Jeff Arend calls his DHL Toyota Camry Funny Car team the Yella Fellas.
Maybe the Kalitta Motorsports gang the Mellow Yella Fellas after their victory Sunday at Route 66 Raceway over Courtney Force, the rookie driver of the Traxxas Ford Mustang who was making her first final round appearance in this class.
With his fourth career triumph in the O'Reilly NHRA Route 66 Nationals and his first since last year's Houston race, Arend grabbed the last berth in the $100,000-to-win Traxxas Shootout that is scheduled for Labor Day weekend at the U.S. Nationals.
And the whole team is feeling extra satisfied with the way the crew and new Toyota and Arend are performing.
"My daughter said to me, 'You'd better get that Traxxas car for me. She didn't care about the Shootout," Arend said with a laugh. "We got it now.
"It feels great to give the new Toyota Camry its first-ever win," he said after turning in a 4.131-second elapsed time at 309.20 mph that narrowly defeated Force's 4.454, 272.67 on the 1,000-foot course.
"We've just gotten better and better since Gainesville," Arend said. "This DHL team was awesome today. We only had 60 minutes between rounds [because of the three-and-a-half-hour rain interruption], and I think our guys had the fastest turn-around between rounds of anyone out here today. That DHL team I have turned my car around faster than some of those Top Fuel cars that go back up there. It gives you a lot of confidence when you can go out there and win like that."
Arend was making his first final round of the season and second in a row at Route 66 Raceway. He was runner-up here last year.
"It was a real team effort today," Arend said, conceding that he "probably didn't do my sharpest driving today on the lights, but everything else was OK."
He called this particular victory a "fantastic win."
And he said he considers driving this car, taking over the wheel following the June 2008 death of Scott Kalitta, a genuine privilege.
"Ever since the day I got to drive for the Kalittas, for Scott, it’s been a big deal. They wanted a safe and competitive car and now they have one. This thing is hauling the mail and running good for DHL, Technicoat, and Red Line. I want to thank Nicky, Jon O, and all of my guys including Del Worsham for working so hard."
Team owner Connie Kalitta, Scott's father, said, "It means a lot to us. It's Scott’s car, and his kids are here."
DHL Toyota crew chief Jon Oberhofer said, "It's all about family with our win. The boys [Scott;' sons] are here, Colin and Cory. It's badass that they are here. It's all about team. We've been working hard to make our Toyota a real good race car here. We've finally gotten some results."
Said Arend, "We have a hot rod and I knew we were going to have a good race in the final with Courtney."
Force was one of four women in the pro semifinals (along with Alexis DeJoria in Funny Car, Hillary Will in Top Fuel, and Erica Enders in Pro Stock) and three in the final rounds. (Enders won, and Cassie Simonton was runner-up in the Top Alcohol Funny Car class.)
Her Funny Car alum sister, Ashley Force Hood, never won here but was provisional No. 1 qualifier in 2008. She lost her grasp on the top spot to Melanie Troxel the next evening.
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