Scott Kalitta: The Racer's Racer (1962-2008)

L.J. BurgessSenior Writer IJune 22, 2008

Scott Kalitta died doing what he loved the most, racing down that 1,320 foot strip of two-lane black-top a winner.

Scott Kalitta had made this Sunday's Funny Car show at Old Bridge Township Raceway Park by beating Tony Bartone off the line in the final round of qualifying. Sadly it was to be his last win.

Scott had completed a 300 mph run before everything went horribly wrong and his DHL-sponsored Toyota Solara, engulfed in flames, hit the runoff retaining wall at high speed, taking his life.

Scott Kalitta was 46 years young and one of only 14 drivers to win in both NHRA Nitro classes, Funny Car and Top Fuel.

The two-time NHRA Champion did not have to continue racing...he needed to.

After two aborted attempts at retirement in the '90s, Scott returned in 2003 to the sport he loved as part of his family-owned four car team with his father, Connie Kalitta, as crew chief and cousin Doug Kalitta running in the Top Fuel class.

It was a family matter.

Conrad "Connie" Kalitta, drag racing pioneer and NHRA Top Fuel winner, was famous as the "The Bounty Hunter" and car owner of drag racing's first queen Shirley Muldowney "The Bounty Huntress." The pair were immortalized in the movie "Heart Like A Wheel" the biopic of Muldowney's life.

Doug Kalitta drives the family-owned, MAC Tools-sponsored Top Fuel dragster that sits eighth in the 2008 points race. Earlier in his racing career, Doug Kalitta was the 1994 USAC National Sprint Car champion.

This was the racing legacy that Scott Kalitta was born to inherit. The quintessential family man, the family team, the family mission, to compete for the win. The genes were too dominant for Scott Kalitta to walk away from drag racing.

Kalitta's career tragically ended at the same track where he made his professional debut in 1986. Old Bridge Raceway Park in Englishtown, N.J., has been a legendary stop on the NHRA calendar since it was sanctioned in the mid '60s and has been the permanent home of the Summernationals since 1993.

Scott's career progressed to the top tiers of nitro classes in the late '80s and he took his first win in the Funny Car class in 1989. After tasting success in Funny Cars, Kalitta moved to the Top Fuel class and took his maiden win at Topeka while setting the national top speed record in 1993.

 It was balls to the wall for Scott for the next three years, as he conquered and dominated the top NHRA Nitro class with 11 wins and back-to-back championships in 1994 and 1995. One year later, he finished a hard-fought second place in the Top Fuel class and abruptly retired at the top of his profession.

His first comeback in 1999 was tentative at best, and Scott retired once more. In 2003 the nitro bug bit again. Returning to the Top Fuel ranks, it took only one season for Kalitta to return to form with a top five points finish in 2004 and two wins in 2005.

In 2006, Kalitta returned to his roots in the nitro Funny Car class but struggled in the family owned Kalitta Airlines sponsored Monte Carlo flopper and finished 13 in the points after a switch to Toyota late in the season.

The Funny Car team's difficulties continued in the 2007 season despite substantial sponsorship from DHL Carriers and Toyota for the season with six missed races and only one semi-final appearance.

The team's 2008 performance was mixed but showed some improvement over the previous two campaigns with a season-best second-place finish in Topeka the week before Scott Kalitta's final run in Englishtown, N.J.

On the eve of his tragic last run, Scott Kalitta was 18th in points, 215 points behind Funny Car points leader Tom Wilkerson.

The entire racing community, the NHRA organization, motorsports fans worldwide and especially his family, have lost a family man and lifelong motorsports competitor who could not comprehend the word "quit".

Kalitta Team drivers, cousin Doug Kalitta, Dave Grubnic and Hillary Will, and members of Scott's team have withdrawn from the Lucas Oil NHRA Supernational finals on Sunday.

Scott Kalitta is survived by his wife Cathy, sons Colin and Corey and father Conrad Kalitta.

We send our condolences to his family and friends. We are all diminished by his loss.

Go here: Kalitta Racing

photo credit: ISI Photo