MADISON, Ill. – Racing against a talented Top Fuel field in the NHRA Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship, veteran Doug Kalitta knows he has his work cut out for him if he hopes to win his first NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series world championship.
But it’s his team-driven focus that has put him in position to claim that title. Kalitta won the first race of the NHRA’s six-race playoffs and currently sits second in points heading to this weekend’s the AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals at Gateway Motorsports Park. As the Countdown to the Championship hits the halfway mark, Kalitta has once again positioned himself as a contender in his 10,000-horsepower Mac Tools dragster, thanks part to his successful mindset.
“We are just focused on ourselves,” Kalitta said. “Our plan is to keep making great passes in the Mac Tools Toyota. We plan on continuing to qualify strong and race strong as well. It is very important to run strong in St. Louis. It is the halfway point in the Countdown and our Mac Tools team is focused on being at or near the top, so we can be ready for the last three races.”
Shawn Langdon (Top Fuel), Jack Beckman (Funny Car), Alex Laughlin (Pro Stock) and Jerry Savoie (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were last year’s winners of the event that will be televised on FOX Sports 1, including live final eliminations coverage starting at 2:00 p.m. (ET) on Sunday, Oct. 1. Kalitta sits just 22 points behind points leader Steve Torrence and the longtime standout’s quest for a first world title is one of the big storylines during the Countdown to the Championship.
But the even-keeled Kalitta won’t let that pressure get to him. He remains locked in on his own performance, even against a loaded Top Fuel field that also includes Reading winner Brittany Force, who is one point behind Kalitta, back-to-back world champion Antron Brown, Clay Millican, eight-time world champ Tony Schumacher and four-time 2017 winner Leah Pritchett. That strong Countdown to the Championship start included his first win of the year in Charlotte, putting him in the points lead. Torrence jumped past him last weekend in Reading, but Kalitta, who has 43 career wins, appears to be putting together his best performances of the season at the perfect time.
“With the Countdown format, no one is out of it,” said Kalitta, who fell in the second round in Reading. “My Mac Tools team plans ahead and is focused on running the regular season strong to be as high up as possible, and then focus on each race at a time in the Countdown.”
The strength of the Kalitta Motorsports team is certainly a big boost to Kalitta during the Countdown to the Championship as well. He faced off with teammate Richie Crampton in the Charlotte final, while defending event winner Langdon is also a Countdown competitor. Meanwhile, Funny Car drivers J.R. Todd, who sits seventh, and Alexis DeJoria both have recent wins, giving Kalitta more good vibes heading into this time of year. With three wins at Gateway Motorsports Park (2004, 2003, 2001), Kalitta is confident about his team’s chances this weekend in St. Louis.
“It has been great to see our Funny Cars run so well,” Kalitta said. “They have really hit on some great tuneups, especially in the heat and J.R. and Alexis are doing a great job driving them. Our goal going into each race is to win both Top Fuel and Funny Car and with the performance of our Toyota Camry Funny Cars we know that is attainable.”
Beckman won for the second time in Funny Car at Gateway, but must track down teammate and reigning champ Ron Capps, who won on Sunday in Reading to regain the points lead.
Laughlin played spoiler a year ago in Pro Stock, winning his first career race, and will look to do the same in 2017 against the likes of points leader Bo Butner, Greg Anderson, and rookie Tanner Gray.
Savoie’s march to his first Pro Stock Motorcycle world title started in St. Louis, and he’ll look to repeat facing off with LE Tonglet and Eddie Krawiec, the points leader who has three straight wins.The AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals also features thrilling competition in the NHRA J&A Service Pro Mod Drag Racing Series, as well as the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series. After Nitro qualifying, stick around to see the spectacular Larsen Motorsports jet dragsters sponsored by Florida Tech and Matrix System. Known for their exciting pre-run flame shows and after burner pops, jet cars are thrust driven vehicles propelled by jet engines.
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 in motorsports 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 can also 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 3:45 and 6:15 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 29, and the final two rounds of qualifying on Saturday, Sept. 30, at 1:15 and 3:45 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sunday, Oct. 1.
