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The Kalitta Family: Champions-R-Us

As most know, the racing Kalittas of Ypsilanti, Michigan, Top Fuel's first family, came out winners in an off-season of corporate dealings that produced more losers, i.e. unrenewed sponsorships.

For the first time since 1962, patriarch Connie Kalitta is not going to have to foot the bill for an entire season of Top Fuel competition. Thanks to his sponsor relations head Doug Davenport, he was able to pull the MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas into his camp this winter. The dealings are reported elsewhere in this issue.

The hoteliers really have drawn a hand for 2000. The Kalitta name is one of the most revered and respected in Top Fuel drag racing annals. All three drivers, Connie, son Scott, and nephew Doug have been national champions in auto racing and as a result have given MGM Grand a genuine loaded revolver to joust for the 2000 NHRA Winston Championship.

Below are the credentials by driver of one of the most formidable teams in the sport.

The 62-year-old "pit boss," as he has emblazoned on the car, has a storied career. He initially made a name for himself in the Top Gas ranks, competing in his native Michigan, under the name of the "Bounty Hunter." Kalitta used to write the names of his opponents on the rollcage panels of his dragster and when he whipped them, he ostentatiously drew a line through their names.

His first big accomplishment came at the 1960 NHRA Nationals at Detroit Dragway where he runner-upped to the late Leonard Harris in the A / Dragster final. Two years later, Kalitta's "Bounty Hunter" was driven to Top Speed of the meet at the NHRA Nationals by Don Garlits, who ran 180.36 mph. At the 1963 NHRA Winternationals, he set Top Gas Top Speed at the NHRA Winternationals.

At the midpoint of that year, Kalitta went Top Fuel full-time and hit the match trail, racing the likes of Garlits, Chris Karamesines, Art Malone, Tommy Ivo and a host of other Top Fuel pioneers, and again he experienced more than his fair share of success.

His name became permanently ensconced in the drag racing public consciousness when he won the most prestigious fuel race in the world, winning the 1964 Smokers U.S. Fuel and Gas Championships at Bakersfield. There, he clipped Garlits in the final of the sport's first qualified 32-car show, 7.95 / 188.66 to 8.22 / 191.48. In 1980, Kalitta again emerged atop the Bakersfield Top Fuel pile.

In 1966, Kalitta made a radical move to the SOHC Ford engine and rumbled with that. The following year, he began the season with Top Fuel wins at the AHRA Winternationals, the NHRA Winternationals (his first NHRA win) and the NASCAR Winter Nationals, at the time an unprecedented accomplishment.

And on he went.

Kalitta still occasionally drives when he feels like it (the cars are his toys). Since the 1967 season, he's been a two-time IHRA Top Fuel World Champion (1979, 1982), the crew chief on Shirley Muldowney's 1977 and 1980 NHRA World champ cars, the first driver over 290 mph, the 1994 U.S. Nationals Top Fuel champ, and a few years ago was voted into the Michigan Motorsports Hall of Fame.

His American International Airways operation at Willow Run Airport in Michigan, begun in 1971, became a multi-million dollar business and has allowed him to race as much as he desired since.

Connie has scored 10 NHRA national event wins and many IHRA and AHRA titles.

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