Jacksonville Sports Day

NHRA: Kalitta Could Join Special Group of Drivers at AMALIE Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — One of the reasons Doug Kalitta always enjoys racing at Auto-Plus Raceway at Gainesville is that it serves as the home track for NHRA Top Fuel legend “Big Daddy” Don Garlits.

With one more victory at the tradition-rich facility, Kalitta could join Garlits and others when it comes to career achievements at the AMALIE Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals. 

Kalitta picked up his third victory at the event a year ago and a repeat title at the traditional East Coast opener on the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series circuit this season would put Kalitta alongside the likes of Joe Amato, Larry Dixon, Garlits and Tony Schumacher for all-time Top Fuel wins at Gainesville.

That history isn’t lost on Kalitta, who will try to make some of his own in his 10,000-horsepower Mac Tools dragster at this weekend’s 46th annual AMALIE Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals at Auto-Plus Raceway at Gainesville.

“I always think about the history and success my family has had there and the fact it’s Big Daddy’s home track adds to it,” Kalitta said. “The Gatornationals is a crowd and racer favorite, and we are looking forward to getting there and going for another win.”

Kalitta (Top Fuel), Robert Hight (Funny Car), Allen Johnson (Pro Stock) and Steve Johnson (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were last year’s winners of the event that will once again be televised on ESPN2. It also marks the third of 24 races during the 2015 season and Kalitta is off to his usual solid start, posting a runner-up finish at the most recent event in Phoenix.

Kalitta, who has advanced to the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship six years in a row, is currently in fourth in the loaded Top Fuel standings and is after more consistency and progress as the calendar moves into March.

Kalitta started off the 2014 season well, winning in Gainesville and Seattle, taking the points lead into the Countdown. But he faltered down the stretch, losing in the first round in four of the six playoff events. That hasn’t affected Kalitta’s mindset in 2015 and the only thing he is focused on this year is earning more victories.

“I am super excited about the new season,” Kalitta said. “So far we are just trying to settle in, but I am very excited about having such a great opportunity and planning on making the best of it. The cool thing about my guys on the Mac Tools car is we are hungry and love the competition of the Mello Yello Series. The team is definitely ready to try and earn another Gatornationals trophy.”

Getting a repeat victory after knocking off Antron Brown in a thrilling final last season will be difficult. Kalitta, who has 35 career wins, will face stiff competition from the likes of reigning world champ and most recent event winner Schumacher, who beat Kalitta in the final round at Phoenix earlier this year.

There will be plenty of others to watch as well, including 2013 world champion Shawn Langdon, Spencer Massey, 2014 rookie of the year Richie Crampton, three-time world champ Larry Dixon, AMALIE Motor Oil fan-favorite Terry McMillen, Dave Connolly, J.R. Todd, Steve Torrence and Brittany Force.

One advantage Kalitta may have is the backing of the tight-knit Kalitta Motorsports team that includes Todd, as well as Funny Car standouts Alexis DeJoria and Del Worsham. With no turnover on any team from a year ago, Kalitta has noticed a major difference when it comes to chemistry, teamwork and work ethic.

It all centers around winning, but Kalitta said the desire to succeed and having fun doing it starts at the top with team owner Connie Kalitta. That rubs off on everyone and the success has been undeniable, with Doug Kalitta simply thankful to be along for the ride.

“We’re a happy group who want to win,” Kalitta said. “Having an owner like Connie and seeing how much fun he continues to have racing breeds success. You can only feel fortunate to be part of our group.”

Hight was the hero of Funny Car at Gainesville in 2014, defeating team owner John Force in the final. Courtney Force will try to become the first female Funny Car winner at the Gatornationals but reigning world champ Matt Hagan has been red hot, winning the first two events of the year. 

Ron Capps, Tommy Johnson Jr., Del Worsham, three-time national event winner Alexis DeJoria and two-time world champ Cruz Pedregon will all be competitive in Gainesville as well.

Pro Stock’s Allen Johnson, the 2012 world champ, got the best of eventual world champ Erica Enders-Stevens in the final at Gainesville last season. 

Enders-Stevens is looking for her first Gainesville victory while other top challengers include Winternationals winner and four-time Gatornationals winner Line, Shane Gray, Greg Anderson, Vincent Nobile, Roger Brogdon, who won the most recent event in Phoenix, rookie Drew Skillman, Chris McGaha and Jonathan Gray.

The AMALIE Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals is the first of 16 events for the Pro Stock Motorcycle category. Riders will be looking to knock reigning series and four-time champion Andrew Hines off his title perch. 

Last year, Hines and his Screamin’ Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson teammate Eddie Krawiec dominated the series by combining to win 11 of the 16 events. 

Others to watch in the two-wheel category include defending race winner Steve Johnson, father and son duo Hector Arana Jr. and Hector Arana, three-time world champ Angelle Sampey, and husband and wife duo Matt and Angie Smith.

As always, fans will have the opportunity to interact with their favorite drivers as they’re granted an exclusive pit pass to the most powerful motorsports attraction on the planet.

While visiting the pits, interactive NHRA Nitro Alley and the NHRA Manufacturers Midway, fans will also want to check out NHRA’s popular Hot Rod Junction presented by the Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum that offers a spectacular display of many nostalgic dragsters, race cars and hot rods on display, including vintage machines that were driven by Garlits, K.S. Pittman, Big John Mazmanian and Bruce Larson, among others. 

There will also be several NHRA Legends of Drag Racing autograph sessions, allowing fans the rare opportunity to meet drag racing stars of the past.
   
Pro qualifying begins on Friday, March 13, with sessions at 12:45 and 3:45 p.m. The final two qualifying sessions will take place Saturday, March 14, also at noon and 3 p.m. Final eliminations will begin at 11 a.m. on Sunday, March 15.

The 2015 AMALIE Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals will also feature thrilling competition in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series and is the site of the season-opening race in the NHRA J&A Service Pro Mod Drag Racing Series.

To purchase general-admission or reserved seats, log on to www.NHRA.com/tickets or call the NHRA Ticket Sales Center, (800) 884-NHRA (6472). General admission tickets for children 12 and younger are free with any paid adult ticket. Fans can save by purchasing their tickets in advance. For more information about NHRA, log on to www.NHRA.com.
                                              

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