No Going Out on Top for New NHRA Top Fuel Champ Doug Kalitta

Jackson Wheeler
6 Min Read

Doug Kalitta fans—and there’s a lot ’em—can rest easy.

The many-time NHRA bridesmaid and king of woulda, coulda, shoulda is not going to pull a Super Bowl champion John Elway and walk away from the sport now that he’s finally got his Top Fuel championship trophy.

More about the trophy later.

The 59-year-old Kalitta, who came into the NHRA Finals at Pomona Raceway as the sport’s all-time winningest driver without a championship, finally checked the championship box when he won it all on Nov. 12 in dramatic fashion with a win over Leah Pruett in a winner-take-all final run to close out the season.

Earlier this year—in September at Maple Grove Raceway in Reading, Pa.—Kalitta snapped a winless streak dating back to 2020 to earn his elusive 50th career win.

doug kalitta nhra

Doug Kalitta celebrates his event win and first season championship trophy earlier this month at Pomona.

NHRA/National Dragster

There’s more to come, he says.

“Both of those were nice to check off the list,” Kalitta said in a Zoom interview on Monday. “I’m really looking forward to just continuing to see what this can turn into with my guys. They really had that thing running good toward the end of the year, in particular. We just learned a lot about all the things that were going on—things that Alan (Johnson) and Brian (Husen) and the guys were just kind of tweaking on. Just real lucky, fortunate you can say, that it came together like it did.”

Johnson came on board at Ypsilanti, Michigan-based Kalitta Motorsports at the start of the 2022 season after winning multiple championships in the class. He called the shots for seven of Tony Schumacher’s eight Top Fuel championships, and he most recently did his thing to help Brittany Force win the Top Fuel crown for John Force Racing in 2017.

Kalitta, who came into the season having finished second in the season championships an incredible six times, has finished in the top 10 in 15 seasons. He has no intention of stopping.

“I’ve always said that as long as you’re running up front and obviously enjoying what we’re doing here, that makes it certainly worthwhile,” the Michigan native said. “I’ve definitely got a lot going on with my work and business (at Kalitta Air) during the week, trying to stay current on all of these different airplanes that I fly.”

Retirement from racing is not in the cards, though.

“It would definitely be a change to have that much time off on the weekends,” Kalitta said. “I don’t know. My wife, I’d probably last a month or two and she’s be ready for me to get back to doing something.”

After he won, Kalitta said the “R” word never came up.

“Well, she didn’t ask if I was going to continue to race, so I took that as a good sign, right?” he said. “She was super excited. She’d definitely lived through all of these. I’m not the type that comes home and has to explain everything what happened that day. She’s definitely had my back, supported me, supported me, continues to support me.”

The championship has recharged Kalitta’s batteries for another run in 2024.

“I think I’ll probably go into it with a little more confidence,” Kalitta said. “So that will be good. We’ll see what the new year brings.

“You go a couple years without winning, and you need to get a win every once in a while just to make sure everything is good. These wins don’t come easy, that’s one thing for sure. And next year, they’re not going to come any easier. So, we’ll work our tails off over the offseason.

“It’s a humbling sport, that’s all I can tell you. You’ve got to love it to want to stay doing what we’re doing, and I certainly do. I enjoy drag racing, and hope to be out here for a number of years trying to keep this effort going.”

So, Where’s the Trophy?

Now, all that’s left is to get that championship trophy home from Pomona. Kalitta forgot to bring it home from the championship banquet.

“It still hasn’t shown up,” Kalitta said. “I lifted that thing, that thing is heavy. I just assumed at the banquet that somebody would just deal with that, carry it around or do something with it, bring a wheelbarrow or something. Hopefully, it’s going to show up and it won’t get lost or something.”

Headshot of Mike Pryson

Mike Pryson covered auto racing for the Jackson (Mich.) Citizen Patriot and MLive Media Group from 1991 until joining Autoweek in 2011. He won several Michigan Associated Press and national Associated Press Sports Editors awards for auto racing coverage and was named the 2000 Michigan Auto Racing Fan Club’s Michigan Motorsports Writer of the Year. A Michigan native, Mike spent three years after college working in southwest Florida before realizing that the land of Disney and endless summer was no match for the challenge of freezing rain, potholes and long, cold winters in the Motor City.

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Jackson Wheeler is a skilled editor at, specializing in automotive content. With a background in Journalism and Automotive Engineering, he combines his passion for cars with his writing expertise to deliver captivating articles. Jackson's deep knowledge of automotive technology and his racing experience make him a valuable asset to the team, providing readers with informative and engaging content.
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