HOT ROD Interviews Connie Kalitta - Hot Rod Network
The players: Connie Kalitta mentored Shirley Muldowney and her Huntress" to his "Bounty Hunter," but the relationship was short-lived. CONNIE KALITTA In a career that spans all eras of drag racing, a used one to Shirley Muldowney and a tumultuous relationship grew. Shirley Muldowney came by her love of driving fast cars naturally, after her father with the help of fellow driver Connie Kalitta, who had more than a sport, her relationships with both Jack and Connie would be tested, both.
Later that year, Kalitta made his historic mph run during Nationals qualifying at three-year-old Indianapolis Raceway Park. It wasn't the first mph pass -- that was either Chris Karamesines' disputed In the mids, Kalitta replaced his Hemi with an SOHC Cammer Ford and stuck with that once unworkable combination until by early he was running better than anyone.
Kalitta ran a Boss Shotgun Ford hemi in in his last front-engine dragster and campaigned a rear-engine car briefly in the early s. His rear-engine wedge was destroyed in an infamous crash at the Nationals, when it went over the guardrail and broke apart at the scoreboards. A year later, during a little break from the rigors of NHRA competition, Kalitta turned his interest in planes into a business that eventually would provide him the wherewithal to race on his own terms for the rest of his life.
He later branched into international freight flights and expanded his fleet to include DC8 and DC9 jets, Learjets, and Boeing freighters and s. Kalitta didn't drive again until the late s. After dabbling in Funny Cars for a time, he sold a used one to Shirley Muldowney and a tumultuous relationship grew. Before they parted, Kalitta was her crew chief when she won the Top Fuel championship and became the first female world champion in a professional category.
Back behind the wheel inby which time his air-cargo business was booming, Kalitta reestablished himself as a driver immediately. Two weeks prior to the Winternationals, the two teams met in a hotly debated impromptu pairing at Lions DragStrip; Mazmanian earned bragging temporary rights when Balough beat Cook on a holeshot, S-W-C got revenge at Pomona, where Cook's holeshot and An overflow crowd packed Lions that night to witness the shootout.
Balough won the first go-round, again on a holeshot, 9. Ninety minutes later, they returned to the line, but this time, Balough was too quick for his own good, red-lighting to tie the score as both drivers shut off early.
Drag News' Ralph Gudahl wrote of the pre-final scene, "It looked like a sale at Macy's as everyone pushed to the fences, hung from poles, anything to gain a full sight of the course. Despite their sharply traded pre-race barbs, members of both teams shook hands and congratulated one another, but the fans were the real winners. Mother Nature's battle became drag racing's when Tom McEwen, the promoter, and Don Prudhomme, the die-hard racer, created Wildlife Racing to bring The Jungle Book to life, thanks to sponsorship from Mattel toys that made them household names in the grubby paws of every little kid who could stick together two pieces of plastic orange track and let gravity do the rest.
Prudhomme had long been "the Snake," and the wily McEwen, knowing that a mongoose was one of the few animals that could beat a snake, chose his nickname accordingly. McEwen, who already had made a name for himself hustling sponsorships for his race team, had an in at Mattel, where his mother worked as a secretary and his stepfather as a lawyer.
HOT ROD Interviews Connie Kalitta
The two match raced exhaustively against one another, with Prudhomme generally getting the upper hand. Although the team only lasted three years, their battles, real and imagined, raged on, and fans never got tired of seeing them race one another. Prudhomme won it all. In a storybook ending, McEwen, still grieving the loss of his son, Jamie, to leukemia just weeks earlier, upset Prudhomme in the final round at Indy. McEwen, overcome with emotion, sat in the car at the top end, and Prudhomme slithered his way beneath the body to join his old pal, rival, and occasional thorn in the side in a truly emotional and unforgettable moment that a few years ago was voted the Most Memorable Moment in U.
You could probably define the history of Top Fuel from its start to its present day with just their names. Don Garlits, the grizzled and experimental hot rodder from Florida who set the bar for fuel racers everywhere, and Muldowney, who went from Schenectady, N. While "Big Daddy" was down in the dirt checking the bearings, Muldowney, though not adverse to getting dirty, was tending to her growing legions of fans in the Women's Lib era of the early s. In the s and '70s, Garlits was old-school popular; he built, tuned, and drove the cars, and to him, utilitarian mattered most of all.
