Drag racer Kalitta dies in crash

Tragedy has struck professional drag racing again.

Drag racing champion Scott Kalitta was killed Saturday afternoon in a Nitro Funny Car crash at Old Bridge Township Raceway Park in Englishtown, N.J. He was 46.

Kalitta was the son of drag racing legend Connie Kalitta, who owned his son’s race team. Scott Kalitta was the NHRA Top Fuel season champion in 1994 and ’05.

The crash site was determined a crime scene by local law enforcement and racing was halted for the day.

It’s the second fatality of a Funny Car driver and third major accident in the category since Eric Medlen died four days after sustaining injuries in a March 19, 2007, testing crash in Gainesville, Fla. About five months later, John Force, the owner of Medlen’s team, was severely injured during an NHRA race near Dallas but has recovered and returned to racing at the beginning of this year.

Kalitta had completed a midafternoon qualifying run at 300 mph in the NHRA Powerade Drag Racing Series event during the fourth and final session. His car exploded near the finish line then continued at high speed for at least another quarter-mile when it ran through safety netting and a sand trap located past the end of the asphalt.

A witness said it appeared the car to explode again upon possibly hitting a tree.

Kalitta lived in Mount Clemens, Mich., with his wife and two sons. He won 17 titles in Top Fuel dragsters and one in Funny Car during a 20-year career.

Connie Kalitta also fields Top Fuel dragsters for nephew Doug Kalitta and David Grubnic, and operates the team owned by Las Vegans Ken and Kenny Black, for whom Hillary Will is the driver.