TOPEKA, Kan. – Doug Kalitta has been a success in any venture he has embarked upon.
The airline he heads out of his Michigan headquarters is thriving. He won the USAC National Sprint Car championship in 1994. And now, he is leading the points in the NHRA POWERade Top Fuel standings, looking to win his first drag racing crown seven years after he made his debut aboard the Top Fuel Dragsters owned by his legendary uncle, Connie Kalitta.
If there's one component in Doug's profile that doesn't seem to jibe with his abilities to control an 8000-horsepower racecar that is one of the quickest and fastest in the history of the sport, it's this: He looks like he should be preparing your income tax return.
But don't let his bookish, studious appearance fool you. He has earned the deep respect of the many racers against whom he competes and after qualifying No. 1 on Saturday at the 17th O'Reilly Summer Nationals at Heartland Park Topeka, Kalitta is continuing to build the kind of momentum that could carry him to that first POWERade championship.
His uncle has taken every step in surrounding Doug with a top-notch crew which includes veteran tuner Rahn Tobler – who as Shirley Muldowney's husband and former crew chief – has further proved his talents this season with the vast resources of Kalitta Motorsports behind him. Tobler collaborates with Jim Oberhofer, another skilled tuner who has been a member of the Kalitta organization for 16 years. Saturday's pole-winning performance gave Kalitta a shot of cautious optimism heading into eliminations on Sunday.
"I wasn't so sure that our time would hold up," Doug said. "The competition out here is really great.
"We'll just see what we can do tomorrow. Race day is always different. You can never count on how well you qualify, but my Mac Tools team has really been doing a great job this year, so I'm sure we'll be set to go for another final tomorrow."
Kalitta has three wins this season and has upped his career total to 22. He has finished second in the championship points in the past two campaigns and feels as if this year may give him his best chance to finally win it all.
"It's too early to be too concerned with the points", says Kalitta. "When we get into the final stretch of the season after the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals in September, we'll be counting every point. But right now, winning rounds and beating the drivers we know we'll have to beat all season are the things we need to do now."
He doesn't look like a Top Fuel champion, in fact, he resembles the type of individual who wouldn't dare exceed the posted speed limit anytime he gets behind the wheel. But looks can be deceiving and Doug Kalitta quietly avoids calling attention to himself while thundering down the quarter-mile in 4-seconds at more than 330 mph.
He may be quiet, but he makes plenty of noise on the track.
Bill Stephens covers NHRA for ESPN.com.