CLERMONT, Ind. — Doug Kalitta had tried 22 times to take home a Wally from the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals, but every year luck didn’t go his way.
Finally, on Monday at Lucas Oil Raceway, luck was on the 55-year-old veteran’s side.
Despite it being a relatively mediocre run, Kalitta’s 4.144-second pass at 212.43 mph was enough for him to defeat Billy Torrence in the final round of Monday’s Top Fuel eliminations to take home his first U.S. Nationals trophy.
“I’m a real persistent guy, so I never give up,” Kalitta said after the 46th NHRA national event victory.
Kalitta’s run to the final was no cakewalk. First, he had to get past the always-fast Clay Millican, which he did via holeshot. He then had to dispatch No. 1 qualifier and track record holder Brittany Force in round two before facing off with Force’s rookie teammate, Austin Prock, in the semifinals.
“When we got by Clay, I was thinking this is going to be a good opportunity,” Kalitta said. “We try not to worry about who’s in the other lane, but Brittany’s car has been on a rail. She qualified first, so we knew we had a tough run there and it was a close race.
“We raced another JFR car in the semifinals. They’ve got quite an arsenal over there. Austin’s doing an awesome job and I think all of us are trying to keep up with how hard he’s hitting that tree. He left on me by a little bit, fortunately we were able to get by him.”
Force and Prock both fell to Kalitta’s Mac Tools dragster, leaving just Torrence to face him in the final round.
“We came out of the semifinals and had to stop to do a quick interview with FOX and I got back just in time to warm up my car,” Kalitta recalled. “I was glad I was able to be the one to warm up my car because I didn’t want to change up anything the way our day was going.”
The final against Torrence was, in Kalitta’s own words, “kind of ugly.” Both cars had issues on the run to the finish line, with Kalitta getting their first to collect his first U.S. Nationals Wally.
“At 800 feet, it seemed like my car was just coasting with no power,” Kalitta said. “It just started spinning the tires and I’m not sure if it threw the belt off or what happened. It pretty much died out there.
“I thought it was over, but the win light came on.”
The victory lined up perfectly with the 25th anniversary of his team owner and uncle Connie Kalitta’s U.S. Nationals triumph in 1994. A U.S. Nationals victory is special, but for the Kalitta family, that made this U.S. Nationals mean just a little bit more.
“I just can’t say enough about everyone that’s been working on my Mac Tools Toyota,” the U.S. Nationals Top Fuel winner said. “They were busting their butts — and Connie (Kalitta) was right there with them. Having him in our corner is awesome. What a day. It feels great to win a big race that Connie won.”