Kalitta's Fast Start Wins in Shootout

Times Staff Writer

In the quickest side-by-side race in National Hot Rod Assn. history, former sprint car champion Doug Kalitta of Ann Arbor, Mich., defeated Tony Schumacher of Mount Prospect, Ill., by eight-thousandths of a second -- .0081, to be exact -- to win the 19th Budweiser Shootout for top-fuel cars Saturday at Pomona Raceway.

In one of the quirks of drag racing, Schumacher had the quickest time for the quarter-mile, 4.471 seconds elapsed time, to Kalitta's 4.479, but lost the race on reaction time.

"This is an unbelievable feeling," said Kalitta, who won the bonus race in 1998, his first year in drag racing after having won the U.S. Auto Club sprint car crown in 1994.

"When I saw the win light come on in my lane, I couldn't believe we pulled it off. We've been working so hard to win this race again since we won it the first time. There's some really tough competition out here. We are just fortunate to win that one. What a race."

Kalitta won $100,000 and a ride up the racing strip on the Budweiser Clydesdales with his wife, Josie, and son Mitchell.

Schumacher, who took the No. 1 starting position for today's Auto Club NHRA Finals with a track record time of 4.455 earlier in the day in his U.S. Army-sponsored dragster, echoed Kalitta's feelings.

"What a race," he said. "He and I have done that before, but not for all this money. He beat me the same way at Brainard. Maybe Doug'll let me drink some of his beer."

In a national event at Brainard, Minn., in August, the two cars had the same time, 4.698, but Kalitta won with a quicker reaction time, .044 to .057. It was the same way Saturday, Kalitta coming off the line in .047 of a second to Schumacher's .063.

Connie Kalitta, who owns his nephew's Mac Tools car and is its crew chief, won the Winternationals as a driver at Pomona in 1967. Connie's son Scott also qualified for today's Auto Club Finals.

"Connie deserves a lot of credit today," said the winner. "This whole thing was his brainchild as far as the tune-up and the setup was concerned. He's a pretty happy guy over there in the garage right now."

If Kalitta wins today's final, he will collect a $50,000 double-up bonus from the NHRA. Only Joe Amato in 1990 and Larry Dixon last year have won the double.

The 16-car top-fuel lineup, from Schumacher's 4.455 to David Grubnic's No. 16 speed of 4.639, is the fastest in NHRA history.

Kenny Bernstein, 59, and Shirley Muldowney, 62, qualified handily in top fuel in what is the final event of their illustrious careers. Bernstein, a six-time national champion, is seventh at 4.556, and Muldowney, a three-time champion, is 14th at 4.628.

"It has totally sunk in that this is the last race," said Muldowney. "I don't know if my last pass is going to be in the first round, or the last round, but I know it will be sometime tomorrow. All I know is everyone is really enjoying this weekend and it has been great to see everybody for one last race."

She will meet No. 3 qualifier Paul Romine in the first round.

Before the year's final event began Thursday, Dixon, Tony Pedregon in funny cars and Greg Anderson in pro stock, had already clinched NHRA championships.

Geno Scali, a Suzuki rider from Chicago, won his first pro stock bike crown Saturday when he qualified second.

Pedregon, who took the funny car championship from his boss, John Force, continued his impressive year in the Castrol Mustang by running a 4.721-second elapsed time, a speed that not only bettered Whit Bazemore's track mark of 4.736, but also equaled Force's national record.

In the same funny car session, former two-time top-fuel champion Gary Scelzi of Fresno blistered the track with a thunderous 328.38-mph run in a Dodge Stratus that shattered teammate Gary Densham's track record 326.87. It is the third fastest of all-time and Scelzi now holds the fastest five.

In pro stock, Anderson, a Pontiac Grand Am pilot from Monroesville, N.C., took both track standards away from veteran Warren Johnson with a pass of 6.733 seconds at 205.51 mph. Johnson ran 6.764 at 204.91 in February at Pomona.

If Anderson wins today, he will break the season record of 11 victories he shares with Darrell Alderman, who did it in 1991. It is one of the oldest records in the drag racing book.

Suzuki rider Craig Trebel of Chandler, Ariz., took the pro stock bike record from Scali. Trebel ran 7.075 seconds. Scali, who had set the record at 7.108 in an earlier round, improved to 7.097 but fell short of Trebel.

Final eliminations begin at 11 a.m. today.

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