On a Sunday evening when the Academy Awards ceremony played out down the freeway at Los Angeles, one of the best original scripts played out at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona, as Top Fuel’s Doug Kalitta took honors for Best Male Performer in a Dramatic Role.
He blasted to a historic third consecutive victory at the Lucas Oil NHRA Winternationals with a 3.698-second elapsed time at 330.23 mph. He won both the Winternationals and Finals here last year en route to a fourth No. 2 finish in the final standings.
“This has been a great day. It was definitely an interesting day. There was a lot of close racing today. You’ve got people up their trying to tear the tree down on you, so it makes you a little bit nervous. It worked out really well for us. I’m just so proud of my Mac Tools Toyota guys. They busted their tails today. We tore up a few parts, but it was all good.
“I was kind of all over the place with driving that thing this weekend,” he said of his Mac Tools Toyota Dragster. “Finally gathered it up a little bit today. It was a fun day. I was behind the game today, but we pulled it off. It’s going to be a tough season. It’s going to be a lot of fun. Can’t wait to try for the championship. That’s what it’s all about.
“The 60th here is pretty special. We had Connie on my side [behind the car as it rolled to the starting line] and Don Prudhomme on the other side [supporting protégé Prock]. What a great day,” Kalitta said. “My guys busted their tails on this thing. I couldn’t be more proud of the effort everybody put in at the shop to work on this thing all winter long.
“It’s hard to believe. I love this place and it will probably sink in tomorrow,” he said. “Anytime you can win here it’s just extra special. It’s great to start and end here.”
He said he wishes he could explain why he’s so successful at his Southern California racetrack that’s thousands of miles from his home near Ann Arbor, Mich.: “I wish I could pinpoint that. I just have a lot of great people behind me. On race day, we have all the Toyota and TRD support staff out here helping us with whatever track conditions we’re looking at. They give us a lot of great feedback. Really, our success comes from the entire team. I wish I could take credit for it. It’s a place with a lot of history, and it’s very special to me.”
Kalitta’s 48th victory came in his fifth straight final-round appearance and ninth overall at this storied venue and extended his elimination-round streak here to 12.
The plot for this 60th edition of the Winternationals wove Kalitta’s journey to becoming the only driver ever to win this season-opener three straight times with uncle and team owner Connie Kalitta’s 60 years of racing on this same track and shaping the sport of drag racing.
“I started working for him right when I got out of high school, so it’s been quite a while,” the winner said. “He’s provided me with a lot of great opportunities. I loved everything he was doing, and he was happy to have someone who wanted to learn about airplanes and race cars. I don’t come out on the weekend and try to tune anything and Connie’s still in there tuning. That’s what he enjoys doing. It keeps his passion going – and Shawn Langdon’s car [for which Connie Kalitta is crew chief] has been running good. It’s going to be a car that’s tough to beat. I’m just real proud that Connie’s still out here doing what he’s doing.
“To win the 60th Winternationals is pretty special. Connie was here at the first one, and he’s here with us and I couldn’t be happier for him. He’s created an amazing legacy out here. I’m just glad this is one of our better tracks.”
The distinction of Best Performer in a Supporting Role went to Austin Prock. Seeking the second victory of his young career, the sophomore dragster driver at John Force Racing lost traction early on the 1,000-foot California course in his Montana Brand / Rocky Mountain Twist Dragster and crossed the finish line at 10.939, 80.31.
“Austin’s going to do big things. He’s a great driver and he’s killer on the tree,” Kalitta said of his 694th-round victim. “It’s going to be an interesting year with all these younger drivers that are hungrier than heck. These guys are trying to kill the tree. We’re just going to keep at it.
“It’s going to be a great year. Everyone out here just keeps stepping up their game. You can see it in the performances of these cars. It’s going to be a tough year, but I’m really looking forward to it,” he said. “My guys are all hungry and just real glad that we were able to get one of the Kalitta Motorsports cars into the winners circle today and get the season kicked off right. Winning the first race takes a lot of pressure off. Now that we’ve got that win behind us, we can just try to build on it.
Kalitta said, “I have to give all the credit to my crew chiefs, Rob [Flynn] and Troy [Fasching] and everyone that works on my car. The thing that I’m really excited about this year is that I have all of my same guys back in place from last year. We had some great momentum going toward the end of last year [when he swept both Pomona races]. We’ve got the team together, and they’re doing a great job. We are hungry. We’re all trying to win a championship, and my guys are all working hard to pull it off. We just want to win.”
From a corporate standpoint, the victory was an outstanding moment.
“We have Fifth Third Bank as a new sponsor this weekend and Mobil 1 and NGK and obviously the MAC Tools distributors. I couldn’t be prouder to be out here with Connie and getting a win,” Kalitta said.
He beat a quartet of next-generation racers (Brandon Welch, Justin Ashley, Brittany Force, and Austin Prock) to join Jack Beckman (Funny Car) and Jeg Coughlin (Pro Stock) in the winners circle.
Prock’s teammate, Monster Energy Dragster driver Brittany Force, exited in the semifinal round, but her performances were among the best of the weekend. She was the No. 1 qualifier with a 3.657-second elapsed time and top qualifying speed of 334.32 mph. She used the third-quickest speed in history – 336.23 mph – to defeat Clay Millican in the second round. Force has the national speed record at 338.17 (set last November at Las Vegas). So as of Sunday, she owns two of the top three speeds. (Tony Schumacher has the second-fastest time, 336.57, from 2018, at Phoenix.)
The Mello Yello Drag Racing Series will shift to Chandler, Ariz., for the Feb. 21-23 Arizona Nationals at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park.