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DRAG RACING

Doug Kalitta and Ron Capps win at Winternationals

Kalitta prevails in top-fuel, Capps in funny cars.

February 11, 2009|Jim Peltz

After Scott Kalitta's fatal crash nearly eight months ago, National Hot Rod Assn. racing underwent major safety changes. And Kalitta's racing cousin, Doug, went without a victory.

But Doug Kalitta's winless streak ended Tuesday when he beat Antron Brown to win the top-fuel race -- shortened to 1,000 feet after his cousin's death -- at the rain-delayed NHRA Kragen O'Reilly Winternationals in Pomona.

It was the first win at Auto Club Raceway for Kalitta, 44, and his first overall since 2007.

His uncle, former driver and now team owner Connie Kalitta won in Pomona during his career, as did Scott Kalitta.

"He's with us all the time," Doug Kalitta said of Scott. "I'm sure he's pretty proud of the fact that all three of us now, Connie, I and Scott and have won here at the Winternationals."

In the funny car class, the other elite division in the NHRA's Full Throttle Series, Ron Capps of Carlsbad won his 26th race by beating veteran Jim Head. Capps, too, had not won since 2007.

Capps said that as he sat in his car watching the Kalitta-Brown race, he also felt the importance of the moment.

"I was fighting back tears a little bit," Capps said. "I could imagine the emotions that Connie and that whole group were going through, with Scott and all."

Scott Kalitta died after his funny car exploded during a race in June.

The accident, which followed other serious crashes, prompted the NHRA to declare that top-fuel dragsters and funny cars -- then hitting speeds of 330 mph or higher -- were going too fast.

While the NHRA looked for permanent ways to slow the 7,000-horsepower cars, it shortened the races to 1,000 feet from the sport's traditional quarter mile to give drivers more slowing room in case of problems.

Doug Kalitta hit 308.57 mph, and traveled the 1,000 feet in 3.822 seconds, in his winning pass against Brown.

Kalitta and Brown reached the finals by defeating Morgan Lucas and Brandon Bernstein, respectively, in the semifinals.

Bernstein earlier had beaten top-fuel king Tony Schumacher, winner of the last five championships and the defending Winternationals winner.

Schumacher has a new crew this season because his former crew chief, Alan Johnson, formed a team.

But the new Alan Johnson Al-Anabi team fared little better. Its top-fuel driver, Larry Dixon, failed to even reach final eliminations and its funny car driver, Del Worsham, lost to Gary Densham in the second round Tuesday.

Ashley Force Hood, one of the NHRA's most popular drivers and daughter of funny car legend and team owner John Force, also lost her funny car race to Head in the second round. Head then beat Densham to reach the final.

In the NHRA's pro stock class, Jason Line beat Mike Edwards to win after Greg Anderson set a national pro stock record of 6.528 seconds and 211.13 mph in the second round. Anderson then was eliminated in the semifinals.

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james.peltz@latimes.com

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