All Three OPTIMA-Sponsored Kalitta Motorsports Teams to Race in the NHRA Countdown to the Championship
Monday was a dramatic day of racing for the OPTIMA Batteries-sponsored Kalitta Motorsports contingent of drivers- Jeff Arend, David Grubnic, and Doug Kalitta, as all three competed in final eliminations of the 57th annual running of the most prestigious drag racing event in the world, the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals at Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis.
Grubnic, driver of the Candlewood Suites Top Fuel dragster, entered Labor Day action in 10th place in Full Throttle Top Fuel championship points with a very slim 18-point advantage over 11th place holder Terry McMillen and a 39-point lead over Bob Vandergriff Jr. in 12th place. Each round of eliminations is worth 20 points. Arend’s task of capturing a playoff spot with his DHL Funny Car was a little less daunting as he entered eliminations in the No. 9 Full Throttle Funny Car points slot, 15 points ahead of Bob Tasca III in 10th place and 73 points ahead of Johnny Gray in 11th.
The 2011 NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series Countdown to the Championship breaks the 22-event season into two distinct sections: the 16-event Countdown to 10, which concluded at the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals, and the six-event Countdown to 1. After the first 16 events, only the top-ten drivers advance into the final segment of the playoffs, and their points are reset to within ten of one another with the exception of the points leader, who will have a 30-point advantage over second place. The ten drivers will then compete for Full Throttle world championships at the season's final six events.
Native Australian Grubnic qualified the Candlewood Suites dragster in the No. 12 position (3.913 seconds, 308.78 mph) for the 16-car Top Fuel eliminations. He raced against No. 5 qualifier Larry Dixon (3.850 sec., 319.60 mph) in round one. Grubnic and his team, led by drag racing legend, team owner and tuner Connie “the Bounty Hunter” Kalitta, made their quickest run of the weekend in the opener against Dixon, but Dixon’s run was just a jot quicker and he got the close win at the 1,000-ft. finish line, 3.896 sec., 311.70 mph to 3.850 sec., 316.01 mph.
Both McMillen and Vandergriff won their first round match-ups. McMillen’s win in the opener gave him enough points to surpass Grubnic in the points by two, but he and his team were docked 10 points for putting oil on the track as the result of an engine failure. Both McMillen and Vandergriff had an opportunity to go around Grubnic with wins in the quarterfinals, but both were defeated allowing Grubnic to take the 10th and final spot in the Countdown to 1 by only eight points over McMillen.
“Well, we scraped through,” Grubnic, a 48-year old resident of Ennis, Mont., said. “I’m really happy for Connie and all my guys on the Candlewood Suites team. It’s tough when you have to just sit back and watch and play defense. We would’ve much rather been on the offensive, but it didn’t turn out that way. Either way, we got in the Countdown and now we’ve got a shot at the championship so all-in-all a great day for me and our entire Kalitta Motorsports operation.”
Grubnic enters the Countdown to 1 in 10th place in Full Throttle Top Fuel points.
Native Canadian Arend qualified the DHL Funny Car in the No. 16 position (4.195 sec., 299.60 mph) for today’s 16-car Funny Car eliminations field. He raced against No. 1 qualifier Cruz Pedregon (4.026 sec., 314.24 mph) in round one. Arend claimed his Countdown to 1 playoff spot with an incredible upset win over Pedregon on a “holeshot”. Arend got a starting line advantage over Pedregon (.057 to .118) so despite running a slower time on the track Arend reached the finish line first, 4.139 sec., 309.63 mph to 4.127 sec., 291.13 mph.
In the quarterfinals, Arend looked to be on his way to the semifinals at the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals with another great run, but the DHL Funny Car started just barely losing traction after half track and that let his opponent Mike Neff claim the victory, 4.503 sec., 196.79 mph to 4.062 sec., 310.91 mph.
“I can’t tell you how excited I am to make the Countdown,” Arend, a 48-year old resident of San Dimas, Calif., said. “It’s been a dream of mine to make the top ten and be on stage at the awards banquet at the end of the year since I started in Funny Car in 1996 and finally our DHL team has made that dream come true. Sure, we would’ve like to gone some rounds and won the Indy trophy today, but I can’t tell you how proud I am of our DHL crew and crew chiefs and everyone involved with our hot rod. My daughter, Jenna, has already started shopping for a dress for the awards banquet at the end of the year.”
Arend enters the Countdown to 1 in ninth place in Full Throttle Funny Car points.
Kalitta, driver of the Mac Tools “Big Red” Top Fuel dragster, qualified in the No. 8 position (3.888 sec., 318.54 mph) for eliminations. He raced against No. 9 qualifier Morgan Lucas (3.891 sec., 313.80 mph) in round one. The two Top Fuel veterans were the first pair to race in eliminations and they gave the large crowd of NHRA drag racing faithful a great side-by-side lap with Kalitta getting the close win, 3.929 sec., 304.25 mph to 3.957 sec., 296.18 mph.
In the quarterfinals, Kalitta faced off against Antron Brown. Again, the two drivers put on an amazing display of straight-line racing, but this time Kalitta came up on the losing end by only approximately three feet, 3.863 sec., 310.34 mph to 3.842 sec., 318.99 mph. Kalitta and the Mac Tools team made their quickest lap of the weekend in the losing effort. Kalitta enters the Countdown to 1 in sixth place in Full Throttle Top Fuel points.