Kalitta Eager To Begin Top Fuel Title Defense In Gainesville


Doug Kalitta begins his quest for a second NHRA Top Fuel championship this weekend at the Gatornationals. (Toyota Racing photo)

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – For the first time in his career, Top Fuel veteran Doug Kalitta will enter the NHRA Mission Foods Drag Racing Series season with a “1” on his 11,000-horsepower Mac Tools dragster.

That number signifies his breakthrough world championship from last year, a well-earned honor for the popular Kalitta, who has raced professionally with the NHRA for more than a quarter century.

Kalitta will now look to open his first title defense on a strong note during the 55th annual Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals, March 8-10 at legendary Gainesville (Fla.) Raceway.

The championship was a long time coming for the longtime standout, as Kalitta earned that first world title on the final pass of the season, a winner-take-all final round with Leah Pruett at the In-N-Out Burger NHRA Finals in Pomona.

Memories of that moment are still fresh in Kalitta’s mind, but it’s also kept his team plenty motivated heading into this weekend’s highly anticipated opener in Gainesville.

“We’re hoping to pick up where we left off (last season). That’s what I’m thinking,” Kalitta said. “Fortunately, with all the changes we made on both our dragsters, Alan (Johnson, crew chief) is definitely the right guy for the job in tuning these things so we’re fortunate to have him so we can keep our momentum going. The main thing is to have fun and take care of business.

“I’m super excited to get this thing going again, and all my guys are super excited,” Kalitta added. “Starting at the Gators in Florida is a fan favorite. It’s always good to race in Florida down in Don Garlits country – he’s pretty much the man for Florida drag racing.”

Last year, Mike Salinas (Top Fuel), Matt Hagan (Funny Car), Troy Coughlin Jr. (Pro Stock), and Gaige Herrera (Pro Stock Motorcycle) all won in Gainesville. This year’s race will be broadcast on FS1, including eliminations action on Sunday at 10:30 a.m. and 9 p.m.

Kalitta will also take part in the Pep Boys NHRA Top Fuel All-Star Callout on Saturday. Josh Hart is the defending winner of the specialty race that promises big money and bragging rights, while Kalitta enters the shootout as the No. 2 seed.

If top seed Steve Torrence doesn’t call out the reigning world champ, Kalitta will get his choice of opponent for the opening round in the eight-car field. The race, which gets a special broadcast at 7 p.m. ET on FS1 on Saturday, gives standouts in Top Fuel a unique opportunity for a double-win weekend.

That would be a perfect start to a championship defense, but Kalitta will have his hands full in the loaded Top Fuel category. Torrence, Mike Salinas, Brittany Force, Justin Ashley, Antron Brown, Shawn Langdon, and Hart are all part of the Callout, while other standouts include Tony Schumacher, Tony Stewart – making his NHRA Top Fuel debut in Gainesville – and Clay Millican.

Kalitta, though, will aim to pick up his fourth career victory at the Gatornationals, as well as a win in specialty race.

“It’s very cool Pep Boys has this race and hopefully we can keep on trucking and turn on some more win lights,” said Kalitta, who has 52 career Top Fuel wins. “It’s an interesting formant, for sure, and it should be a lot of fun. I’ve been out here 26 years and I’ve had a lot of people pulling for me, so it was nice to pull (the championship) off last year. The Gators is always a great place to race, and I’m focused on trying to win there.

“I appreciate all the support I’ve been receiving, but it’s definitely time to get back to racing.”

The selections take place at 10 a.m. in the Top Eliminator Club. The first round of the Pep Boys Top Fuel All-Star Callout takes place on Saturday at 1:20 p.m. ET and the semifinals at 2:45 p.m. The finals are slated for 4:25 p.m.

In Funny Car, Hagan is after his third straight Gators win against a star-studded field including Ron Capps, Bob Tasca III, J.R. Todd, John Force, Daniel Wilkerson, Cruz Pedregon, and Austin Prock.

Six-time Pro Stock world champ Erica Enders will try to win in Gainesville for the first time, facing off against Greg Anderson, Aaron Stanfield, Matt Hartford, and Dallas Glenn.

Meanwhile, in Pro Stock Motorcycle, Herrera is after a repeat win, and will have to knock off the likes of Matt Smith, Steve Johnson, Hector Arana Jr., and Angie Smith in order to do so.

Along with racing in the NHRA Mission Foods Drag Racing Series, fans will also be able to see action in the Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series, the Congruity NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series presented by LearnEV+, and the Flexjet Factory Stock Showdown.

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