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NHRA: Connie Kalitta Ready to Get Back in the Racing Busines

13 August 1998

BRAINERD, Minn. - A lot has happened in Connie Kalitta's life since he stepped out of the cockpit of his Top Fuel dragster 16 months ago. Ten months ago the colorful veteran sold the aviation empire he started over 30 years ago with the help of money he won drag racing. Five months ago he stepped down as president of the company. Today, he's ready to get back to the business of winning races.

With more than 30 years experience behind the wheel of a race car Kalitta has had several breaks in service over the years. While some have been longer than this latest hiatus, he has never announced, or considered, retirement from the sport. Like the Terminator he has always said, "I'll be back." So it is that the 60-year-old Ypsilanti, Mich., resident will suit up again at the NHRA VisionAire NorthStar Nationals next week (August 20-23) at Brainerd International Raceway.

A 22-time NHRA National event finalist, Kalitta will be driving the same car he drove last year and will also serve as crew chief on the Kalitta Motorsports entry. Kalitta is ready to pick up where he left off at the 1997 Fram Nationals in Atlanta. Of the five events he competed in last year, Kalitta went to the semifinals once, the second round three times and lost in round one once. He had also claimed one number one qualifying spot and was fifth in Winston points.

Kalitta announced he would take a break from driving just months before his worldwide air cargo company, American International Airways, completed the final steps in merging with Dallas-based cargo carrier Kitty Hawk. Kalitta decided to devote his time to the company and the transition it was about to undergo. The merger made the new company, Kitty Hawk, Inc., the seventh largest cargo airline in the world. This past April, Kalitta, the vice chairman of Kitty Hawk, Inc., resigned from active management as the president of AIA.

While no longer tending to the day-to-day operations of the company, Kalitta remains on the Kitty Hawk board of directors and is a major shareholder in the publicly traded company . Never one to just sit around, the 1994 U.S. Nationals winner is now the proprietor of Kalitta Leasing, an Ann Arbor, Mich.-based company specializing in buying, selling and leasing aircraft.

"I'm trying to become a lot more focused on what I want to do rather than what the company wants me to do," said Kalitta of the resignation and his new business venture.

Kalitta first began competing in the NorthStar Nationals at the inaugural event in 1982 and has missed four events due to business obligations. Of the 12 drivers he competed against at this event over the years, only three remain active today. And there's one driver he has never raced against, but may get a chance to here. It is his nephew, and teammate, Doug Kalitta, in his rookie season as the driver of the American International Airways/Kitty Hawk Top Fuel entry.

"I always enjoyed racing against Scott [Kalitta, his son who retired at the end of last season after winning two Winston Top Fuel Championships] and I look forward to pulling up against Doug. He's done extremely well this season and he's proven to be a tough competitor," said Connie who won the NorthStar Nationals in 1985 after qualifying number one and setting low elapsed time and top speed of the meet.

The first person to break the 290 mile-per-hour barrier in 1989, Kalitta made his first final round appearance at the 1963 NHRA Winternationals where he was the runner-up. In 1967 he scored his first win at the same event. His accomplishments in the sport were recognized in 1992 when he was inducted into the Motorsports Hall of Fame of American in Novi, Mich.

Professional qualifying for the 17th annual VisionAire NorthStar Nationals will begin on Friday, August 21 with sessions at 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. Qualifying will conclude on Saturday with sessions scheduled for 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. Final eliminations will begin on Sunday, August 23 at 11 a.m. ESPN2 coverage of the event includes live first round action beginning Sunday at 11:30 a.m. (EDT) and final round coverage beginning at 8 p.m. (EDT).