POMONA, CA – A Top Fuel championship had been a long time coming for Top Fuel veteran and former USAC standout star, Doug Kalitta, driver of the Kalitta Motorsports dragster. In fact, the Ann Arbor, Michigan native was runner-up in the championship six times prior to the 2023 season.
Despite the heartbreak and being so close so many times, Kalitta was finally a Top Fuel champion on Sunday night at Pomona in a winner-take-all final-round match against Leah Pruett, who was also going for the Top Fuel championship. Kalitta got Pruett with a hole shot off the line with a reaction time of .047 over a .064 by Pruett.
The Kalitta Motorsports driver stayed with his dragster alongside Pruett in what was a close and exciting drag race for the title. At the finish line, it was Kalitta who got the victory and the championship after 26 years of trying. Kalitta out-gassed Pruett with an E.T. of 3.673 seconds at 334.98 mph over his competitor’s 3.720 at 326.16 mph. Kalitta was able to seal the championship 48 points ahead of Steve Torrence and leaving Pruett to finish third in the standings.
“It’s incredible the way the points thing worked out to come down to that last run,” the 2023 champion said. “I just stayed focused. It was obviously a big round, and it played out just perfectly. I got to the end of the track and was like, ‘I cannot believe these guys are still looking at me and high fiving because unfortunately, I missed the win light. Everybody was down there, and it was something I looked forward to all my life. It was a hell of a drag race, and it was nice to get the win.”
Even after winning the championship, the Top Fuel veteran was still in disbelief but still happy he was able to get the job done.
“That definitely has a nice ring to it,” Kalitta said. “It’s gonna take a little while for that to settle in, but I’ll be grinning here for quite a while. It was definitely a great day. With the top-four cars still in the semis, I was feeling the intensity. You just hope for the best. This is one of the coolest places to run with the museum and the history of the NHRA. I heard all the stories back in the day with Connie (Kalitta’s uncle and team owner Connie Kalitta) and Don Garlits. This is the pinnacle for me, really. Connie was pretty happy, and I definitely appreciate what he’s done for me.”
Speaking of his uncle, Connie who was on site to witness the epic drag race in the finals, he was just as happy as Doug to see him capture the championship.
“I’m so happy for Doug and his wife (Josie),” Connie Kalitta said. “I’m so happy for the crew and the work they’ve done. They’re responsible for a lot of this!”
For the 2023 season, Kalitta won three races, advanced to two final rounds, and scored 29 round wins over 21 races to claim the Top Fuel Championship. He also claimed two No. 1 qualifying positions this season. Kalitta’s three wins this season were at Maple Grove, Charlotte, and Pomona. His victory at Maple Grove was the 50th of his career. Not to be lost in the championship win, the victory on Sunday night was the 52nd of his long-storied career.
The entire Doug Kalitta team will have a full off-season to let the championship sink in as the series won’t be back on track until March 8-10 for the 2024 season at Gainesville Raceway for the annual Gatornationals.