To purchase general-admission or reserved seats, call 855-RACE-TIK (855-722-3845). Tickets also are available online at www.gatewaymsp.com. Kids 12-under are free in general admission areas with a paid adult. To honor the Salute to First Responders, military and first responders can save 20 percent on general admission tickets at the gate. For info about the NHRA visit www.NHRA.com.
AAA INSURANCE NHRA MIDWEST NATIONALS FACT SHEET
WHAT: Sixth annual AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals, the 21st of 24 events in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series and the third of six races in the NHRA Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship playoffs. Drivers in four categories – Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle – earn points leading to 2017 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series world championships.
WHERE: Gateway Motorsports Park, Madison, Ill. – located five minutes from downtown St. Louis at the intersection of Interstates 55/70 and Ill. Route 203 (Exit 4).
COURSE: Championship drag strip; Track elevation is 445 feet above sea level; Track direction is south to north.
WHEN: Friday through Sunday, Sept. 29-Oct. 1SCHEDULE:
FRIDAY, Sept. 29 – LUCAS OIL SERIES qualifying
NHRA J&A SERVICE PRO MOD SERIES qualifying at 2:15 p.m. and 4:45 p.m.
MELLO YELLO SERIES qualifying at 3:45 and 6:15 p.m.
SATURDAY, Sept. 30 – LUCAS OIL SERIES eliminations
NHRA J&A SERVICE PRO MOD SERIES qualifying at 1 p.m.; first round of eliminations at 3:45 p.m.
MELLO YELLO SERIES qualifying at 1:15 p.m. and 3:45 p.m.
SUNDAY, Oct. 1 – Pre-race ceremonies, 10 a.m.
MELLO YELLO SERIES eliminations begin at 11 a.m.TELEVISION:
Friday, Sept. 29, FS1 will televise an hour of live qualifying coverage at 6 p.m. (ET).
Sunday, Oct. 1, FS1 will one hour of qualifying coverage at 2 a.m. (ET).
Sunday, Oct. 1, FS1 will televise three hours of live finals coverage starting at 2 p.m. (ET).
2016 EVENT WINNERS:
Shawn Langdon, Top Fuel; Jack Beckman, Funny Car; Alex Laughlin, Pro Stock; Jerry Savoie, Pro Stock Motorcycle.
Antron Brown, 5, TF; Gary Scelzi, 4, TF and FC; Ron Capps, 3, FC; John Force, 3, FC; Kurt Johnson, 3, PS; Doug Kalitta, 3, TF; Warren Johnson, 3, PS; Angelle Sampey, 3, PSM.TRACK RECORDS:
Top Fuel – 3.718 sec. by Steve Torrence, Sept. ‘15; 329.99 mph by Dave Connolly, Sept. ‘15
Funny Car – 330.47 sec. and 330.47 mph by Matt Hagan, Sept. ‘15
Pro Stock – 6.492 sec. by Greg Anderson, Sept. ’15; 213.47 mph by Jason Line, Sept. ‘12
PS Motorcycle – 6.769 sec. and 198.58 mph by Hector Arana, Sept. ‘13
Top Fuel – 3.640 sec. by Leah Pritchett, Aug ‘17, Brainerd; 333.66 mph by Brittany Force, May ‘17, Topeka, Kan.
Funny Car – 3.793 sec. by Robert Hight, Aug. ’17, Brainerd; 339.87 mph by Robert Hight, July ’17, Sonoma, Calif.
Pro Stock – 6.455 sec. by Jason Line, March ’15, Charlotte, N.C.; 215.55 mph by Erica Enders, May ‘14, Englishtown N.J.
PS Motorcycle – 6.728 sec. by Andrew Hines, Oct. ’12, Reading, Pa.; 199.88 mph by Hector Arana Jr., March ’15, Charlotte, N.C.
TICKETS: For tickets call (618) 215-8888. Tickets are also available at www.gatewaymsp.com.
Photos courtesy of NHRA