Scott Kalitta killed in crash during qualifying…

ENGLISHTOWN, N.J. — Two-time American drag racing champion Scott Kalitta was killed Saturday when his “funny car” burst into flames and crashed during the final round of qualifying for the Lucas Oil NHRA SuperNationals at Old Bridge Township Raceway Park.

The NHRA said the 46-year-old Kalitta — the 1994 and 1995 champion in the premier top fuel division who had 18 career victories, 17 in Top Fuel and one in Funny Car — was taken to the Old Bridge division of Raritan Bay Medical Center, where he died a short time later.

Kalitta’s Toyota Solara was traveling at an estimated speed of 300 mph when the car, leading his race, burst into flames, continued to the end of the track, struck a barrier and exploded.

NHRA deaths
Year Driver Division Where
1983 John Hagen Pro Stock National event
1985 Lee Shepherd Pro Stock Testing
1996 Blaine Johnson Top Fuel Dragster National event
2004 Darrell Russell Top Fuel Dragster National event
2005 Shelly Howard Top Alcohol Dragster Testing
2007 Eric Medlen Funny Car Testing
2008 John Shoemaker Top Fuel Dragster Nostalgia event
2008 Scott Kalitta Funny Car National event

He’s survived by his father, wife Kathy and sons Corey, 14, and Colin, 8.

“We are deeply saddened and want to pass along our sincere condolences to the entire Kalitta family,” the NHRA said in a statement. “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 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. … He will be truly missed by the entire NHRA community.”

Kalitta had most of his racing success in Top Fuel, highlighted by his series titles in 1994 and 1995. He retired from racing in 1997, sitting out most of two seasons before returning for a 10-race campaign in 1999. He sat out three more seasons following that brief stint and then returned again in 2003, joining cousin Doug as a second driver for the family’s two Top Fuel dragsters.

The Palmetto, Florida, resident started his career at Old Bridge Township Raceway Park in 1982. His father, Connie Kalitta, was one of the pioneers in American drag racing and team owner of cars known as “The Bounty Hunter,” and his cousin, Doug Kalitta, also drives competitively.

Drag racing is a side-by-side match race between two cars along a 400-meter (quarter-mile) straightaway from a standing start. The two premier divisions, top fuel and funny car, run on nitromethane fuel, enabling the cars to generate 8,000 horsepower, cover the 400 meters (quarter mile) in under five seconds and regulary reach speeds of over 530 kph (330 mph).

Funny cars vaguely resemble street automobiles in their outward appearance. Their name is derived from early versions in the mid-1960s, when the rear wheels were moved forward on the chassis to improve weight transfer under acceleration and increase traction on the rear tires — making them look “funny.”

Last year, funny car driver Eric Medlen died after an accident in a testing session at Gainesville, Florida.