KALITTA, OBERHOFER TAKE FIRST STEP TOWARD ANOTHER TOP FUEL TITLE RUN
A number of factors played into Jim Oberhofer’s decision to give up a prestigious Vice-President title at Kalitta Motorsports.
Not the least of them is this yearning to give Doug Kalitta the NHRA Top Fuel championship he has come so close to seizing. He has 44 Wally trophies. He has raced in 92 final rounds. His victories total is fifth-best in class history. He earned the 1994 USAC Sprint Car championship. He has a lovely family in Ann Arbor, Mich., and a charter airlines business that keeps him busy nearly nonstop.
But four times he has slogged through a season, winning races and qualifying No. 1, and establishing a reputation that made Funny Car veteran Ron Capps declare that Kalitta is “pound for pound, the best race-car driver we have in the NHRA pit area, overall race-car driver.”
The bottom line is he doesn’t have a Top Fuel championship. Four times he has come close. Four times he has had to accept the runner-up label.
While Kalitta hasn’t complained, Oberhofer wants to tidy up unfinished business.
Together they took a satisfying first step Sunday at the Lucas Oil NHRA Winternationals, as Kalitta defeated Tony Schumacher.
With a winning 3.779-second elapsed time at 324.28 mph on the Auto Club Raceway’s 1,000-foot course in his Mac Tools Dragster, Kalitta denied Schumacher his first victory since last March and denied Don Schumacher Racing (DSR) a double-nitro triumph.
DSR’s Matt Hagan edged Robert Hight to claim the Funny Car trophy, and Pro Stock’s Bo Butner outdueled his KB/Summit Racing teammate Jason Line to join them in the winners circle.
The engine on Schumacher’s Tony Schumacher blew up on that final lap, and he finished with a 4.715-second elapsed time at 145.93 mph.
After winning the Winternationals for the second time, Kalitta said, “I still have to hop in my plane and fly home tonight. But it was a great victory for us.
“Today was one of those lucky days,” Kalitta – who detonated an engine in the first round and outlasted Clay Millican, who clocked the quickest pass in NHRA history Saturday night at 3.628 seconds – said. “Tony smoked the tires or whatever, and I was very pleased to see that. He’s a tough competitor.”
“To get the first win of the season and get that monkey off your back is huge. It was kind of a lucky day. Our Mac Tools/Toyota Dragster coasted across the finish line twice, but we were still getting the win light. It was one of those crazy days, and we went through a lot of parts, but we got it done. We don’t care how we win. As soon as the win light comes on, we’re moving on to the next round.”
He marveled at the carnage his team alone caused – and that’s in a day that saw three engine explosions and a serious accident that landed reigning class champion Brittany Force in the hospital overnight in the first round alone.
“We blew that thing up first round. It’s just incredible the amount of damage you can tear up in one day. Unfortunately, today was one of them for us,” Kalitta said. “It’s a good thing we’ve got a weekend off. I’m sure my guys will need that. We’re going to have to replace some of these parts. But Connie [his uncle and team owner, Connie Kalitta] has given us the resources. Thank God for Mac Tools and Toyota and all of our great sponsors.
"My guys have a lot of work to do to prepare for Phoenix. We blew up a lot of stuff today. They’ll be working right up until Phoenix to get everything fresh again,” he said. “But we’ll be ready. We’ll go there and see if we can qualify up front and try to get another win.
"I can’t give enough credit to the entire team. Not only my guys, but the Kalitta Air guys all pitched in and we needed them. It was a thrash to make to at least three of the four rounds. It was just a great team effort. We have the team and the people to get it done," Kalitta, who also won here in 2009, said.
The Mello Yello Drag Racing Series action shifts in two weeks to Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park near Phoenix for the Arizona Nationals.
As for Oberhofer’s move, Kalitta said, “That’s just his commitment to our team. He loves everything about all of our teams. It was the right thing to do. Tuning these cars is nothing to take lightly. A lot of guys have two or three guys trying to tune these things. It’s just nice to relieve him of some of the other stuff. We’ve got people who can take care of all the of the personnel stuff and the hospitality and all that goes into making sure everything’s right. Jim works so hard at trying to make everything right. It’s probably a relief just to concentrate on one thing. He’s put everybody in place, and we have the people who can do what needs to be done. He’s done a great job of it.
“I’m really proud of him and everything he’s done for all of our teams,” he said. “It’ll be a fun year. It should be an interesting year, for sure.”
Already he has recorded his 92nd career final round. And Sunday’s final-round appearance was his fourth in the past five events here, where the NHRA season begins and ends at this historic venue that’s referred to as “the cradle of drag racing.” Moreover, it was his third straight Winternationals final and his fourth final in the past five races.
"We love coming here to Pomona. It just has so much and growing up around Connie, this was a big deal. It’s just a great place to run,” Kalitta said. “With Connie and his legacy out here, it’s cool to get a win. You just think back in the ‘60s when those guys were running here – that’s the kind of history this place reminds me of every time I come. It’s a special place. I like coming here. The fans are great.”
Schumacher reached the final past Terry McMillen, Terry Haddock, and Antron Brown.
“That was a lot of fun – the whole day. It was a fun deal in every way, except for what happened at the end,” Schumacher said.
“The U.S. Army car is an awesome car. We should’ve won that but we broke a part. Generally speaking, we broke the whole rear end there. Fortunately, that stuff doesn’t happen very often, because we have the best-made parts in the business. That’s just an unfortunate one because we had a good car and they weren’t going to beat us – nobody was, not today. Still, we go on to Phoenix with absolute confidence in a great race car and a bunch of smiling U.S. Army boys.”
But Kalitta was smiling even more Sunday.