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Doug Kalitta Complete Career Sweep in Epping, Sets Sights on Thunder Valley

Doug Kalitta won last weekend’s race in Epping, N.H., and now has at least one victory at every track on which NHRA’s premier series races. With the career sweep complete, Kalitta and his Mark III Benefits team look to continue his team’s resurgence in Thunder Valley. The 2024 NHRA Mission Foods Drag Racing Season resumes June 7-9, 2024 at the Super Grip NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals in Bristol, Tenn.

Kalitta had quite a weekend in New England claiming his third No. 1 qualifier in the last four races, winning the race by defeating the likes of Tony Stewart, Shawn Langdon and Tony Schumacher and moving to second in points, but what meant perhaps more was winning the day after Eddie’s Lobsterfest, the team’s annual tribute to Kalitta’s cousin, the late Scott Kalitta.

“Getting this win was the goal going into Epping because it was the last place I hadn’t won,” Kalitta said. “We tried not to put too much attention on it, but we showed up and Joe Poulin and all the guys that set up Eddie’s Lobsterfest, our tribute to Scott Kalitta, were here. We really had a lot of fun with that because a lot of the teams and people who worked with Scott over the years migrate over. It’s great to have an opportunity to hang out and have a good meal. It really means a lot to Connie (Team Owner Connie Kalitta). To be able to pull off the win was something I really wanted, and it’s obviously a tribute to Scott.”

In September of last year, Kalitta won his 50th race ending a nearly three-year winless streak when he won in Reading, Pa. In the next 13 races, including the Reading win and last weekend’s New England Nationals, Kalitta has five wins including two this season. That’s quite a turnaround from almost three years without a win, and it was a long time coming. 

“With the team I have behind me, my car is really good,” Kalitta added. “Alan and Brian (Crew Chief Alan Johnson and Kalitta Air Careers Crew Chief Brian Husen), and now we have Mac (Mac Tools Assistant Crew Chief Mac Savage), we’ve changed everything about our cars. It took us a while. Alan and the guys, with Connie and (General Manager) Chad Head, worked methodically to put this thing together. I just feel very fortunate to be in this position because it’s a dream come true. I’m just trying to drive the thing and make sure I’m not the weak link because the car’s so good. It’s added pressure because you know you have a good-running car and that you have to step up to the plate. It’s a hell of an opportunity. I just want to play this out and see what I can do with it.

“Connie Kalitta has had my back for 27 years – to have a guy like him, who’s as passionate about doing what we’re doing as he was when he started back in the 50s. He’s 86 and still having fun coming to the races. If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t have accomplished that goal. I’m pretty fortunate to have him in my corner. He’s brought in a lot of younger guys like J.R. Todd and Troy Coughlin, who once drove one of our Top Fuel cars, so it’s been a lot of fun watching what Connie’s trying to do. He’s not driving the cars now, and he’s not tuning the cars now, but he’s still in the game promoting the sport. He loves the NHRA. He’s trying to help it grow and he’s out here having fun trying to beat these guys.”

And now it’s on to Thunder Valley in the Tennessee mountains for a shot at win No. 55. Currently tied with Steve Torrence for 13th on the NHRA’s all-time win list, Kalitta’s next win will put him 13th by himself and just one win shy of 12th. Kalitta has three wins in six Bristol final rounds and will look for his fourth this weekend.

“We’re hoping! My car has been running very well,” Kalitta said. “We qualified first at three of the last four races so the guys really have the Mark III dragster dialed in. We really look forward to going to each of these things to get in the mix, try to qualifying low and be in the mix at the end. Bristol is one of those places I remember going when I was working for Connie. Actually, when I was first there, the track had a curve to it. I started working for Connie in 1982 so I’ve worked for him for more than 40 years. That place has special memories because of when I started and what was going on at that time and that the facility has been completely redone. Now the track’s been repaved so I’m sure it’ll be a great race. Looking forward to getting there.”

When Kalitta advanced to last week’s semifinals, he earned a spot in the Mission #2Fast2Tasty NHRA Challenge next week. During Saturday’s qualifying sessions in Bristol, the drivers who reached the semifinals in Epping, N.H., will re-run the semifinals and final earning additional purse and championship bonus points. 

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This story was originally published on June 5, 2024. Drag Illustrated

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