POMONA, Calif. – – Six times. He was runner up six times. Doug Kalitta is a runner up no more – he is the 2023 NHRA Top Fuel Champion. And for good measure, he’s also the In ‘N Out Burger NHRA Finals race winner taking his third win of the season.
Kalitta entered the weekend in second place in points just 15 markers behind Steve Torrence and four points ahead of third-place Leah Pruett. Chances were excellent this battle for the championship would go down to the final round, and that’s exactly what happened.
“It’s incredible the way the points thing worked out to come down to that last run,” the 2023 champion said. “I just stayed focused. It was obviously a big round, and it played out just perfectly. I got to the end of the track and was like, ‘I cannot believe these guys are still looking at me and high fiving’ because unfortunately, I missed the win light. Everybody was down there, and it was something I looked forward to all my life. It was a hell of a drag race, and it was nice to get the win.”
Kalitta qualified No. 5 and defeated Dan Mercier, Josh Hart, Justin Ashley and Leah Pruett on his way to the winner’s circle and the Top Fuel championship. After Mike Salinas lost in the first round, Justin Ashley moved to fourth in points, and the top-four drivers in points advanced to the semifinals.
Kalitta had lane choice over Ashley; points leader Steve Torrence had lane choice over Pruett. Kalitta defeated Ashley (3.723 secs. to 3.801 secs.) and Pruett defeated Torrence (3.717 secs. to 3.765 secs.) setting up the final round between Pruett and Kalitta. The final round was “winner-take-all” with the race winner also winning the championship. Kalitta left the starting line first and never looked back winning 3.673 secs. to 3.720 secs. to win the race and claim the 2023 NHRA Top Fuel Championship.
“That definitely has a nice ring to it,” Kalitta said. “It’s gonna take a little while for that to settle in, but I’ll be grinning here for quite a while. It was definitely a great day. With the top-four cars still in the semis, I was feeling the intensity. You just hope for the best. This is one of the coolest places to run with the museum and the history of the NHRA. I heard all the stories back in the day with Connie (Kalitta’s uncle and team owner Connie Kalitta) and Don Garlits. This is the pinnacle for me, really. Connie was pretty happy, and I definitely appreciate what he’s done for me.”
With the 2023 championship in hand, Kalitta is the seventh driver to win a Top Fuel title with legendary tuner Alan Johnson making the calls. He joins Gary Scelzi, Tony Schumacher, Larry Dixon, Del Worsham, his teammate Shawn Langdon and Brittany Force as drivers winning with Johnson.
“What a blessing to have him on our team,” Kalitta added. “Throughout the year, we kind of struggled and changed a lot of stuff with our car. I think after Reading (Pa.) when we blew that tire, for some reason, our luck kind of changed after that. The car was responding, and everything seemed to be a lot happier with our tune up. To be one of the guys who won a championship with Alan as the crew chief is what I’ve dreamt of, and obviously, winning it with Connie here is extra special as well.
“At the end of the run, I was so relieved. I’ve been trying to win this thing for years, and it’s really hard to believe. I’m speechless kind of at the moment, but it’ll settle in here after the banquet. We’ve had a great run being out here, and this championship has definitely been on my ‘things to do list.’ My cousin, Scott, won this thing a couple of times so I’ve always grown up in his shadow trying to accomplish what he accomplished so it was definitely on my bucket list to get a Top Fuel title. It’s definitely a big relief.”
Finals Broadcast Replays:
9 p.m.-Midnight eastern Monday, Nov. 13 on FS2
6-9 p.m. eastern Wednesday, Nov. 15 on FS2.
8-11 p.m. eastern Friday, Nov. 17 on FS2