Muldowney, Kalitta team back in business

By Matt Hill
Star Staff
mhill@starhq.com


   BRISTOL, Va.- This weekend at Thunder Valley, Doug Kalitta and Shirley Muldowney look to be like lightning and strike in the winners circle on Sunday.
   Kalitta and Muldowney made a stop at the Vineyard Restaurant to discuss their chances at this weekend's second annual Mac Tools Thunder Valley NHRA Nationals, which will be held at the Bristol Dragway Friday through Sunday.
   Judging from past results, their chances seem to be pretty good.
   Kalitta is the defending champion of the event in top fuel, while Muldowney has 18 career wins and is a four-time IHRA series champion.
   Kalitta's sponsor is Mac Tools, the major sponsor of the event. Kalitta believes that makes this race one to win.
   "Our title sponsor, Mac Tools, has a big presence this weekend," Kalitta said. "Anytime you can win your primary sponsor's event is huge."
   Last year's win is something that gives Kalitta a lot of confidence going into this race.
   "The fact that we won this last year gives us some added confidence for the whole Mac Tools team to come in here, and be determined to do everything we can to get into the winners circle," Kalitta said.
   Kalitta's crew chief definitely knows how to get into the winners circle. Connie Kalitta, Doug's uncle, was named one of the NHRA's 50 greatest drag racers of all time last year.
   The younger Kalitta knows that having him on board is an advantage.
   "He's run a lot here over the years," Kalitta said. "He's certainly been in this sport as long as anybody. He's got a lot of experience, and that certainly helps our performances."
   Kalitta thinks his uncle definitely tries to get everything out of him.
   "He kind of has a reputation for calling it how it is," Kalitta said. "He's going to tell you, and if you like it fine and if you don't fine. Same with my driving with the car. If there's a problem he will tell you about it. I don't think it's performance based always. I guess if both of us can do our jobs hopefully we'll be there in the end on Sunday."
   Kalitta likes the fact they're calling for mild temperatures this weekend, and hopes the conditions will play into his hands.
   "Our car likes what we can make power-wise at that temperature," Kalitta said. "There's not a lot of water in the air, and it helps the performance of the car."
   Muldowney believes that the dragway's new surface will make it an even more interesting race.
   "The conditions are pretty good here, even with the old surface," Muldowney said. "Now I'm told the new surface is very smooth. There's no more bend in the road at the far end, so you can really run good here. And if the weather stays like it is, and I'm told it's going to, everyone is going to run good."
   Muldowney definitely comes to Bristol as one of the more recognizable figures in drag racing.
   Muldowney has been racing professionally since the 1960's, and is the most successful female race car driver in history.
   "I never thought I would run as long as I have," Muldowney said. "It's like 29 or 30 years this year in Top Fuel that is. That's a gift, and I wouldn't trade it for anything."
   Muldowney believes the experience has been very special.
   "I've won a lot," Muldowney said. "I've been a lot of places, and I've met a lot of wonderful people. I wouldn't trade it for anything. I would have to say the Indy win in '82 is the most memorable, and I think I cherish that more than any of the championships."
   Muldowney has had so much success that a movie was made about her. The motion picture "Heart Like a Wheel" came out in the 1980's, and Muldowney thought it was good for the sport.
   "I think the movie was wonderful for drag racing," Muldowney said. "I would have preferred more racing in the film, but Hollywood wanted a love story. It introduced the sport to people that normally would not know what a drag race is all about. It kind of set the stage for women in motorsports. It helped us get more accepted than we would have been without the film. It just proved that anybody could really do it if they worked hard enough."
   Muldowney knows the sport has been dominated by men, but she felt like she was in the right place at the right time.
   "My timing was right," Muldowney said. "I started in the late '50's, and I kind of grew with the sport. I chipped away at it a little bit here and a little bit there. I don't know if it was a mistake, but I did it as a living. I lived off of what I earned, so I had to have great respect for it, certainly for the equipment because I was the one that wrote the checks on Monday.
   "I've not ever been a driver who has shown up with their helmet at the airport. I have a different concept of how it should be done. Again, I would say that I don't think I would change anything."