers. Kalitta has built Kalitta Motorsports into one of the most successful organizations in NHRA history, featuring Top Fuel drivers Doug Kalitta and J.R. Todd and Funny Car drivers Worsham, Alexis DeJoria and Paul Lee.

Drivers in nine categories in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series also were recognized as 2016 world champions: Joey Severance (Top Alcohol Dragster), Jonnie Lindberg (Top Alcohol Funny Car), Doug Doll (Competition Eliminator), Jimmy DeFrank (Super Stock), Joey Strickland (Stock Eliminator, Top Dragster), Nick Folk (Super Comp), Mia Tedesco (Super Gas) and Mike Williams (Top Sportsman).

The 2016 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series awards ceremony will be available for viewing in its entirety to fans worldwide on the Internet on Wednesday, Nov. 16, at NHRA.com and the NHRA channel on YouTube.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, November 15 2016
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