Top Fuel veteran Doug Kalitta claimed his first career NHRA world championship on Sunday at In-N-Out Burger Pomona Dragstrip, knocking off Leah Pruett in a winner-take-all final round.
Kalitta Motorsports Mac Tools Top Fuel race team saw the championship in sight. Starting with claiming his 50th career win at the Pep Boys NHRA Nationals at Maple Grove Raceway, then moving onto Texas, where Doug Kalitta was the No. 2 qualifier at the Texas NHRA Fall Nationals. It was his 13th top-four qualifying effort of the season including each of the last seven races.
Kalitta defeated Josh Hart before losing to eventual race winner Leah Pruett in the second round. Doug Kalitta left Dallas in second place in the NHRA Top Fuel point standings. He trailed first-place Leah Pruett by four points and led third-place Steve Torrence by nine points, with two races remaining in the season, Las Vegas, and Pomona.
At The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, the Countdown to the Championship NHRA Playoffs, the current top-three contenders, Pruett, Kalitta and Torrence, for the 2023 Top Fuel title were separated by just 14 points. Kalitta trails points leader Leah Pruett by four points and leads third-place Steve Torrence by nine points.
Doug Kalitta has been in championship contention before; six times, he finished second in points, but this year felt different with championship tuner Alan Johnson on the team. Johnson has 12 NHRA Top Fuel championships with six different drivers.
“Having Alan Johnson in my corner, and obviously this team I have, brings a whole new element of confidence for sure. He and (co-crew chief Brian Husen) Brian is doing an awesome job tuning the car”, said Kalitta.
Could it be Doug Kalitta’s year?
A True Underdog Story: Doug Kalitta Breaks the Runner-Up Curse and Earns His Long-Awaited Championship
You can feel the anticipation with every heartbeat. The 2023 In-N-Out Burger NHRA Finals, held at the legendary Pomona Dragstrip, encapsulates an epic showdown that symbolizes everything NHRA fans love about the sport. At the heart of this thrilling saga lies six-time runner-up Doug Kalitta, a driver who seemed destined to perpetually chase the championship that had long eluded him.
But on this Sunday, Kalitta shattered the runner-up curse and secured the 2023 NHRA Top Fuel Championship, proving that perseverance and teamwork can, indeed, triumph over adversity.
Kalitta fought to earn his spot atop the victory podium, with legendary tuner Alan Johnson calling the shots.
The battle for the championship came down to the final round round. Doug Kalitta qualified No. 5 and defeated Dan Mercier, Josh Hart, Justin Ashley and Leah Pruett on his way to the winner’s circle and the Top Fuel championship.
Kalitta left the starting line first and never looked back winning with a 3.673 second ET to win the race and claim the 2023 NHRA Top Fuel Championship.
A Family Legacy: The Kalitta Dynasty Continues
With the 2023 championship in hand, Kalitta is the seventh driver to win a Top Fuel title with legendary tuner Alan Johnson making the calls.
Pomona Dragstrip carries immense significance for the racing industry and is deeply rooted in the history of the NHRA. Doug’s uncle, team owner Connie Kalitta, shares vivid stories of his thrilling duels with Don Garlits, another racing icon, back in their heyday.
As Doug Kalitta basked in his long-awaited glory, he took a moment to express his gratitude towards his uncle, Connie Kalitta, for his unwavering support and mentorship.
“At the end of the run, I was so relieved. I’ve been trying to win this thing for years, and it’s hard to believe. I’m speechless kind of at the moment, but it’ll settle in here after the banquet. We’ve had a great run being out here, and this championship has definitely been on my ‘things to do list.’ My cousin, Scott, won this thing a couple of times so I’ve always grown up in his shadow trying to accomplish what he accomplished so it was definitely on my bucket list to get a Top Fuel title. It’s definitely a big relief.” Said Doug Kalitta in the winners circle.
Connie Kalitta called the moment “awesome” and said, “I’m so happy for him and his wife Josie. I’m so happy for the crew.”
Doug Kalitta is a bridesmaid no more, and finally catches the championship bouquet.
A Champion is Crowned
First-time world champion Doug Kalitta was crowned Monday evening, at the 2023 NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series awards
It’s the crowning achievement for the 26-year veteran who had finished second in points six times throughout his standout career. But the fan-favorite Kalitta and his team went on a remarkable run during the Countdown to the Championship, winning three times – the first that gave him his 50th career win. And so will this memory, Kalitta Motorsports Mac Tools Top Fuel race team has 116 days to savor until the 2024 season starts.
The 2024 NHRA Mission Foods Drag Racing Series begins March 7-10 with the 55th annual NHRA Gatornationals at Gainesville Raceway.