February 18, 1962|
Mt. Clemens, Michigan
|Died||June 21, 2008
Englishtown, New Jersey
|Related to||Connie Kalitta, Doug Kalitta|
|Years active||1982–1997; 1999; 2003–2008|
|Best finish||champion in 1994, 1995|
|1994, 1995||Top Fuel Season Champion|
Scott D. Kalitta (February 18, 1962 – June 21, 2008) was an American drag racer who competed in the Funny Car and Top Fuel classes in the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) Full Throttle Drag Racing Series. He was killed at Old Bridge Township Raceway Park, after an accident during qualifying. He had 17 career Top Fuel wins and 1 career Funny Car win, and at his death he was one of fourteen drivers to win in both divisions.
Scott Kalitta's career began in 1982 at Old Bridge Township Raceway Park. His first career #1 qualifier happened at the Baton Rouge, Louisiana event in 1988. He got his first win in 1989 in Funny Car at the event in Houston, Texas.
The next two years were big for Kalitta, as he would win the Top Fuel championship both years. In 1994, he became the first Top Fuel driver to have four straight event wins (Columbus, Topeka, Denver and Sonoma) and he won five events that season. He won six events and 45 rounds of competition in 1995 to win the championship. His 1996 season saw him win the $100,000 Budweiser Shootout at Sonoma en route to a second-place points finish. He had the top speed at a series best eight races that season. Kalitta won the Topeka event for a fourth straight year in 1997. He retired in October of that season.
Kalitta came back in 1999, making one final round in ten starts. Kalitta returned to Top Fuel in 2003 after a three-year layoff. He made two final rounds and set a speed record at 333.95 miles per hour (537.44 km/h), but didn't certify the speed with a fast enough backup run to claim the national record. In 2004 he recorded one win in two final round appearances. He was the top qualified at both Las Vegas event, and finished in the Top five in season points. His 2005 season saw him win two events.
For 2006, Kalitta returned to Funny Car in a Chevrolet Monte Carlo, but did not have as much success as he had in Top Fuel the previous two years. In the season, Kalitta drove his Kalitta Air-sponsored Funny Car to a 13th-place points finish, well behind eventual champion John Force. Toward the end of the year, Kalitta switched from the Monte Carlo to the Toyota Solara, which he ran for the remainder of his career.
Kalitta's 2007 Funny Car season was rather uneventful, as he qualified for 16 of 23 events in his DHL-sponsored Solara and missed the inaugural NHRA Countdown to the Championship. His best finish of the season was a semi-finals appearance at Denver in July. In 2008, he made his 36th and last final round appearance at Chicago, two weeks before his death.
On June 21, 2008, Kalitta was fatally injured during the final round of qualifying for the Lucas Oil NHRA SuperNationals at Old Bridge Township Raceway Park. Kalitta's Funny Car was traveling at about 300 mph when the engine exploded in flames near the finish line. The parachutes were damaged and failed to slow the vehicle. According to the New Jersey State Police official news release evidence discovered in Kalitta’s lane revealed that he had applied mechanical braking and maintained steering control of the vehicle throughout the 2235-foot-long “shutdown” portion of the racetrack. Post-crash examination of the vehicle further revealed the clutch system to be locked, maintaining engine power to the rear wheels. Witnesses and audio recordings reveal the vehicle’s engine was firing throughout the shutdown portion of the racetrack, which further reinforced the fact that the vehicle’s engine was still providing power for some period of time. Kalitta's vehicle reached the end of the paved race track and went through a sand trap at around 125 mph. The vehicle went over the concrete retaining wall. The vehicle continued forward and impacted a piece of heavy equipment (JLG model 600S telescopic boom lift vehicle), which was positioned outside the “run-off” area by the ESPN television crew. This impact caused catastrophic damage to the vehicle and additional separation of chassis components and the vehicle's engine. The largest portion of the race vehicle came to rest in a grassy area 250' south of the shutdown area. Kalitta was contained in this portion of the race vehicle and had sustained fatal blunt force injuries. A review of information provided by Delphi, which was recorded by accelerometers mounted to the Kalitta vehicle, revealed multiple impacts producing over 100 G, with some approaching or exceeding 200 G. He was transported to the Old Bridge Division of Raritan Bay Medical Center and was pronounced dead on arrival.
The NHRA said on Kalitta's death that "Scott shared the same passion for drag racing as his legendary father, Connie. He also shared the same desire to win, becoming a two-time series world champion. He left the sport for a very long period of time, to devote more time to his family, only to be driven to return to the drag strip to regain his championship form."
At the time of his accident, Kalitta was not qualified for the following day's national event in the Funny Car class. The run qualified him 13th. The next day, in what would have been his opening elimination round event, the entire Kalitta team stood on the starting line on his designated side of the dragstrip as Robert Hight, who would have been his opponent, idled his car down the quarter-mile track as a sign of respect.
On 2 July 2008, the NHRA shortened Top Fuel and Funny Car races to 1,000.0 feet (304.8 m) in response to the ongoing investigation, and extra safety measures were placed at all tracks, including padded retaining walls at the end of sand traps, replacing the polymer nets held up by concrete posts. Although unpopular with the fans, the 1,000 foot distance is still in use for the Top Fuel and Funny car categories. The FIA shortened the Mantorp Park, Alastaro Circuit and the Tierp Arena rounds of the European Drag Racing Championship because of track concerns, but drag races at Hockenheimring and Santa Pod remained at the 1,320 feet distance because of its length until the end of the 2011 season. The 2012 FIA drag racing championships for Top Fuel will only be held at the 1,000 foot distance (although the Hockenheimring dragster round was cancelled following track treatment controversy as a result of Formula One officials scraping the entire drag strip in an effort to prevent drivers from using the drag strip launch pad for additional grip in the Südkurve during the Grosser Preis Santander von Deutschland two weeks before the Hockenheimring drag racing round); Adelaide International Raceway became Australia's first 1,000 foot drag strip. In 2017, the International Hot Rod Association changed to 1,000 foot racing for its Top Fuel cars starting with the 2017-18 ACDelco Thunder Nationals (first IHRA Top Fuel race of the 2017-18 IHRA 400 Thunder season).
As a direct result of Kalitta's death, a solution was sought to eliminate engine backfire, the cause of the spectacular engine fires often associated with Nitro burners. A solution was developed by Dave Lahey of Electromotion in Columbus, Ohio with the help of 15 time Funny Car Champion John Force, former Funny Car and Top Fuel Champion Kenny Bernstein, and seven time Top Fuel Champion Tony Schumacher: they developed a sensor that in the event of an engine backfire will automatically shut down the fuel pump and deploy the parachutes. Although several NHRA drivers have expressed their displeasure at the introduction of the new sensor, they admit that it should reduce, if not eliminate the circumstances that led to Kalitta's death. The device was made a mandatory safety requirement in 2009.
- NHRA's Scott Kalitta killed in crash, The Associated Press via The Houston Chronicle, June 21, 2008.
- "NHRA Biography". NHRA. 2008. Retrieved 2008-06-23.[dead link]
- "Former champ Kalitta lost in qualifying accident". NHRA. June 2008. Retrieved 2008-06-23.[dead link]
- "Scott Kalitta, Drag Racer, Dies in Crash". New York Times. Associated Press. June 22, 2008.
- "New Jersey State Police". Retrieved 19 April 2016.
- 2008 Lucas Oil NHRA SuperNationals: Event home page[permanent dead link]