Two-time NHRA PowerAde Top Fuel champion Scott Kalitta died Saturday from multiple injuries suffered in a high-speed Funny Car crash during qualifying for the Lucas Oil NHRA SuperNationals at Old Bridge Township Raceway Park in Englishtown, NJ.
Kalitta suffered an engine explosion late in his fourth and final qualifying pass, and the flames from the resulting fire consumed virtually all of his parachutes. The car impacted at high speed at the end of the quarter-mile strip, necessitating a lengthy extraction by NHRA emergency personnel. He was transported to nearby Old Bridge Township Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
Kalitta, the son of legendary driver and team owner Connie “The Bounty Hunter” Kalitta, was one of only 14 NHRA drivers to win races in both Top Fuel and Funny Car. In addition to his back-to-back World Top Fuel championships in 1994 and 1995, he won 18 career races, including his final victory in Chicago in 2005. He lost in the finals two weeks ago at that same track, in his 36th NHRA final-round appearance.
Kalitta’s career had been on-and-off since 1997, including two long retirements prompted at least in part by concern over the safety of Top Fuel racing. He sat out most of two seasons beginning in 1997, then came out of retirement for a partial season in 1999. A second, three-year retirement ended when he returned to the family race team as a teammate to his cousin, Doug Kalitta.
Scott was a guest on Sirius Speedway a number of times in recent seasons, and was unfailingly insightful, upbeat and humble about the sport and his place in it. He was gregarious and outgoing at times, but had a "game face" as intense and unflinching as any in sports. Some saw him as gruff or aloof on race day; mistaking his intensity for arrogance. His zest for life off the racetrack (and his impregnable focus on it) had a lot to do with paternal genetics. Like his father, Scott could be a man of few words. But when he spoke, you knew you were getting the staight scoop, straight from the heart and unvarnished. Scott was an eloquent spokesman for the sport of drag racing, and an outstanding representative for one of that sport's most beloved families.
Our good friend and former NHRA PowerAde Funny Car champion Gary Scelzi spoke for many Saturday, saying, “I say a prayer every time I get in the car (for drivers who have perished in racing crashes). I have way too many names on that list, and I had to add Scott Kalitta today. I wish I didn't.”
Kalitta is survived by his father; his wife, Kathy; and sons Corey, 14, and Colin, eight. Scott Kalitta was 46 years of age.