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NHRA: Team Kalitta Ready to Close NHRA Season With a Win at Winston Finals

6 November 1998

POMONA, Calif. -- As the NHRA Winston Drag Racing season comes to a close with the running of the Winston Finals (November 12-15) so does one of the most exciting years in the life of Top Fuel dragster rookie Doug Kalitta. For eight years the 34-year-old Ann Arbor, Mich., resident competed in midget and sprint cars where races can last as long as 15 minutes and the cars reach speeds of 120 mph. Last January he entered the world of Top Fuel drag racing where races are over in less than five seconds and the cars reach speeds of 320 mph.

As the driver of the American International Airways/Kitty Hawk entry Kalitta has qualified for all but one event, won one race and been runner-up at another. He has maintained a spot in the Winston Top Ten for all but three races (he is currently seventh) and has recorded career-best times of 4.561 seconds and 319.14 mph. While a calendar says it took almost ten months to achieve these marks, the timers on the track say it took less than 15 minutes.

It is, however, the 15 minutes for which Kalitta has waited a very long time. A motorcycle racer at the age of 9, Kalitta spent most of the 1980s as a crewman on the Top Fuel entries of his uncle, Connie Kalitta. That was when he knew that he wanted to drive a dragster one day. Until that day arrived Doug went in circles. He began driving the Kalitta Flying Service midget entry in 1990 and scored two wins and the ARCA/WWAR Midget Rookie of the Year award. The following year he did double-duty in the USAC series in a midget and a sprint car. He finished third in sprint car points and earned the USAC Midget Rookie of the Year award. In 1994 he won the USAC National Sprint Car Championship and in 1995 he finished second in the series. In addition to the championship he earned 14 midget victories and seven sprint car titles before stepping out of the cars at the end of the 1997 season.

Joining Doug in his quest for a Winston Finals title will be Connie who returned to the series in August after a 16-month hiatus. Though he has never won this event, Connie knows this racetrack. Pomona Raceway was the site of his first-ever NHRA final round (runner-up at the 1963 Winternationals), he recorded his first NHRA win here in the 1967 Winternationals and he broke the 290-mph barrier here during the 1989 Winternationals.

Connie, 60, of Ypsilanti, Mich., would like to have a little of that luck here for this event. His best showing during Winston Finals competition was in 1994 when he qualified seventh and went to the semifinals where he lost to eventual winner Kenny Bernstein. His best outing since his return to the sport was at the Parts America Nationals where he was the number four qualifier with a career-best elapsed time of 4.631 seconds before falling to Jim Head in round two. Connie plans to make the full season in 1999 in his Kitty Hawk entry.

While Doug and Connie will both be looking for their first Winston Finals win, Doug will also be looking to score a victory in his first Big Bud Shootout at Pomona, a bonus race for the eight drivers accumulating the most points during qualifying at the previous 21 events. The race, to be held Saturday, November 14, pays $100,000 to the winner and NHRA will give a $50,000 bonus to the driver who wins both the Shootout and the Winston Finals. Doug qualified seventh for the Shootout and will face number two qualifier Joe Amato in round one. Though not qualified for this year's event, Connie has competed in four previous Shootouts.

Former Funny Car and Top Fuel driver Ed "the Ace" McCulloch who serves as Doug's crew chief and an advisor to Connie's team scored his first NHRA final round appearance at this event. McCulloch of Hemet, Calif., was the Funny Car runner-up here in 1970, 1976, 1987 and 1991. He scored his lone win at this event in 1990 in Funny Car. McCulloch competed in the 1992 and 1993 Shootouts.

Connie's son, Scott Kalitta, who retired from the sport at the end of last season, was the Winston Finals Top Fuel runner-up in 1996. The Winston Top Fuel Champion in 1994 and 1995, Scott also competed in five Big Bud Shootouts, winning in 1996 and finishing runner-up in 1995.

Professional qualifying for the 34th annual Winston Finals will begin with one session at 2 p.m. on Thursday, November 12. Qualifying will continue with a 2 p.m. session on Friday and sessions scheduled for 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. on Saturday. Big Bud Shootout rounds will be run Saturday at noon, 1:45 p.m. and 4:45 p.m. Final eliminations will begin at 10:30 a.m. Sunday, November 15.

The Nashville Network (TNN) will televise two hours of pre-race and first round coverage at 2 p.m. (EST) on Sunday, November 15. TNN will also air final round coverage on Sunday at 8 p.m. (EST). The Big Bud Shootout can be seen on TNN on Saturday, November 14 at 7 p.m. (EST).