DOUG KALITTA FINALLY MAKES A GOOD MEMORY ON 11/12
Up until 2023, November 12 could be considered a day Doug Kalitta would just as soon be a leap year date. Two occurrences on this day left the soft-spoken, fan-favorite drag racer with nothing but bad memories.
One was tragic, and the other, while heartbreaking, couldn't be considered a tragedy when compared to the other.
November 12, 2022, during the Wings over Dallas airshow, a mid-air collision involving two World War II-era planes claimed the lives of six. Kalitta's brother-in-law, Craig Hutain, was one of those fatally injured.
Though it was a different kind of tragedy, The Run happened on November 12, 2006. It's the infamous story where Tony Schumacher made the run that knocked Kalitta out of a championship, considered a cinch earlier in the day.
Then came November 12, 2023, and a good memory.
With little to inspire positive memories headed into that Sunday, Kalitta understood that he couldn't endure one more bad memory on 11-12. He'd tried to forget those memories, but reminders always found their way to him.
"It was almost like the good Lord was looking out for me and him, and maybe it was just something [we needed]," Kalitta admitted. "It was crazy, a year ago to that day, about what happened. Like I said, we had a lot of people pulling for us, and we felt real good about getting it done."
Sure, records indicate Kalitta had won the NHRA Finals twice, since 2009, once in 2016 and again in 2019, but neither fell on 11-12.
This time, it had to happen.
"I'm glad I don't really have the endure [the questions about coming up short]," Kalitta admitted. "I'm like, 'Man, if I wouldn't have won that thing, that would've been crushing."
One might think after getting the monkey off his back, Kalitta might bolt for retirement like former NFL quarterback John Elway after he won the big game.
It's a fair question since Kalitta has weathered some barren seasons as of late. Kalitta had undoubtedly paid his dues in 26 seasons, with over 50 national event victories and six championship runner-ups.
"I've always said, as long as you're running up front and obviously enjoying what we're doing here, that makes it certainly worthwhile," Kalitta said. "I definitely have a lot going on with my work and business during the week, trying to stay current in all these different airplanes that I fly. It would be definitely a change to have that much time off on the weekends. I don't know, my wife. It'd probably last about a month or two, and she'd be ready for me to get back to doing something."
Kalitta, who unofficially earned the title of People's Champion, could hardly retire, considering the support of legions of fans who cherish his first title and clamor for a second.
When Kalitta took the stage for introduction as the new champion, a hearty roar came from the fans surrounding the stage, so much so that announcer Alan Reinhart paused in his introduction.
"We had just everybody pulling for us except for Leah, of course, and her team," Kalitta said. "I just feel very fortunate, and it's such a relief really to finally be able to hopefully not hear that last run story."
However, as passionate as those fans were, they all rank a distant second to the man who put him behind the wheel - Connie Kalitta.
"He has been one of my biggest supporters for my racing ever since I started working for him really early," Kalitta said. "Even back when I grew up, I was racing these flat track motorcycles and busted my leg. He finds out about it back in the day, and he had a girlfriend that was a nurse, so he got us together, and next thing you know [they're working on me]. So he's had my back even back in the day, making sure that I was okay.
"And even with the sprint car and the midget stuff, he would show up. He wouldn't even tell us he was coming. He would just show up at the track and support us there. But when I started driving or working for Connie back in the day, between Scott's car and Connie's car, there was way too much going on to have a third car. It was just total chaos. So we've raced together for a lot of years, even when he was driving, and I was there when he won the Indy race, which was just super cool. We've had a lot of great moments over the years, and I see him every day at work, and he was pretty proud of me and all my guys."
The one thing Connie probably wasn't happy about, and Kalitta admits with much chagrin, is the championship trophy scenario. Apparently, someone should have remembered to grab the championship trophy before they left California. It didn't go home with him to Michigan.
"I lifted that thing, I'm like, 'That thing is heavy," Kalitta admitted. "So I just assumed at the banquet, that somebody would just deal with it, carrying that thing around or do something with it, bring a wheelbarrow."
Heavy is one way to describe the trophy, but heavy seems inadequate to describe the weight lifted from Kalitta's shoulders.
"I've spent a lot of time out here racing, and my cousin had two championships," Kalitta said. "It is a big relief for me; it's just one of those things that's so high up on your things-to-do list that you just want to accomplish it. And then obviously with Alan Johnson, knowing that you got the guy that's helped so many people win championships in your corner.
"I think I'll go into 2024 with a little more confidence. And we'll see what the new year brings. I know we got a lot of different things we're doing. Next year, [wins] are not going to come any easier, so we'll work our tails off over the offseason on really everything that we're doing."
But the biggest issue the team could have faced is no longer an issue.
The 2024 NHRA World Finals kicks off on November 14, two days after the date Kalitta finally mastered.