Story By: SCOTT SMITH / NHRA – TOPEKA, KS – Doug Kalitta got the ball rolling for the Kalitta Motorsports team by winning the first race of the 2019 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season. Since then, everyone on the four-car team has won a race, which makes the Top Fuel veteran proud heading to this weekend’s Menards NHRA Heartland Nationals presented by Minties at Heartland Motorsports Park.
After a brief two-race slump, Kalitta bounced back last weekend in Chicago, advancing to the semifinals in his 11,000-horsepower Mac Tools dragster. That has the 45-time event winner back on track heading to Topeka, where he will look for a third career win at the track and keep the good vibes of the team going. Richie Crampton has a Top Fuel win, while J.R. Todd, the defending Funny Car champion, and Shawn Langdon, both have Funny Car victories, leaving Kalitta motivated to try to become the first two-time winner on the talented team in 2019.
“Topeka has been good for the Kalitta Motorsports team and I’ve always felt real positive about going there,” Kalitta said. “The track’s usually good and I’m excited to get back there. The fans are great and they do a great job at the facility. It’s a pretty exciting time and I’m super proud of everyone on the team. We’ve got a bunch of hungry guys on these teams. We’ve got what we need here and we’re looking forward to having a great year.”
Clay Millican (Top Fuel) and Courtney Force (Funny Car) were last year’s winners of a race that will be televised on FOX Sports 1, including a broadcast of the finals on Sunday, June 9 at 5:30 p.m. (ET). It is the 10th of 24 races during the 2019 NHRA season and action will be intense with a special Primetime qualifying session at 8 p.m. on Friday. Kalitta looks forward to those fast conditions, currently sitting second in points in the loaded Top Fuel class.
Points leader and defending world champion Steve Torrence, who has won four straight races, remains a step ahead of everyone, but Kalitta is in the midst of putting together another standout season. He’s been to the semifinals or finals at four races this season, winning in Pomona. After back-to-back first round losses in Atlanta and Richmond, Kalitta rebounded in Chicago and he remains impressed with the job Troy Fasching and Rob Flynn have done as crew chiefs.
“Rob and Troy started working together the last couple races and they’re really gelling well,” Kalitta said. “We’re coming into our own and hitting our stride. At this time of the year, we’re coming up on some hotter tracks, so it’s a challenge. But with the effort of the guys, it’s going to be fun.”
The end goal is Kalitta’s first career world championship, something that remains on the to-do list for the longtime standout. To get there, he knows this stretch of four straight races is important. Doing well in Topeka will translate later in the season, but he’ll have to get past the likes of Millican, 2017 world champ Brittany Force, Antron Brown and Leah Pritchett. Kalitta, though, sees a team determined to succeed after working hard to get back on track last weekend.
“I’m glad we got that out of our system,” Kalitta said. “We had an oil leak, we smoked the tires, but I’m real proud of my guys. I’m real excited about going out there and getting in a groove in the next few races. We’re real hungry to win, and I love doing this stuff. We should be good and I think we’ll have some momentum. We started the season good and we’re ready to bounce back.”
Robert Hight is the current points leader in the loaded Funny Car class on the strength of three wins in 2019. Getting a fourth will be the goal in Topeka, but he’ll face a number of challenges from the likes of Ron Capps, Chicago winner Tommy Johnson Jr., defending world champion J.R. Todd, John Force, who is seeking his 150th career win, Matt Hagan and Tim Wilkerson.
The E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series presented by J&A Service makes the sixth of 12 stops in 2019 in Topeka. Stevie “Fast” Jackson is the current points leader in a class that also includes defending world champ Mike Janis, and defending event winner Rickie Smith. The event also features thrilling competition in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series, showcasing the future stars of the sport, as well as the 2019 Mickey Thompson Tires Top Fuel Harley Drag Racing Series. After Nitro qualifying, stick around to see the spectacular jet dragsters.
Former Kansas City Chiefs greats Christian Okoye and Dante Hall will be the grand marshal and honorary starter for the event. They will be joined by Chiefs players, cheerleaders and even the mascot during the highly-anticipated weekend. There will be a special Chiefs Ambassadors VIP tent during the race where fans can meet players, and get autographs and photos on June 8-9. Proceeds from the tent will be donated to Big Brothers Big Sisters.
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.
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 Nitro School to learn more about how the cars operate and reach their thrilling speeds. Heartland Motorsports Park will host a Mello Yello autograph session and allow fans to meet their favorite drivers as well as the Cruising with Castello Sealmaster Track Walk hosted by NHRA announcer Joe Castello. A can’t-miss experience of any NHRA event is the winner’s circle celebration on Sunday after racing concludes. NHRA fans are invited to congratulate race winners as they celebrate their Menards NHRA Heartland Nationals victories.
Mello Yello Drag Racing Series qualifying will feature two rounds at 4:45 and 8:00 p.m. on Friday, June 7 and the final two rounds of qualifying on Saturday, June 8, at 12:30 and 3:45 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sunday, June 9.