“I’m looking at a plane right now … It’s a Cessna 310 … a beauty,” Connie Kalitta had an inkling he might be pocketing the loot as Winternationals Top Fuel Eliminator champion and had taken the liberty to plan the use of the prize money even before the meet. He sold his private airplane recently, and longed for another.
Connie had a right to some confidence before the Winternationals, having won the AHRA Winter Championship only the week before. It was the knowledge that after nearly three years of vexing problems with the new OHC Ford engines, he had the bugs out.
His mount for the 1967 winter season is a brand new Logghe chassis which reached completion only days before the first event. The 175” frame was rushed out to Long Beach for a full wrap-around body by Doug Kruse, then over to Don Kirby for the wild striped paint job.
Connie retained the engine from the former “Bounty Hunter”, added tires and towed to Phoenix for shakedown runs.
He came away with some $3,000 and the assurance that the Ford would live through five or six rounds of all-out competition.
He gave himself a good chance at the NHRA title, but actually thought Danny Ongais was the man to beat after Friday’s qualifying action. “We qualified Friday at the same time, when the strip was cold. Ongais went 7.34 to my 7.40 … the rest of the guys made it on Saturday when the bite was there.”
“I was living right [the engine was strong] so there really wasn’t much to do until race time Sunday.”
The car weighed in at 1280 with aluminum heads, used Goodyear 11.00×16 slicks, and according to tests in Detroit, produces in excess of 1600 horsepower.
“We ran it in Detroit so that Ford engineers could measure the power output during an actual run, not on a dyno. 180 pounds of instruments and gauges were attached to the engine and chassis for an 85% run, and the engineers cannot believe to this day what they found — 1640 horsepower.”
It is stock dimension of 427 inches, sports Donovan valves, Crower cams and fuel injection. Connie claims use of the same rod bearings he installed more than a year ago!
Preparing for race day with crewman Tom Marsh and friend Don Morton, Kalitta worked out at the Holman-Moody station in the Pomona Fairgrounds complex. Ford brass were there and some of the best garage facilities.
The first round was a sign of good luck for Conrad. As number 16 qualifier he was paired with the slowest of the 32, Chuck Griffith. His 7.28-214 was the best of the round so he assumed the favorite’s role, if any could be chosen.
“I didn’t know about [Mike] Snively in round two,” he recalls. “He’s always super off the line”. [He didn’t know that Snively had been late starting during the first round.] Again staged in the left lane, Kalitta left to a 7.24 run.
“I just let the car work. The tires were so good that it was just a matter of being steady.”
“The [semifinals] was a matter of technique between Pete [Robinson] and I. He is very light, goes for quick starts and uses a lower gear. I usually run at 215, Pete at 200 mph … It’s too bad he got crossed up.”
The left lane had been good to Connie, so he tried to maneuver into position to get that lane for the final. “The sun was in a bad position from that lane, but I had the traction down pat, so I took a chance.”
In the final round, Connie Kalitta, far lane, defeated Gene Goleman, 7.17 to 7.46.
“I didn’t know how I’d done on the lights because I couldn’t see to my right [to Gene Goleman’s lane], so I just planted it and hoped for the best.” The car had creeped, so I didn’t know until I talked to the crew whether the Tree had gone red or not.
He had increased the nitro load to 88% from the 85% of the previous rounds, remembering the Phoenix longevity and banking on it once again.
The resounding 7.17 e.t. was the result.
Cash prizes of nearly $5000, television interviews, photographs, and a host of merchandise were his reward. A bonus from Ford? “That’s something I don’t want to bring up to them,” he explained happily, “but it would be for a good cause [the airplane] if there was one.”
“Most people think I’m on a Ford salary, expense account and the works, but it’s not that way at all. I get the engines, then pay my own way.”
“The week was just fabulous for me. The meet was smooth all around, I had no midnight thrashing, and I won.”
The plan is now to haul over to Florida for the next big meet, bypassing Bakersfield. “I may not have to drive this time, after all, the plane has to get over there somehow!”
As part of the ongoing celebrations surrounding NHRA’s 60th anniversary, each Thursday, NHRA.com will reach back into the pages of National DRAGSTER and republish interesting and historic articles from past issues.