That Connie Kalitta, he is something, isn't he? Just a few
short months after bringing his two-time NHRA Top Fuel champion
son Scott Kalitta back into the scene, he went and one-upped himself.
A third car was added during the offseason and immediately David
Grubnic was chosen to drive the Top Fuel ride. So now Connie is
doing to drag racing what he has done to the airline industry -
added more to learn more. Doug Kalitta pilots the Mac Tools dragster,
Scott Kalitta drives the Mac Tools/Jesse James dragster and the
native Australian has the keys to the Kalitta Air dragster. Connie
tunes them all and Grubnic will be the first one to tell you what
an adventure that has been already. Since his career started in
1998, Grubnic has collected one No. 1 qualifying award and two runner-up
finishes. That was before Connie was tuning his ride. In just his
second event with Kalitta Motorsports, Grubnic snagged his second
career No. 1 qualifying position with a 4.486-second run at Firebird
I'ntl Raceway in Phoenix. Surely his first national event win can't
be too far behind. He'll make another attempt this weekend, as the
35th annual Mac Tools Gatornationals is set to wow the Florida crowd
at Gainesville Raceway starting Friday. In this Q&A session,
Grubnic talks about what it is like to join Kalitta Motorsports
and work closely with Connie, what he likes to trade in his free
time and what he wants to accomplish in 2004.
CP: What brought the third car concept together, especially
GRUBNIC: What brought it together so quickly
was Connie and Jim and John Oberhofer. They obviously discussed
what they wanted to do over the winter and then Connie got a hold
of me and asked me if they did put it together if I would be interested.
Obviously I was over the moon when they asked that. The very idea
that they were considering me was good enough for me. When the decision
was made to run the car, I was ecstatic.
CP: What do you think about the early performance of the
GRUBNIC: I didn't expect us to come out and
run so quickly so soon. The performance is just terrific. We ran
a 4.49 in my first race and then we came out and ran two 4.40s back-to-back
and were the only car in Phoenix to run 40s this weekend and we
were the No. 1 qualifier. That is something that I didn't expect,
but considering the talent and the depth of intelligence of this
whole team, I can understand why. Conrad makes an enormous amount
of power in these cars. Believe me, when you drive them and you
get to 1.3 seconds and they start rocketing down that race track,
there is one thing you need to have with your clutch and that is
a lot of horsepower. And Connie definitely makes all the power.
It is all them, they deserve all of the credit.
CP: Connie Kalitta has mentioned in the past that if he
did put a third car together, he would want you to drive it. Why
do you think he asked you to drive the car?
GRUBNIC: I honestly don't know. We've been
friends for a while. When I was driving for John Mitchell, Connie
would always come over pretty much ever since I started driving
for John in 1999. Connie would always come over and help out and
visit. Connie has an enormous heart like that. He'll come over and
try to help out. He'll look at things and he was always welcome.
We just built a relationship over the years and in turn at the race
we would hang out and visit.
CP: When did you find out that the third car was a done
deal and you were going to drive it?
GRUBNIC: Well, we started out talking about
it just after the season. They made me aware of it when I was back
in Australia, in mid December. There was an issue with the fact
that you obviously have to put the right group of people together.
We had Connie and Jim and John, but you have to assemble the right
crew. You have to put a rig together and a lot of other things have
to be put in place. But we couldn't do it at the cost of compromising
the other two cars. Those cars run so good, and I am probably one
of Connie's biggest fans and I didn't want to see those cars compromised
either. Enough was put into place that made it a viable thing to
do and the decision was made to start the team.
CP: What was your reaction when you realized you ran another
40 run and you were the No. 1 qualifier?
GRUBNIC: Honestly, when I stepped on the gas,
the car took off. It was stuck pretty good and it just started pulling.
The Conrad horsepower kicked in at 1.3 seconds and away it went.
I was getting down just past 800 feet and it was hard to tell, but
the car felt a little astray and maybe it put a cylinder out and
I even considered clicking it off early. But the speed that the
car was going and how fast it was getting down the race track, by
the time my brain caught up, I was already at the finish line. I
heard Jim come on the radio and he said, "Good job Davie,"
and then I heard a "9" and I wasn't sure if he said a
49 or a 59 until I got out of the car at the end. When they told
me I ran a 49 it was overwhelming. That's not me, believe me. That
car just went straight down the groove and I didn't have to do anything
but hold the throttle down. That's a credit to Connie and everybody
CP: What makes you a good drag racer?
