The 54-year-old Michigan driver made his 500th career NHRA start on Friday. He made a statement with the quick pass of 3.755 seconds and 324.67 mph. If the time holds up Saturday, it will be a 50th career No. 1 qualifying effort for Kalitta.
“That was a nice run. It hooked up good,” Kalitta said. “I’m proud of my guys who have been working so hard to make it happen. The car was running strong and it actually darted left a little before the 1,000-feet line. That bounced the front end and definitely got my attention. As soon as I qualified, I was just hoping for the best.”
While Kalitta is a three-time Thunder Valley Nationals winner and has made six final-round appearances, he has never earned the No. 1 qualifier at Bristol. He is also looking for his first No. 1 qualifying award of the season.
When he came in the press box for his post-qualifying interview, his attention was immediately drawn to a photo of his uncle Connie, the owner of the Kalitta Motorsports team for which he drives.
“It’s always exciting to come here. You see the picture on the wall of our leader, Connie Kalitta,” the top qualifier said. “I remember coming here, working on Connie’s car back in the ’80s, just a lot of cool history here for me.”
Leah Pritchett was just .002 off the time of Kalitta with a 3.757 elapsed time at 323.04 mph. Steve Torrence, who comes into Bristol riding a five-race winning streak, was third at 3.768 while posting the fastest speed at 326 mph.
Three-time Top Fuel champion Antron Brown, looking for his first Bristol win, was fourth at 3.768 (325.24), followed by Mike Salinas, who went 3.774 (325.69).
Other notables in the 16-driver field included Brittany Force with the seventh-fastest time and 2017 race winner Clay Millican, who qualified 12th.
Kalitta has the No. 1 qualifier in mind, but is looking for a bigger way to celebrate his 500th start.
“The 500th race is a cool stat. I’ve been 21 years at it and it’s been a fun ride,” he said. “I just hope I’m fortunate enough to win this thing. Our chances are looking good after the first day of qualifying.”