Story By: SCOTT SMITH / NHRA – CONCORD, NC – With nearly the slimmest of leads and four races remaining in the 2019 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season, Doug Kalitta isn’t taking his top spot for granted.
The chance for the Top Fuel veteran’s first world championship is one of the top stories of the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship, but Kalitta won’t let it interrupt his ultra-focused mindset.
He currently leads defending world champ Steve Torrence by just two points heading into this weekend’s NTK NHRA Carolina Nationals at state-of-the-art zMAX Dragway, a race that marks the halfway point of the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship. Kalitta might have the points lead and a strong track record of success in Charlotte, but he knows things can change in a hurry in a loaded Top Fuel class filled with championship contenders.
“We are not getting ahead of ourselves by any means with this points lead,” said Kalitta, who has 46 career wins. “There are too many tough cars out there and four more races. Anything can happen. We just are glad to be in control of our own destiny. If we take care of our business we will be just fine. These next couple of races starting with Charlotte will be critical for us.”
Steve Torrence (Top Fuel), Ron Capps (Funny Car), Jason Line (Pro Stock) and Matt Smith (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were last year’s winners of the event that will be televised on FOX Sports 1 (FS1), including live final eliminations coverage starting at 2:00 p.m. (ET) on Sunday, Oct. 13. It is the third of six races in the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship, and the 21st of 24 races during the 2019 NHRA season, and Kalitta appears to be hitting his stride at the perfect time.
He won at Indy for the first time in his standout career in his 11,000-horsepower Mac Tools dragster, putting him on a good path heading into the playoffs. Kalitta followed that with his 99th final round appearance to open the Countdown to the Championship, but Torrence’s final round in St. Louis nearly evaporated Kalitta’s points lead. But he has been through this before and knows that nothing will be decided until the final race of the year in Pomona. Kalitta, though, wants to be in the best position possible when that arrives, which means trying to add another win in Charlotte.
“There are two races down and we still have the points lead,” Kalitta said. “It has tightened up but we will be ready in Charlotte. This battle is going to come down to Pomona and we just want to be in that battle. I would say we have done a really good job of maximizing our efforts and performance since the Western Swing. We had an awesome Indy and a great start to the Countdown. Our goal now is to keep moving in a positive direction with this Mac Tools team.”
Kalitta won the fall race at zMAX Dragway in 2017, but Torrence has won the three events at the track since then. Kalitta, who has five final-round appearances in Charlotte, will also try to keep the likes of Mike Salinas, Brittany Force and Leah Pritchett at bay, but he’s also keeping things in perspective. The goal is another strong outing at zMAX Dragway, keeping the points lead for another race and building toward what he hopes is the biggest finish in his impressive career.
“We have had some good races at zMAX Dragway in the fall,” said Kalitta. “The win in 2017 was a big and we are looking to get another Countdown win this weekend. No one is getting crowned Top Fuel champion this Sunday but you definitely want hold onto the points lead or keep it within a round. It will be an exciting weekend for sure.”
Ron Capps is after his first Funny Car win of the Countdown as he attempts to track down points leader Robert Hight. Others to watch include Reading winner and Don Schumacher Racing teammate Jack Beckman, defending world champ J.R. Todd, John Force and Shawn Langdon.
The fall race will mark Pro Stock’s first appearance at the facility in 2019, and defending event winner Line is the current points leader. But Erica Enders is closing fast after winning in St. Louis, while other challengers include Bo Butner, Matt Hartford and Indy winner Alex Laughlin.
Matt Smith rode his fall Charlotte win to win another world title in Pro Stock Motorcycle, and he’ll try to repeat the feat this year. But he’ll have an uphill climb to catch points leader Andrew Hines, St. Louis winner Karen Stoffer and Eddie Krawiec.
The NTK NHRA Carolina Nationals will also feature thrilling competition in the E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series presented by J&A Service, which will have its 11th of 12 races in 2019. Rick Hord is the defending event winner, while defending world champ Mike Janis won at Charlotte in the spring. Stevie “Fast” Jackson is the current points leader as he seeks his first world title. The event also includes the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series, where the future stars of the sport earn their racing stripes.
After nitro qualifying on Friday, stick around to watch Nitromike, the entertaining P.T. Cruiser Wheelstander. The weekend will also include the top eight Drag Week winners in the Street Car Small Block Power Adder category, as those standouts will race in a special exhibition in Charlotte.
NHRA fans can take part in the Mello Yello Walking Tour to see the cars and teams hard at work in the pits. Fans can also attend Pro Stock School and Nitro School to learn how the cars operate and reach their thrilling speeds. zMAX Dragway will also host a Mello Yello autograph session and allow fans to meet their favorite drivers as well as the Sealmaster Track Walk hosted by NHRA announcer Joe Castello. Another can’t-miss experience is the winner’s circle celebration on Sunday after racing concludes. NHRA fans are invited to congratulate the winners of the event as they celebrate their victories.
As always, fans can interact with their favorite drivers as they’re granted an exclusive pit pass to the most powerful and sensory-filled motorsports attraction on the planet. This unique opportunity gives fans direct access to the teams, allowing them to see firsthand the highly-skilled mechanics service their hot rods between rounds, and get autographs from their favorite NHRA drivers.
Fans also will want to visit NHRA’s popular Nitro Alley and Manufacturers Midway, where sponsors and race vendors create a carnival atmosphere, with interactive displays, simulated competitions, merchandise, food and fun for the entire family.
Mello Yello Drag Racing Series qualifying will feature two rounds at 3:30 and 6:00 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 11, and the final two rounds of qualifying on Saturday, Oct. 12, at 1:15 and 3:45 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 12 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 13.