On a day of several firsts, Doug Kalitta hopes his Top Fuel victory in the NHRA Carolina Nationals at zMax Dragway won’t be his last.
“It’s great to get off to this kind of start and build momentum from the first race,” said Kalitta, 53, referring to the circuit’s six-race Countdown to the Championship, which started on this hot Sunday afternoon.
It was the Ypsilanti, Mich.-based driver’s first win of the 2017 season and his first ever at Concord.
Other winners in Sunday’s finals included Robert Hight in the Funny Car division and Denver, N.C.-based rookie Tanner Gray in Pro Stock.
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Top Fuel was littered with fallen favorites from the start as the top four drivers in the points standings – Steve Torrence, Antron Brown, Leah Pritchett and Tony Schumacher – were eliminated in the first two rounds.
The Kalitta team was guaranteed its first-ever Top Fuel championship at Concord by the semifinals, placing its drivers in all four spots. Kalitta, the top qualifier, defeated Richie Crampton in the championship race.
“Some big hitters went out early and you have to take advantage of that,” Kalitta said. “We had some of our own (mechanical) issues, but we worked through them and worked hard for the win.”
Hight took his 40th career victory in the Funny Car championship, edging No. 1 qualifier Courtney Force.
“It was the hardest day of racing I think I’ve ever had,” Hight said. “All four drivers we faced are in the Countdown, so it’s something when you come out on top under those circumstances. It wasn't our best event for qualifying (sixth of the 16 drivers), but we were amped up, and we rolled in and got it when it counted.”
Hight defeated Matt Hagan, Tommy Johnson Jr. and J.R. Todd to reach the finals.
Force, in the finals here for the first time, defeated Bob Gilbertson, her father John Force and Alexis Dejoria to get to the championship. She’s started seven events this season as No. 1 qualifier, but hasn’t won any of them.
The Pro Stock final matched the top two qualifiers, both Charlotte-area drivers. Gray, the No. 1 qualifier, won his fifth championship of the season. He beat Greg Anderson of Mooresville for the fourth time in six elimination races this season to take over the points lead in the division.
“Definitely the way we wanted to start the Countdown,” Gray said. “The season’s going better than any of us expected. I’m blessed to be able to win here in front of all my friends and family.”
No. 2 qualifier Eddie Krawiec won the Pro Stock Motorcycle final, defeating top qualifier and teammate Andrew Hines.
NEXT: The next NHRA event at zMax Dragway is the Four-Wide Nationals on April 27-29, the only four-wide event of the season. The next stop on the circuit is next weekend in Reading, Pa.