LOS ANGELES (November 14, 2016) – Kalitta Motorsports founder and owner Connie Kalitta was honored last night at the season-ending Mello Yello Awards banquet with NHRA's Lifetime Achievement Award. This is the first time in NHRA history that this award has been given.
Kalitta's honor received the first standing ovation of the evening as NHRA President Peter Clifford addressed the crowd with some of Kalitta's incredible achievements. A video tribute followed with all four of Kalitta's current full-time drivers: Alexis DeJoria, Doug Kalitta, J.R. Todd and Del Worsham, team Vice-President of Operations Jim Oberhofer, NHRA legends Don Prudhomme and Tom McEwen, and rival team owners John Force and Don Schumacher speaking on what Kalitta meant to the sport and how far reaching his impact has truly been.
Escorted to the stage by Oberhofer, nephew Doug Kalitta and grandson Corey Kalitta, son of the late Scott Kalitta, Connie Kalitta received his one-of-a-kind trophy and made remarks.
"I am not usually at a loss for words," said Kalitta. "Thank you for this. I appreciate everything that each of you said in that piece. I am honored to receive such an award."
Kalitta, known as “The Bounty Hunter” as a driver, was the first racer to reach the 200 mph mark at an NHRA sanctioned event. He was inducted into the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America in 1992 and won the U.S. Nationals in 1994. On NHRA’s 50th anniversary in 2001, he was named one of the NHRA’s Top 50 Drivers.
His team, Kalitta Motorsports, ended 2016 with their most successful season on record as Team Kalitta's four full-time teams earned a combined 131 round wins. Kalitta will continue to have a major part of the NHRA for many years to come as his team expands to six entries beginning in the 2017 season with rookie driver Troy Coughlin Jr. and veteran Paul Lee joining Team Kalitta on a part-time basis to compete alongside DeJoria, Kalitta, Todd and Worsham.
Kalitta scores first Auto Club Finals win
Race Recap: Kalitta came into the final race of the season looking to move the Mac Tools Toyota team back into the top two in the standings.
Although he had a rough Friday qualifying session, Kalitta was very strong on Saturday. After recording a solid pass in the first session to clinch a spot in the show, Kalitta, Jim Oberhofer and the Mac Tools team were focused on moving up in the order. They did just that by running a 3.709 second pass moving up to the second spot, and helping Team Kalitta sweep the top two spots in the field for the first time since 2014.
His first opponent on Sunday was Shawn Reed. The Mac Tools team were ready. Kalitta was solid on the tree, and the Mac Tools dragster was solid downtrack with a 3.755 second pass. The winning ways continued in the second round with Kalitta leaving on Schumacher and leading all the way to the stripe. That round win, Kalitta's 587th, was enough to move Kalitta to the top ten all-time in NHRA history and clinch a top two spot in the standings for the Mac Tools team.
Kalitta moved to the semi-finals. The second pair of the semis, Kalitta watched his teammate, J.R. Todd, earn a finals berth and the Mac Tools driver was focused to follow suit. The Mac Tools driver beat Shawn Langdon off of the line and led wire-to-wire earning Team Kalitta their second all-Kalitta Top Fuel final of the season.
In the final, the Mac Tools driver left first on the starting line and got his fourth win of the season and first Auto Club Finals trophy defeating his teammate on a holeshot. It was his fourth win of the season; the most he has earned since 2006. He also earned his top points placement since the 2006 season.
Qualified: No. 2 (3.709 sec., 327.90 mph)
Quotable: “I am so proud to drive this Mac Tools dragster. I have a heck of a group, Jim O, Troy, this entire team is awesome. The guys worked so hard, and to close the season with a win is great. This is a trophy I have been chasing for a long time, and I am so glad to earn it. I am a winner till the Winternationals and I am so excited to close the season on a high note."
Final Point Standings: Second
Todd advances to career-best sixth final of the season
Race Recap: Focused on ending a career-best season strong, Todd was very excited to get to one of his favorite tracks: Auto Club Raceway at Pomona.
Todd and the SealMaster team were stout throughout qualifying. Connie Kalitta and Rob Flynn tuned the SealMaster ride to the second-best pass of the first session, but really laid down a jaw dropping pass in the heat of Saturday afternoon. Todd drove the SealMaster ride from start-to-finish in an incredible 3.680 seconds. That reset Todd's career-best and also gave him the Auto Club Raceway track record. It is tied for the fifth-best run in NHRA history. Todd would hold on and record his first no.1 qualifer of the season, first at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona and ninth of his career. With Doug Kalitta qualifying second, Team Kalitta swept the first two spots in qualifying for the first time in over two years.
Todd and the SealMaster team got the 16th seeded Troy Buff in the first round. Buff hit the tree early giving the round win to Todd who recorded a solid 3.811 seecond pass. Fellow Toyota driver Richie Crampton was next, and Todd moved to his fourth semi-final or better in the last five events with a nice 3.762 second run.
