KALITTA EARNS BACK-TO-BACK WINS WITH STATEMENT VICTORY OVER RECORD-SETTING SALINAS IN CHARLOTTE
It took Doug Kalitta more than three years to finally earn his 50th career victory when he crossed the finish line first last Monday at Maple Grove Raceway.
It took him just six days to earn career win No. 51.
Kalitta earned back-to-back wins to kickoff the 2023 Countdown to the Championship with a statement victory Sunday. In doing so, he topped the weekend’s most talked-about driver, Mike Salinas. The win was Kalitta’s second of the season and, most importantly, propelled him into first place in the Top Fuel standings at the betway NHRA Carolina Nationals at zMAX Dragway.
“That thing was going down the track with (3.)74s throughout the day and then, obviously, we had to tune it up for the final with Mike,” Kalitta said. “And he was right there. It was a really close race. It was good to beat ‘Mr. 300’ because he knocked us off the No. 1 spot yesterday. It was a good day for all of my guys.”
The titanic final-round matchup was set up by a back-and-forth battle between Kalitta and Salinas. Kalitta fired the first shot of the weekend Friday night with the provisional pole, but was quickly overshadowed by Salinas’ record-breaking lap Saturday that saw him take the top qualifying spot while becoming the first driver to run 300 mph to the 1/8th-mile.
Seemingly destined to meet on race day, they put on a show in the final with Kalitta chasing down his opponent, passing him at the midway point of the run and staying in it to the finish line. It was another statement lap for the savvy veteran as Kalitta uncorked a 3.696-second pass at 333.49 mph in his Mac Tools dragster to earn his 51st career victory and his second at zMAX Dragway.
Salinas followed Kalitta across the stripe in his Valley Services dragster with a 3.718 at 328.46 mph on the 1,000-foot distance course to earn the runner-up finish.
It was a tremendous showing for the entire Kalitta Motorsports-backed team as crew chiefs Alan Johnson and Brian Husen stayed ahead of the warm conditions to produce a string of race-winning laps and allow Kalitta to earn back-to-back wins for the first time since 2016.
“Today the sun was out, but a lot of what we have been doing has been in the cloud cover and low temperatures, so it was nice,” Kalitta said. “With Alan and Brian and all of these guys, they are the ones used to winning championships. I am glad I am along for the ride with whatever we end up with. It is a great start for us and I have a ton of support from everybody that has been following us over the years. Connie (Kalitta) has given us everything we need to run this thing. I am super proud of what he brings to enable all three of our cars out here. He is definitely our fearless leader.”
Sunday’s win was also Kalitta’s second straight after switching to a backup car midway through last weekend’s Pep Boys NHRA Nationals. During the final round of qualifying one week ago at Maple Grove Raceway, Kalitta’s right-rear tire unexpectedly exploded during his qualifying pass and damaged his Mac Tools Toyota. Following the incident, the team switched from their regular canopy-covered machine to an open-air backup that hasn’t lost a round since being deployed.
“We are going to swing by the shop and pick (the canopy car) up on the way to St. Louis, but I doubt we are going to run it,” Kalitta said. “It has definitely brought some life to our program since we started running that thing, but it really is all about Alan and Brian and the whole team and what they are doing right now. It is just a matter of getting consistent and everybody getting comfortable and hoping you can keep going rounds. But it has been a good backup, it has been doing us proud.”
Kalitta reached the 111th final round of his illustrious career via a gauntlet of tough competitors on race day, none more so than first-round opponent Steve Torrence. With Torrence struggling in qualifying, the two championship contenders unexpectedly matched up in Round One. Torrence got away first and led nearly the entire way, but Kalitta chased him down and nipped him by less than a foot at the line to advance on the ladder. Kalitta ran a 3.718 at 333.16 mph to drive around Torrence’s 3.725, 332.34.
Kalitta added a win over a tire-smoking Shawn Langdon in Round Two and led wire-to-wire over Leah Pruett in the semifinals with passes of 3.741 and 3.745, respectively.
Salinas reached his second final round of the season with wins over Mike Bucher and Austin Prock, plus a second-round bye.
“Everybody is driving the wheels off these things and everybody has a bunch of good running cars as you can tell from the qualifying ladder,” Kalitta said. “It is tough. You have to take advantage of the opportunities when you get them and that is what we are going to continue to try to do.”
Thanks to two straight wins, Kalitta opened up a 63-point lead over Torrence and holds a 68-point margin over the season’s most successful driver, Justin Ashley.
The series now heads west to World Wide Technology Raceway east of St. Louis for the third of six races in the Countdown to the Championship. Kalitta continues to seek a first championship in the class to go with his 1994 USAC sprint car crown.
“It is good to keep running when you are on a roll,” Kalitta said. “I am looking forward to St. Louis. We have had some luck there, but I’m sure everybody will be hungry and we will have to work our tails off there too. With Alan Johnson tuning the thing and Brian, it is a hell of a combination right now. I am hoping we all settle in and just keep doing what we are doing, keep our heads down and keep going rounds.”