ENNIS, Texas --
As the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship heads to the famed Texas Motorplex near Dallas for round No. 2 of NHRA's playoffs, Kalitta is in the championship mix, sitting fourth in the series standings, only 43 points out of first place.
Kalitta is certainly one of the pre-race favorites to win the upcoming AAA Texas NHRA FallNationals, Sept. 19-22 at Texas Motorplex. Last season, defending world champion Antron Brown (Top Fuel), Bob Tasca III (Funny Car), Allen Johnson (Pro Stock) and Michael Ray (Pro Stock Motorcycle) earned victories at the event that will once again be televised on ESPN2 HD.
Kalitta is riding a bit of momentum from posting back-to-back semifinal finishes at the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis and this past weekend's Carlyle Tools NHRA Carolina Nationals at zMAX Dragway in Charlotte.
He has been able to produce a bunch of round wins, 23 to be exact, but so far this season the veteran driver just hasn't been able to add to his career win total of 32 victories.
With only one runner-up finish in 2013, at Norwalk, pure basic statistics would suggest Kalitta is due a victory anytime soon. He hasn't won since July 2010 in Denver.
There are five playoff races remaining: at Dallas, St. Louis, Reading, Pa., Las Vegas and Pomona, Calif., and Kalitta has visited winner's circle at each of those tracks. A victory at this point in the Countdown playoffs would be huge in the 49-year-old driver's quest to win his first world championship title.
"We are having a great year so far, but we haven't been able to break through and get a win," Kalitta said. "With only five events left time is definitely running out on us, but we're all very confident we can get it done - Hopefully in Dallas."
Like zMAX Dragway, the Texas Motorplex will offer the teams an all-concrete racing surface. The Motorplex was the first track to feature the full-length track surface in a single compound and is also recognized as the first super-stadium of drag racing.
"We've had some success racing our Mac Tools dragster in Dallas before," Kalitta said. "We were able to grab the trophy in 2002 and we've been a finalist a few times. It's a great track. Being able to race consecutive weekends on concrete tracks should be a help for Jim and all of the crew chiefs. The tune-ups of nitro cars are so on-the-edge anyway so to have just a little of the same variable should help."
Apart from the great racing surface and intense competition of the Countdown, Kalitta says heading to Texas always offers a fun time for his Kalitta Motorsports team.
"We've always liked racing in Dallas," Kalitta said. "Our crew chief Jim Oberhofer grew up in the Plano area so we always have an extended family reunion when we race at Texas Motorplex. We have a great time with Dave "O" and Sue "O" (Jim's parents) and all the Oberhofer family and friends. It's a great time."
In Funny Car, Matt Hagan leads the series standings with four season victories at the controls of his Magneti Marelli/Rocky Boots Dodge Charger and will be trying to earn his second victory at the Motorplex. He will need to hold off veterans Cruz Pedregon, a three-time event champ who clocked the second-quickest time in NHRA history at Charlotte, and Ron Capps, the 1998 winner here. Others to watch include the Force powerhouse that includes 15-time world champion John Force, his youngest daughter Courtney, a two-time winner this season, and two-time Motorplex winner and Auto Club Ford Mustang driver Robert Hight, who opened the playoffs with a win at zMAX Dragway and jumped from ninth to third in the points.
Oklahoma native and series points leader Mike Edwards aims to bring his Interstate Batteries/I Am Second Chevy Camaro back to the Motorplex winner's circle as he did in 1998, giving him seven victories in his dream season. But defending world champion and event winner Johnson has high hopes for a second straight world championship, and his teammates Jeg Coughlin, who has three victories including a win at Charlotte last weekend, and three-time winner Vincent Nobile are also in the hunt for a title. Native Texan Erica Enders-Stevens, who has sponsorship from Husky Liners, will certainly be a fan-favorite as this event. Rodger Brogdon of Tomball, Texas and Chris McGaha of Odessa, Texas, are also local favorites seeking wins in front of a large contingent of family and friends.
Pro Stock Motorcycle sensation Hector Arana Jr. leads the class with four wins aboard his Lucas Oil Buell while battling a tough group of challengers in the two-wheel category, including two-time season winner and New Braunfels, Texas rider Ray and his Sovereign-Star Racing Buell, Matt Smith, John Hall, defending world champ Eddie Krawiec and Hector Arana Sr. A non-Countdown contender, Andrew Hines, won the playoff opener on his Screamin' Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson.
The NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series also will thrill the crowds during the weekend with intense competition on the track.
As always, every ticket purchased for the AAA Texas NHRA FallNationals is a pit pass, which offers an extraordinary look behind the scenes in the world of the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series. This unique opportunity in motorsports gives fans direct access to the teams, allowing them to see firsthand the highly skilled mechanics service their sophisticated machines between rounds, and enjoy some cherished face time with their favorite NHRA drivers.
Fans will also want to check out NHRA Nitro Alley and the popular NHRA Manufacturers Midway where vendors and sponsors create a carnival atmosphere, with interactive displays, simulated competitions, merchandise, food and freebies. Fans will also want to take advantage of Championship Sunday for the fun fanzone featuring driver introductions and a special Track Walk at 9:30 a.m. It's free to all Sunday ticket holders.
The AAA Texas NHRA FallNationals qualifying opens on Friday, Sept. 20, with sessions at 2:15 and 5:15 p.m. The final two qualifying sessions will take place Saturday, Sept. 21, at 11:15 a.m. and 2:15 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sunday, Sept. 22.
Tickets for the AAA Texas NHRA FallNationals are available now, ranging from just $10 to $380 for weekend packages. Youth tickets for children 12 and under start as low as $5. For tickets or more information, please call the Texas Motorplex office at (800) MOTORPLEX or visit www.texasmotorplex.com.