Doug Kalitta’s grandmother, Evelyn, had a bottle of champagne she was saving to drink when her son, Kalitta Motorsports team owner Connie Kalitta, won the U.S. Nationals. Year after year, she’d get the bottle ready to drink, but year after year, she’d put it back. The 2023 NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series closes its regular season with this weekend’s Dodge Power Brokers NHRA U.S. Nationals Sept. 1-4 at Lucas Oil Raceway Park in Indianapolis, Ind.
“It was always fun to listen to Connie tell the story of his mother, who watched Connie’s career and knew how badly he wanted to win Indy,” Doug Kalitta said. “Apparently, she had this bottle of champagne she was saving to drink whenever he won this thing. Every year, she’d put it back where she got it after he didn’t win. Finally, one year, she decided the hell with it; she just opened it and drank it. To listen to Connie tell that story about his Mom and him trying to win it, and then she drinks it one night after he didn’t win it, was just a story that always stuck with me. After Connie won the race (in 1994) is probably when he started telling that story.
“I was racing my Silver Crown car over in Springfield, Ill., and the U.S. Nationals was delayed because of rain. So we ended up flying into a little airport right next to the race track – I think it was called Speedway Airport; I don’t think it’s there anymore. We bopped in there, raced over to the track and made it just in time to watch Connie win the U.S. Nationals. It was pretty cool. We just knew, following him over the years, how badly he wanted to win that thing, and to pull it off was super exciting. It was cool.”
U.S. Nationals stories are abundant – especially among those, like Doug Kalitta, who grew up around the biggest and most-prestigious drag race in the world. Like his uncle, Doug Kalitta ran the U.S. Nationals many times before winning it. When he reached his fourth-career final round in 2019, his time finally came. He left the starting line before his opponent, Billy Torrence, and was on a great run when his car smoked the tires. Good thing his opponent did the same.
“It was on my bucket list a long time before we won it,” Kalitta added. “Coasting to the win when we actually did win it was a miracle in itself as far as I was concerned. You’re just sitting there, dead meat, coasting to the finish line expecting the other car to go blowing by you, but it never did. That was a U.S. Nationals moment for sure. The way we won in 2019 makes us want to win it again even more.
“Alan (co-crew chief Alan Johnson) has had incredible success at this event, and with Blaine Johnson dying there – it just seemed like Alan’s cars would always win this race – it’s like he’s had this stranglehold on the place for years. It just makes us just want to go there and kick some ass. I’m just excited to be part of hopefully getting another win there for Alan and obviously for everyone at Kalitta Motorsports, Mac Tools, SealMaster, Mobil 1 and Revchem; it’s just such a cool track to race at with a lot of history.”
Kalitta and his Mac Tools Toyota team enter the U.S. Nationals having been excellent in qualifying all season – he qualified in the top four eight times this season, but the team’s qualifying prowess does not always translate to race day.
“We tested really well last Monday at Brainerd,” the 49-time race winner said. “(co-crew chiefs Alan Johnson and Brian Husen) Alan, Brian – all of us were super excited with how it went, and I think it’ll bleed right on over into Indy. We have a lot of momentum going so we’ll see what we can do there. We’ve been qualifying well which is half the battle for sure – we’re excited to get there and see what happens.”