GRUBNIC: I wouldn't go as far as to call myself
a good drag racer. You set personal goals and you try to always
improve on things you can do. You have to be your own devil's advocate
in this game. You have to watch yourself and you have to adjust
yourself and be your own critic. In drag racing there are certain
things you have to do as a driver and you have to be able to make
adjustments whether it is the way you stage the car, how you stay
in the groove or things you do during the run. Every time you make
a run in these cars you have to do your own self-analysis. There
are times when I am not happy with how it stages, I may go in a
little further than I would like and there are times when I don't
get the reaction time I would like. I wouldn't call myself a good
drag racer because you are constantly trying to do better. As the
cars get faster and faster, you have to keep up with them because
they get out of the groove quicker. You constantly have to improve
CP: Do you and Connie discuss the driving aspect as well
as the tune-up?
GRUBNIC: Of course, and he should. Connie
has an enormous amount of experience driving. Connie has driven,
tuned and done this for years. I always ask him questions. He'll
tell me what he wants from a burnout and so forth. If there is something
that I don't do right, I expect him to tell me. It is the right
thing to do because I have so much respect for him.
CP: What is it like working with Connie?
GRUBNIC: Outstanding. There will
be a time when I will make a mistake and I will get chewed out and
it will be justified and that is just how it is. I will expect it
and I will try not to do it but the day will happen when you need
a chewing and you will get a chewing. Rightfully so, that's how
CP: Connie has made it clear that he wanted to bring a
third car on so he could run a R&D car during national event
conditions. How do you feel about driving what is basically a test
GRUBNIC: There are good and bad things to
the situation, sure. But to come out here and be part of this team
is incredible. You have to remember that this is a team. This is
Kalitta Motorsports. The goal, as far as I am concerned, is for
Kalitta Motorsports to win a championship. Kalitta Motorsports has
to survive and keep going. I would like to see longevity from this
team and I would like to stay part of it and so forth. In the short
term, you may get caught up with the whole thing about the R&D
car. But the long term part of it, I would like to see Kalitta Motorsports
win a championship and have some longevity from this team. Who knows
what can happen? I'm not looking at it from the short-term view,
I am looking at it as a long-term possibility. I really have no
problem with that. All I want to see is Connie win the championship
and I don't care which car it is.
CP: What does the back wing of your car say?
GRUBNIC: The back wing says: "Great American
Marina" which is down in Florida. Below that it says: "Spending
Scott Kalitta's inheritance tour" and Scott and I talked about
that. Whenever that gets brought up, I am going to be promoting
his marina, which is in Florida. Once again, it's called the Great
American Marina and if you ever have problems with your yacht and
if you run up against a reef and you put a hole in it or you have
just too much fun and you make a mistake, take it to Great American
Marina and Scott will take care of it. That was a collective thing
to put it on the car, but I am pretty sure it came from John Oberhofer.
Our goal here is to go out and do well, but at the same time we
want to have fun. From Connie all the way down we all want to enjoy
ourselves and have some fun as well as be competitive.
CP: What do you want to achieve this season?
GRUBNIC: I want to see Kalitta Motorsports
win a championship. Right now Connie has pretty much covered some
of my personal goals. If we could win a race or whatever, that would
be stellar, but that is not the immediate goal. There will be plenty
of time for that. Personally, I want to see Connie win the championship.
CP: What is your day job?
GRUBNIC: I started to work with the index
futures, which is the NASDAQ-100 and the S&P 500 and they have
an e-mini contact, which is traded electronically and it is all
done with computers over the Web. When I was in Australia, I was
involved with a little commodity trading, but I kind of put that
to the side and got involved with drag racing. But lately things
have been a little quiet for me and I had to find something for
myself to do. I just started with it again. I have been working
with it on the theory side for about three years and practical side
for about a year. It's a tough game, don't get me wrong. If you
want to make a living at it, and make money, that can be very tough,
believe me. They are the smartest people in the world out there
and they're all sharks. As soon as you jump in the pond they come
over and try to take a snap out of you. It's kind of exciting. I
guess I am some kind of adrenaline junkie. Maybe.