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Kalitta Ready to Work at NHRA Mac Tools Gatornationals

27 February 1998

GAINESVILLE, Fla. - Heading to sunny Florida to escape winter is a dream for many Michigan residents. For rookie Top Fuel dragster driver Doug Kalitta, however, going to Florida means going to work. And next week's (March 6-8) NHRA Mac Tools Gatornationals means that Kalitta is heading to the Sunshine State to perform his second job.

As the nephew of air cargo entrepreneur and Top Fuel dragster veteran Conrad "Connie" Kalitta, it seems natural that Doug would find his livelihood in the aviation world and his adventure in the seat of a race car. A lifelong resident of Michigan, Kalitta resides in Ann Arbor. At least most of the time. He is also a part-time resident of Miami. As the vice president of Central and South American Operations for American International Airways, Kalitta divides his time between the company headquarters in Ypsilanti, Mich., and the company's operations at Miami International Airport.

Also a pilot for the company, Kalitta, 33, received his Learjet-type pilot rating in 1985 at the age of 21, making him one of the youngest persons to achieve that goal.

His rating for the DC-8 aircraft came in 1990. His passion for racing, though, came at a much earlier age.

Kalitta was all of 9 years old when he followed his father, Doug Sr., into motorcycle racing. After several years on two wheels he did some go-cart racing and took a break for a while. When he returned to racing it was at the wheel of the Kalitta Flying Service midget entry in 1990. His efforts earned him two victories and ARCA/WWAR Midget Rookie of the Year honors. A year later he was also driving the company sponsored sprint car in which he finished third in points and earned the USAC National Midget Rookie of the Year award. In 1994 Kalitta won the USAC National Sprint Car Championship. The same year, his cousin, Scott Kalitta, won the first of his two Winston Top Fuel Championships.

Doug's life took a long awaited turn last October when Scott announced his retirement and Connie made the decision to sit out to tend to business. Doug's desire to drive the dragster started when he served as a crew member for Connie from 1982-1989. With the driving job finally his, Kalitta attended Frank Hawley's Drag Racing School last December and received his Top Fuel license in January. Kalitta has qualified his American International Airways/Kitty Hawk entry fifth in the first two races of the season. He suffered a first-round loss in the season-opening Chief Auto Parts Winternationals and fell in the second round of the recently completed ATSCO Nationals in Phoenix. Kalitta's first win in competition came at the expense of former Winston Champion Eddie Hill. Hill was one of the drivers that signed off on Kalitta's competition license. Kalitta is currently ninth in the Winston points chase.

The Kalitta Motorsports team has a good record at this event. Team owner Connie was runner-up here in 1983. In 1994 Connie won the event defeating son Scott in the final round for the first-ever father-and-son Top Fuel final round in NHRA history. The 1996 event was a good news-bad news race. Off the line in the final round Scott went into an irreversible wheelstand and the car flipped over backwards. Scott was uninjured as the late Blaine Johnson went on for the win. The best record for the team, though, comes from crew chief Ed "the Ace" McCulloch. McCulloch was the Funny Car winner here in 1972, 1986, 1989 and 1990. He was the Top Fuel runner-up in 1993.

Though Scott, 36, has announced his retirement from the sport, the same is not true for Connie. The 60-year-old Ypsilanti, Mich., resident is using his time away from the track to concentrate on business and plans to return at a later date. Last November Connie's American International Airways merged with Dallas-based air cargo carrier Kitty Hawk to become one of the leading U.S. and international airfreight carriers. With Kitty Hawk's four companies and AIA's seven companies, the merger makes the new company, Kitty Hawk, Inc., the seventh largest cargo airline in the world.

Doug will be looking to add his name to the team credits when he gets his first shot at qualifying for the 29th annual Mac Tool Gatornationals on Friday, March 6. Professional qualifying sessions will be at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. on both Friday and Saturday. Final eliminations will take place at 11 a.m. Sunday, March 8.

The Nashville Network (TNN) will televise 90 minutes of highlights and final- round competition at 5 p.m. (ET) on Sunday and will also have a one hour show of first-round coverage during "NHRA Today" at noon (ET) Sunday.