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NHRA: Kalitta Wants to Score One for the Family in Richmond

23 April 1998

RICHMOND, Va. -- Doug Kalitta would like to do something at Virginia Motorsports Park that no one else in the family has ever done -- win this weekend's (April 24-26) NHRA Pennzoil Nationals.

Kalitta, one of the newest Top Fuel dragster drivers on the tour, earned the job driving the American International Airways/Kitty Hawk entry by being patient. Kalitta has wanted to drive a dragster since serving as a crewman for his uncle, Top Fuel veteran Connie Kalitta, during most of the 1980s. When Connie made the decision to sit out this season and Doug's cousin, two- time Winston Top Fuel Champion Scott Kalitta, retired at the end of last season, Doug was waiting in the wings with his helmet in hand.

The 33-year-old Ann Arbor, Mich., resident has been wearing a racing helmet for most of his life. He followed his father, Doug Sr., into motorcycle racing at the tender age of 9. After several years on two wheels he switched to go-carts for a time. After a break of several years Kalitta started going in circles in 1990 at the wheel of the Kalitta Flying Service midget entry. By the end of the season he had won two events and been named the ARCA/WWAR Midget Rookie of the Year. The following year he competed in the USAC midget series and again won Rookie of the Year honors while finishing third in points. A fourth place finish in the 1993 USAC Sprint Car series was followed up by Kalitta winning the USAC National Sprint Car Series Championship in 1994. He finished second in 1995 and 1996, and drove a limited schedule in 1997. Not retired from either series, Kalitta has seven sprint car victories and 14 midget wins to his credit.

Knowing it takes more than desire alone to be a good race car driver, Kalitta wanted to do it right from the start. Last December he learned the basics and graduated from Frank Hawley's Drag Racing School with flying colors and received his license in an alcohol-powered dragster. Just two weeks before the NHRA season opener, after four days of test runs, Doug received his Top Fuel license. Kalitta's crew chief, former Funny Car and Top Fuel champion Ed McCulloch, and Top Fuel veteran Eddie Hill made it official by signing Doug's competition license. Ironically, Hill was the person Kalitta scored his first round win against.

Up until the just completed Fram Nationals, Kalitta had qualified for all four events on the schedule. He experienced his first DNQ in Atlanta and fell to 13th in Winston points. Aside from Connie's win there in 1994, Atlanta Dragway has not been kind to Team Kalitta. Scott suffered his first DNQ in six years when he failed to qualify for last year's show. He was also the number one qualifier in 1993, 1994 and 1996, and fell in round one all three years.

Like his uncle and his cousin, Doug has found his livelihood in the world of aviation. When not at a racetrack, Doug serves as the vice president of Central and South American operations at American International Airways (a division of Kitty Hawk, Inc.) in Ypsilanti, Mich. Also a commercial pilot rated for Learjet, Hawker and DC-8 aircraft, Doug was one of the youngest persons to receive a Learjet rating when he received his in 1985 at the age of 21.

Should Doug score his first National event win at this race it would be a first here for Kalitta Motorsports. Scott came close to being the first Kalitta to win this event in 1996, but finished runner-up to Shelly Anderson in the final round. En route to the final Scott defeated Connie in round two.

Professional qualifying for the 4th annual Pennzoil Nationals presented by Trak Auto will begin on Friday, April 24 with sessions at 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. Qualifying will conclude on Saturday, April 25 with sessions at noon and 4 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled to begin at 11 a.m. Sunday, April 26. ESPN2 will carry qualifying highlights on Saturday from 11 p.m. to 1 a.m. Live final round coverage can be seen on ESPN2 Sunday from 4-6 p.m.

Following the Pennzoil Nationals the team will head to the Texas Motorplex in Ennis, Texas for the Castrol Lone Star Nationals, May 1-3, the last leg of the three-race southern swing.