June 23, Sydney Morning Herald

NEW JERSEY: Two-time American drag racing champion Scott Kalitta died on Saturday when his "funny car" burst into flames and crashed during the final round of qualifying for the Lucas Oil NHRA SuperNationals.

The National Hot Rod Association, the leading governing body for drag racing in North America, said on its website that Kalitta, who had 18 career victories, was killed at Old Bridge Township Raceway Park.

Witnesses told The Star-Ledger that Kalitta's Toyota Solara was travelling at an estimated speed of 480kmh when the car, which was leading the race, burst into flames, continued to the end of the track, struck a barrier and exploded.

Kalitta was taken to Old Bridge Township Hospital, where he was pronounced dead from multiple injuries.

He started his career at Old Bridge Township Raceway Park in 1982. His father, Connie Kalitta, was one of the pioneers in American drag racing and a team owner.

His cousin, Doug Kalitta, also drives competitively.

"Scott was a terrific driver and, perhaps more importantly, a better person and a great father to his two kids," the NHRA said in a statement. "Our thoughts and prayers go out to his wife, Kathy, sons Corey and Colin, his cousin Doug, and his father Connie.

"He will be truly missed."

Drag racing is a match race between two cars along a 400-metre straight from a standing start.

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photo: No chance … Scott Kalitta died after his Toyota Solara 'funny car' reached an estimated speed of 480kmh before striking a barrier and exploding (AP)