He was a drag racer's drag racer, yet part of a dying breed as the s and '90s roared into view. Muldowney represented the newer breed. Sure, she had earned her driving stripes in gas dragsters, but she represented a new school: Her job was to drive and to attract fans and sponsors, whose addition to the team were becoming almost as important as horsepower.
She paved the way for and inspired not only other women but men as well. How many of today's top nitro jockeys are not required to work on the cars?
Shirley Muldowney - The Queen Of Drag Racing In Her Own Words - Hot Rod Network
Yeah … 99 percent of them. Muldowney's immaculate driving skills were worth more than their weight in nitro, and, like Tony Schumacher and Larry Dixon today and Joe Amato and Gary Ormsby before them, she took care of business in the cockpit and at the ropes. For Garlits and Muldowney, their different styles both separated and congealed them, giving one another ammunition in their well-publicized verbal jousts, but behind it all, you were always left wondering where the jabs ended and where the respect began.
I hated him and he hated me. But I still respected him. I have always respected him. What, are you kidding me? He's Don Garlits, 'Big Daddy. He hated my guts. They rode him terribly if he lost. Wow, where to start? Their track time might well be bookmarked by U. Nationals appearances decades apart: Muldowney's first Top Fuel final, against Garlits, at the U. Nationals where, after winning his semifinal race, he's famously caught on camera at the top end, clucking in shock, "The lady dragster driver is in the final …" and, for us bleeding-heart fans, their side-by-side qualifying pairing at the U.
Between, they matched raced scores of times before delighted crowds, often as the night's highlight, their fevered efforts to one up the other softened by moments such as when Muldowney, from her hospital bed after a near-career-ending wreck in Montreal inexhorted Garlits to "go kick their butts" at Indy that year, which he did, and he even briefly served as a consultant for her after her comeback.
But for me, one of the all-time-great Garlits-Muldowney moments was the final round at the Gatornationals oddly enough, that final and the Indy final were the only two NHRA national event finals in which they battled. There they were, in Gainesville, on Garlits' home turf; they qualified fifth and sixth, favoring Garlits by only a few thousandths of a second, 5. Garlits had knocked off the newest female contender, recent March Meet winner Lucille Lee who also would win in Atlanta six weeks laterJohnny Abbott, and Jim Barnard with a best of 5.
Diamond P's Steve Evans interviewed her before the final, and although my memory of the entire interview is a little fragile, I do remember her being asked to rate Garlits as a starting-line driver, and her response about "Donald" was classic: Garlits, who had to change engines before the final, did get the drop on her at the green. Shirley Muldowney versus Connie Kalitta The players: There was a guy at Chrysler named Moon Mullins who had to fight for the nitro guys to get anything.
We fixed this car, put a new paint job on it, and ran it three more times match racing. Then we sold it and ran the dragster. I thought a lot of Connie back then. He had the drive and the head for figures and doing deals.
I was there when he started in the air freight business [Ed note: Kalitta Air], flying in the left seat. He pulled a deal on me that was outrageous, and I will probably never speak to him again. It was my car; I owned it. We just lost him two years ago. He was the greatest friend I ever made in racing. He was my first friend when I moved from New York to Michigan and the most loyal friend. Pancho was great to me. NHRA fought me every inch of the way, but when they saw how a girl could fill the stands; they saw I was good for the sport.
The fans were wonderful. What am I doing holding a bouquet of flowers? No, this is I can tell by my hair. Ralph Seagraves was a great, great guy. Winston was really good to the sport and so good to me. I had Skippy for 18 years. A racer gave him to me in and I buried him in a pet park in Calabasas, California, in I hated him and he hated me. But I still respected him. I have always respected him.
What, are you kidding me? He hated my guts. They rode him terribly if he lost. Kalitta just loved it. Me with a Michelob and a pack of Salems. I never drank beer, hated the taste of it. Oh, that must be why I had the beer. We went into the last race of the year as one of four who could win the championship. We qualified ninth, which meant we had to race the number-one qualifier in the first round.
We won the race and the title. That was the last drag race run at Ontario. This is because we have the number one on the wing. In our number was five. We won the championship for Pioneer the very first year they sponsored me. The angrier they made me, the more pissed I was, the better I was in the car. Driving came naturally for me.
I was not afraid or unready to deal with the unexpected. I could make a decision. Nobody held my hand.Hidden Heroes about Connie Kalitta