But Todd was not down there. Taking on the new champion Antron Brown in the semi-finals for the third consecutive race, the SealMaster team laid down low elapsed time of the round with an incredible 3.708 second pass to earn lane choice over his teammate, Doug Kalitta, in the final. It was Todd's second straight final, sixth of the season and 19th of his career.
However, a second win of the season was not in the cards as Kalitta's Mac Tools dragster was able to get off of the line first and take that to the finish line for the win. Even in the loss, it was an outstanding season for Todd who reached new career-highs in round wins and finals.
Qualified: No. 1 (3.680 sec., 327.82 mph) **CAREER-BEST and TRACK RECORD ET**
Quotable: “I believe we definitely had the car to beat all weekend, we just screwed up in the final on the starting line and let one get away. It was a mistake (in lane choice due to the sun), but we can’t make any excuses, you’ve got go up there and be a pro and hit the gas on time. All in all, a good weekend for Kalitta Motorsports having both Toyota dragsters in the final and that got us both in the top five in points. We just wanted to come out of here with a trophy. Hopefully this is a sign of things to come for next year. The performance of the car over the last three races has really come around. It’s a shame we didn’t start off the Countdown the way we finished. I think we’ve definitely got a championship caliber team here and hopefully we’ll go out and win a handful of races before the Countdown next year and set ourselves up in a better position. We’ve been to a lot of semis and a quite a few final rounds. I don’t think our overall point position reflects the kind of season we had. We stumbled at the beginning of the Countdown and Antron got rolling like he did, it just makes it harder on the rest of us. You’ve got to stop him early. The way we finished the year, I like the direction we’re going for 2017.”
Point Standings: Fourth
Tough end to another outstanding season for Worsham
Race Recap: Last season's Auto Club Finals victor, Worsham was looking to end the season strong once again. The DHL Toyota team struggled throughout qualifying on Friday, but were able to lay a clean 3.912 second pass in the early session on Saturday to lock themselves in the top half of the field. When the dust was settled, Worsham was ranked eighth, and earned a first round draw of fellow Countdown driver Tim Wilkerson.
The last nitro pair to see the track, Worsham and Wilkerson left together, but Worsham experienced tire smoke eventually and Wilkerson ran the low elapsed time of round one to move on.
Overall, it was another successful season for Worsham. He recorded 36 round wins which ranks among Worsham's top three most successful Funny Car seasons. He earned his first win in Brainerd and had four additional final round appearances.
Qualified: No. 8 (3.912 sec., 327.35 mph)
Quotable: "Not the way we wanted to end the season with this DHL Toyota Camry. Great effort by all of my guys; I have a great group. We will work hard this off-season and come out swinging in 2017."
Final Point Standings: Seventh
(Doug Kalitta, Del Worsham, J.R. Todd)
Arend solid in fill-in duty
Race Recap: Due to injuries suffered at the Toyota Nationals in Las Vegas, DeJoria sat out the Auto Club Finals. Team Patrón still competed with former Team Kalitta driver Jeff Arend chosen to fill the seat.
Arend recorded his first three second pass and qualified a solid tenth. First up was former champion Matt Hagan. Hagan encountered tire smoke and the Patrón Camry was stout with a clean 3.971 second pass. In the second round, Arend ran another solid 3.979, but it was not enough against Courtney Force.
Qualified: No. 10 (3.930 sec., 317.19 mph)
Lee ends season with consistency
Race Recap: Lee returned to the McLeod Racing Toyota for Team Kalitta after an awesome debut in Las Vegas. However, Lee, crew chief Todd Smith and the McLeod Racing team was not about to be outdone. The team scored four straight three-second passes in qualifying to solidly qualify 11th in the quickest Funny Car field in NHRA history. In his first round matchup with Robert Hight, Lee was prepared, recording the top reaction time of the round, but encountered tire smoke down track giving the round win to Hight.
Qualified: No. 11 (3.935 sec., 305.36 mph)
E1: Lee defeated by Hight - 4.460 sec., 195.28 mph to 3.929 sec., 326.40 mph
For further requests for Paul Lee, please contact:
All Photos courtesy of Gary Nastase Photography.
Top Fuel (Unofficial)
1. Leah Pritchett (122)
2. Doug Kalitta (105)
3. Antron Brown (79)
4. Tony Schumacher (70)
5. Brittany Force (57)
6. Troy Coughlin Jr. (54)
7. Steve Torrence (53)
8. Terry McMillen (48)
9. Shawn Reed (32)
9. Scott Palmer (32)
Funny Car (Unofficial)
1. Matt Hagan (119)
2. Courtney Force (99)
3. John Force (80)
4. Ron Capps (77)
5. Jack Beckman (53)
6. J.R. Todd (52)
6. Del Worsham (52)
6. Tommy Johnson Jr. (52)
9. Robert Hight (36)
10. Alexis DeJoria (35)