Other Racing, Team News / Analysis

Sunday, June 22, 2008

6/22/08 in Other Racing   |   nascar_qt_n_oklahoma   |   respect

NHRA driver Scott Kalitta killed in fiery crash in NJ

My Prayers and Sympathy Goes Out To All His Family,Friends,Team Mates and Fans!!

Drag racer Scott Kalitta died Saturday after his Funny Car crashed and exploded into flames during a National Hot Rod Association event at Old Bridge Township Raceway Park.

Kalitta, 46, was extricated from the car and transported to Raritan Bay Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead from multiple injuries suffered after his car veered out of control.

The parachute in Kalitta's Toyota Solara Funny Car failed to deploy correctly after being damaged by the engine explosion. The car sped off the quarter-mile strip at a speed estimated more than 300 miles per hour during qualifying at the 39th annual Lucas Oil NHRA SuperNationals.

Don Prudhomme, a legendary figure in drag racing, witnessed the scene and said Kalitta's car "went into a million pieces."

"I haven't witnessed anything like that in a number of years," Prudhomme said. "These cars, for the most part, are pretty damn safe. As many runs as we make down a quarter-mile, as many runs as he's made, they're pretty damn safe.

"The car didn't slow up enough, (the car) got airborne, and he happened to hit a post that's virtually impossible to do. I mean, I would've never thought that that could happen. I would've never thought that you could get airborne and hit that guardrail and hit that post."

The concrete post, Prudhomme said, serves as support for the safety net that's designed to catch cars veering off the strip. Since Kalitta's parachute was damaged, Prudhomme said the car "never had a chance" once it hit the post at such a rapid speed.

"I don't think it's the track's fault. I just don't," said Prudhomme, team owner for Top Fuel driver Larry Dixon. "If I thought it was a dangerous racetrack, if I thought it was the NHRA's fault, I wouldn't be here. It was unheard of to see that. I was just stunned."

Kalitta was racing side-by-side against Tony Bartrone in the final round of qualifying at the SuperNationals. But while Bartrone's parachute deployed after crossing the quarter-mile line in 6.06 seconds, Kalitta's braking device failed after the car burst into flames.

Longtime track announcer Bob Frey called it "one of the worst accidents he's seen" at the 43-year-old Raceway Park, more commonly known as "Englishtown" on the NHRA circuit.

An 18-time event winner and two-time NHRA Top Fuel champion, Kalitta's first professional race came at Raceway Park in 1982. He was a second-generation racer, taking the reigns from his father, Conrad, a legendary driver who served as Scott's crew chief.

"Scott retired and basically Connie gave him a job to drive a car again," Prudhomme said.

"Scott was just a really good guy. Win, lose or draw, he would have a beer with you. It's just a terrible tragedy for our sport."

Tim Wilkerson, who competed with Kalitta in the Funny Car class, called it "a tremendous tragedy."

"It's a very unique situation; the whole run was," Wilkerson said. "I don't think you can pin any part of the run on any certain thing at all. Can't say it was the chassis, or the tire, or the tune-up, or the track conditions. The only thing you know is it hit that crane at the end of the ramp.

"My heart is just with Conrad. Hopefully there's someway Conrad will get through this."

The crash postponed racing for the remainder of the afternoon. NHRA spokesperson Zak Elcock said racing is scheduled to resume Sunday, with the elimination round in the four pro class categories to start at 11 a.m.

Though Kalitta Motor Sports declined to comment on Kalitta's death, the team issued a statement that Doug Kalitta, Scott's cousin, won't race Sunday, nor will Kalitta Motor Sports drivers Dave Grubnic and Hillary Will.

The death is the first at an NHRA event since Darrell Russell was killed during a Top Fuel race at Gateway Raceway in St. Louis. Funny Car driver Eric Medlen died after an accident in a testing session in Gainesville, Fla., last year.

The NHRA issued a statement expressing condolences for Kalitta's family. Kalitta is survived by his wife, Kathy, and sons Corey and Colin.

"Scott was a terrific driver and perhaps more importantly a better person," the NHRA said. "He will be truly missed by the entire NHRA community."

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