This is a hard man to have as a father. At the moment, though, Scott Kalitta has other concerns. It's a sunny Sunday in February at the Pomona ( Calif.) Raceway, and he is competing in the opening event of the 1995 NHRA Top Fuel drag-racing season. Sixteen cars have qualified for the final rounds, a series of head-to-head single-elimination races. Scott is wedged into the driver's compartment of his 25-foot-long burgundy dragster, most of its body made of paper-thin magnesium. In minutes he will stomp on the accelerator, uncork more than 5,000 horsepower and be slammed back into his seat, going from zero to 100 mph in less than a second.
Inside the AIA hospitality suite the tension is palpable. Top Fuel drag racing is not a sport for dabblers. The Kalittas' spare-no-expense effort this season will cost about $2.4 million. Through the suite's glass front one can see straight down the gray quarter-mile track. Connie pays it no mind. Another generation is sizing him up.
"Mornin', Corey," Connie says to the raffish fellow at his knee.
Corey Kalitta, age 20 months, extrudes a bread bolus, slowly dribbling it from his mouth. Connie pops Corey's pacifier into his mouth and makes a face like a fish. He swings Corey up into his arms.
"Who's that?" Connie asks Corey when Scott appears on a TV screen. "Dada pretty soon, huh?"
Several minutes later Scott hits the gas. His engine roars like an angry dinosaur, and in 4.86 seconds he wins the round. Which is how his father always hoped it would be.
Because his dad was so busy racing, as a young boy Scott didn't see much of Connie. When Scott was 10, Connie moved out of the family home northeast of Detroit to live near Willow Run Airport in Ypsilanti. There he built his air-freight business from a single plane hauling auto parts into a 100-plane service that flies everything from mail to NASA satellites and whales. In 1975 Connie and his wife, Maryann, divorced.
Neither man seems to regret those early years. Both have developed ways to cope with the lost time. "It was really hard to miss something that wasn't there that much anyway," says Scott. "Business is business," says Connie. "You've got to do what you've got to do."
Scott moved in with Connie when he was 16 because his mother was no longer able to control him. Sensing that Scott was developing a taste for hanging out, Connie made him a deal: Graduate from high school, and I'll build you a race car. Later Connie set Scott up with his own air-freight business. Today Scott heads Trans Continental Airlines out of the same airfield as his dad, their offices separated by a runway.
"I look at every situation as being a book," says Connie, who never attended college. "Read the book, and it will tell you what to do." Of his son's success Connie says only, "Scott reads the book well."