Arend Races to Victory in Chicago; Team Kalitta Continues to Dazzle in 2012
Native Canadian Jeff Arend, Driver of the DHL Toyota Camry Funny Car, raced to his first victory of the 2012 NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series season Sunday, Canada Day, in final eliminations of the annual running of the O’Reilly Auto Parts Route 66 NHRA Nationals at Route 66 Raceway in Joliet, Illinois, just a few miles southwest of downtown Chicago.
Arend, a 49-year old resident of San Dimas, California, posted the fourth win of his 18-year Funny Car career on the day that his native land commemorates the day when it became self-governing. Arend was a runner-up finisher at the 2011 installment of the O’Reilly Auto Parts Route 66 NHRA Nationals, and today’s final round showing was his first since the Chicago “money round” last year. Today was Arend’s first trip to the Winner’s Circle since the Houston event in the spring of last year.
Arend took over the controls of the DHL Funny Car for Kalitta Motorsports at the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals in 2008 after the tragic death of Scott Kalitta, son of team owner and drag racing legend Connie “The Bounty Hunter” Kalitta, in a racing accident in New Jersey earlier that year. Both of Scott’s sons, Colin and Corey, who celebrated his 19th birthday Friday, were in attendance to see Arend and the DHL team get the emotional win at Route 66 Raceway.
“We’re always thinking about Scott, but even more when we win,” Arend said. “This was just an amazing day for our DHL team. I’m so proud of this team right now. They worked so hard all weekend and in intense heat to boot. I was confident every round today because I knew my guys had given me a great car to drive every time we went to the starting line. This Wally (trophy) is for the DHL crew. We got Toyota their first win in the new Camry body, too, so it’s a great day all around, eh (laughing).
“It’s so cool to have Corey and Colin here for the win. Having them here to celebrate with us in the Winner’s Circle is, well, words can’t really describe how great it is.”
En route to the ninth final-round appearance of his career, Arend, the No. 7 qualifier (4.075 seconds, 309.49 mph), defeated Tony Pedregon, Tim Wilkerson and Jack Beckman. In the final, Arend matched up with Courtney Force. Soon after the start of the 1,000-ft. race, Force’s mount struggled to maintain valuable traction while Arend’s DHL hot rod performed almost perfectly for the fourth time on the day allowing him to secure the win, 4.131 sec., 309.20 mph to 4.454 sec., 272.67 mph.
Arend and the DHL “Yella Fellas” have also reached two semifinals so far in 2012 (Atlanta and Houston). They now move from tenth place to sixth place in Full Throttle Funny Car championship points.
Also, with his win in Chicago, Arend has earned the last guaranteed spot in the Funny Car portion of the Traxxas Nitro Shootout. The NHRA Traxxas Nitro Shootouts, which are races within a race, will be conducted at the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis, with Top Fuel showcased Saturday, September 1st, and Funny Car featured on Sunday, September 2nd. Teams qualify for the NHRA Traxxas Nitro Shootouts by winning an NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series regular season event, holding the No. 1 spot in the Full Throttle standings after the event in Brainerd, Minn., or via a fan vote and lottery-style drawing. The NHRA Traxxas Nitro Shootouts will award $100,000 to the winners in both the Top Fuel and Funny Car events.
In the previous four NHRA national events, Team Kalitta’s resurgence in performance has been extraordinary. The team, collectively Arend with teammates Doug Kalitta, driver of the Kalitta Air Top Fuel dragster, David Grubnic, driver of the Optima Batteries Top Fuel dragster, and Alexis DeJoria, driver of the Tequila Patrón Toyota Camry Funny Car, have posted two wins (Grubnic in Topeka, Kansas), two runner-up finishes (Kalitta and DeJoria at the previous event in Bristol, Tennessee) and four semi-final finishes.
Rookie of the Year contender DeJoria raced to the semifinals in Chicago in another strong showing by the team helmed by 2011 Top Fuel World Champion Del Worsham. “Team Green” moves up from 13th place in Full Throttle Funny Car points to 11th place, only 83 points away from the top ten.
Kalitta and Grubnic both posted quarter-final finishes in Chicago. They remain in sixth and ninth place respectively in Full Throttle Top Fuel championship points.