LAS VEGAS – official series release — NHRA photo —
A strong early-season start has Top Fuel standout Doug Kalitta third in the points standings.
While that gives Kalitta and his team confidence and momentum early in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season, he knows it can be a fleeting thing in the loaded Top Fuel class.
Things change quickly in the land of 330-mph dragsters, as evidenced by two first-time Top Fuel winners at the most recent events. But Kalitta has no plans of slowing down in his 10,000-horsepower Mac Tools dragster as the NHRA powers back to Las Vegas this weekend for the 17th annual DENSO Spark Plugs NHRA Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Kalitta has 38 career wins in Top Fuel, tied for fifth all-time, and has his sights sets on his first of the year in Vegas.
“There is always competition,” said Kalitta, who won the fall race at Las Vegas last year. “Everyone is not resting on what works right now. Kalitta Motorsports and every other team out there is striving and testing minor changes to see if we can gain anything. Again, this class is so tight, even a gain of a hundredth of a second can mean the difference in winning and losing a round.”
Leah Pritchett and points leader Brittany Force picked up their first career wins at the two most recent races, while Steve Torrence won the opener in Pomona. Kalitta, meanwhile, has been his usual steady self for the most part. The Top Fuel veteran lost in the first round at Gainesville, but had a solid start with a final round appearance in Pomona.
He’s also qualified well, posting the top spot in Phoenix and running as quick as a 3.716 seconds in the early portion of the season. That has Kalitta, who won three races and finished fifth a year ago, happy about the start and hopeful about what is still to come.
“The Mac Tools team is pleased with the start of the season,” said Kalitta, who is after his first Top Fuel world championship. “You always want to start strong, and that is what we have done. In the off-season, Toyota and Toyota Racing Development (TRD) expanded their partnership with Kalitta Motorsports to include (teammate) J.R. (Todd’s) SealMaster dragster and my Mac Tools machine. Their data has been very helpful and next up, we want to win.”
Kalitta has the background and team to do that, as the Kalitta Motorsports team continues to be one of the most successful in the NHRA. The camaraderie of the group stretches across the entire four-car operation that includes Kalitta and Todd in Top Fuel, and defending world champion Del Worsham and Alexis DeJoria in Funny Car.
It also means very little turnover among their respective teams and Kalitta said that cohesiveness pays off time and time again.
“It allows you to focus on the little things,” Kalitta said. “(Crew chief) Jim Oberhofer, Troy Fasching and the Mac Tools team can just fine tune my ride and not have to swing for the fences. The class is just so tight. As we saw in Gainesville, every team out here is capable of race wins. We have to just keep doing what we are doing and the Mac Tools team will get their chance to celebrate.”
There is a significant amount of talent that will try to keep that celebration from happening in Vegas. In addition to the three most recent winners, Kalitta must deal with the likes of defending world champion Antron Brown, who is tied with Kalitta for career Top Fuel victories, eight-time world champ Tony Schumacher, who has eight career victories at the facility, Shawn Langdon, Richie Crampton, Dave Connolly, Terry McMillen and Clay Millican.
But racing at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway has often brought out the best in the Kalitta Motorsports team and Kalitta’s two wins at the facility attest to that.
“The facility is beautiful and very well run,” Kalitta said. “Kalitta Motorsports has had a lot of race wins there recently in both Top Fuel and Funny Car classes and we definitely are planning on continuing that success this weekend.”
CREDIT: NHRA Communications