For earning a win as monumental as his 50th career NHRA Top Fuel victory, Doug Kalitta’s celebration was pretty lowkey.
After flying himself, and his team, home to Michigan following the rain-delayed Pep Boys NHRA Nationals at Maple Grove Raceway on Monday, Kalitta went out to dinner with his wife, Josie, later in the week to commemorate his achievement.
But make no mistake, the weight of the win is not lost on the 25-year Top Fuel veteran.
“We were trying to get the 50th win for quite a while. I was surprised the guys still had that sign that they showed up with,” Kalitta said with a laugh, referring to the “NHRA 50 Wins” sign he was handed at the top end of the drag strip. “I was like, ‘Gosh, you’ve still got that thing?’”
Beyond finally reaching the milestone number, there were a handful of factors that christened the special moment for Kalitta.
One, his uncle Connie Kalitta was present for the victory.
The 85-year-old team owner has missed a few races this season, but decided to make the trek to the Pennsylvania drag strip for the opening round of the Countdown to the Championship.
However, his choice to stay through the end of the event, with the rain delay postponing eliminations to Monday, wasn’t exactly an option, according to the younger Kalitta.
“He was kind of stuck with me ‘cause I’m his pilot, so he can’t sneak away Sunday night if I’m still racing,” Kalitta joked. “But no, he was excited. It was very cool to see him so happy.”
Two, Kalitta got the job done in a backup car.
The 59-year-old blew a tire in the final round of qualifying on Saturday, likely caused by an unwelcome material on the track surface, which caused significant damage to his primary dragster.
The team then pulled out the backup car — which is open cockpit, opposed to the standard canopy car Kalitta usually runs. Kalitta proceeded to make the fastest run of his career, a 3.662-second lap at 336.99 mph, in his final matchup against Steve Torrence.
The Mac Tools team will continue to run the open cockpit dragster through the end of the season, as they don’t have another canopy car in their possession.
Three, it may have taken 1,079 days, but it only made the triumph all the sweeter.
“We finally put it all together one weekend. My team has been gelling really well, so for me, just seeing the excitement and seeing everybody working together and just being part of that is what it was all about,” Kalitta said. “Obviously, we’re hoping we can keep it going.”
With his win, Kalitta moved to third in the Top Fuel standings, 26 points behind leader Torrence.
With four races to go in the Countdown, the ever-calm Kalitta is back to work, eyes set on earning his first NHRA championship — the next milestone on the list.