NHRA - National Hot Rod Association

After first world title, Kalitta eager to start 2024 NHRA season in Gainesville

For the first time in his career, Top Fuel veteran Doug Kalitta will enter the NHRA Mission Foods Drag Racing Series season with a “1” on his Mac Tools dragster to signify his world championship in 2023.
06 Mar 2024
Posted by NHRA.com staff
Doug Kalitta

For the first time in his career, Top Fuel veteran Doug Kalitta will enter the NHRA Mission Foods Drag Racing Series season with a “1” on his Mac Tools dragster to signify his world championship in 2023.

It’s a well-earned honor for the popular Kalitta, who will now look to open his first title defense on a strong note at this weekend’s 55th annual Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals at legendary Gainesville Raceway.

The championship was a long time coming for the longtime standout, as Kalitta earned that first world title on the final pass of the season, a winner-take-all final round with Leah Pruett at the In-N-Out Burger NHRA Finals in Pomona. That memory is still fresh in Kalitta’s mind, but it’s also kept his team plenty motivated heading into this weekend’s highly anticipated 2024 opener in Gainesville.

“We’re hoping to pick up where we left off [last season]. That’s what I’m thinking,” Kalitta said. “Fortunately, with all the changes we made on both our dragsters, Alan [Johnson, crew chief] is definitely the right guy for the job in tuning these things, so we’re fortunate to have him so we can keep our momentum going. The main thing is to have fun and take care of business.
“I’m super excited to get this thing going again, and all my guys are super excited. Starting at the Gators in Florida is a fan favorite. It’s always good to race in Florida down in Don Garlits country — he’s pretty much the man for Florida drag racing.”

Last year, Mike Salinas (Top Fuel), Matt Hagan (Funny Car), Troy Coughlin Jr. (Pro Stock), and Gaige Herrera (Pro Stock Motorcycle) all won in Gainesville, and this year’s race will be broadcast on FS1, including eliminations action on Sunday at 10:30 a.m. and 9 p.m. Kalitta will also take part in the Pep Boys NHRA Top Fuel All-Star Callout on Saturday. Josh Hart is the defending winner of the specialty race that promises big money and bragging rights, while Kalitta enters the shootout as the No. 2 seed.

If top seed Steve Torrence doesn’t call out the reigning world champ, Kalitta will get his choice of opponent for the opening round in the eight-car field. The race, which gets a special broadcast at 7 p.m. ET on FS1 on Saturday, gives standouts in Top Fuel a unique opportunity for a double-win weekend.

That would be a perfect start to a championship defense, but Kalitta will have his hands full in the loaded Top Fuel category. Torrence, Mike Salinas, Brittany Force, Justin Ashley, Antron Brown, Shawn Langdon, and Hart are all part of the Callout, while other standouts include Tony Schumacher, Tony Stewart, who is making his NHRA Top Fuel debut in Gainesville, and Clay Millican.

Kalitta, though, will aim to pick up his fourth career victory at the Gatornationals, as well as a win in specialty race.

“It’s very cool Pep Boys has this race, and hopefully, we can keep on trucking and turn on some more win lights,” said Kalitta, who has 52 career Top Fuel wins. “It’s an interesting formant, for sure, and it should be a lot of fun. I’ve been out here 26 years, and I’ve had a lot of people pulling for me, so it was nice to pull [the championship] off last year. The Gators is always a great place to race, and I’m focused on trying to win there. I appreciate all the support I’ve been receiving, but it’s definitely time to get back to racing.”

The selections take place at 10 a.m. in the Top Eliminator Club. The first round of the Pep Boys Top Fuel All-Star Callout takes place on Saturday at 1:20 p.m. ET and the semifinals at 2:45 p.m. The finals are slated for 4:25 p.m. 

NHRA Mission Foods Drag Racing Series qualifying features two rounds at 2 and 4:30 p.m. ET on Friday, March 8, and the final two qualifying rounds on Saturday, March 9 at noon and 3 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 10:30 a.m. ET on Sunday, March 10.

To purchase tickets to the 2024 Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals, visit www.NHRA.com/tickets. Children 12 and under are free in general-admission areas with the purchase of an adult ticket. Get your tickets now for the Top Eliminator Club because these will sell out.