Driving for his uncle Connie’s Kalitta Motorsports team, there is no other place he would rather hit the milestone. He’s a three-time winner of the Thunder Valley Nationals and has six final-round appearances at Bristol Dragway.
“It is a fitting place for the 500th start,” Kalitta said. “Bristol has been good to us. We’ve been going there a lot of years even back in the 80s when I first started working with Connie. It’s such a showplace and we always look forward to going there.”
Beyond his own milestone, it’s the 60th anniversary of Kalitta Motorsports. While it’s special for all the Kalitta drivers, there is extra motivation for the Ypsilanti, Michigan driver with his family’s rich racing history.
“It’s really cool. To this day, Connie has an incredible passion for being part of the NHRA,” Kalitta said. “He makes all the decisions on Richie Crampton’s car and enjoys being a part of it. To be at it such a long time, it’s cool to see that type of passion.”
In a normal year, Kalitta would be looked at as the favorite coming into Bristol. At the moment, that honor belongs to defending series champion Steve Torrence who is on an incredible hot streak of five consecutive victories.
Kalitta, who won the season-opening Winternationals in Pomona, currently rides second, 321 points behind Torrence in the standings. He’s had round wins each of the last two races at Chicago and Topeka, but is looking for more.
“We’ve been going rounds and our car is running good, but we’re trying to get back to the finals and win another one of these,” Kalitta said. “We hope to slow our buddy Steve Torrence down. He’s got such a good run going. Somebody has to slow him down and we hope it’s us.”
Before he was a drag racing star, Kalitta was an accomplished oval track driver, winning the 1994 USAC Silver Crown championship while racing against future NASCAR drivers Tony Stewart, Mike Bliss and Kenny Irwin Jr.
Beyond that, Kalitta won an exhibition race of the NHRA drivers in stock cars at the adjacent Bristol Motor Speedway. Even to this day, Kalitta finds his round-track experience useful when behind the wheel of the dragster.
“It was helpful to step out of a sprint car and midget into one of these cars,” Kalitta said. “With those, you get used to sliding cars around. It’s not quite as intimidating getting in one of those cars where you have a little more seat control. But, it definitely helped me.
“I remember at Phoenix, the car got the front end up, but I was able to gather it up. It’s a seat-of-your-pants kind of deal. With these Top Fuel cars, they’re incredibly fast and reacting quickly so you have to be careful with them.”