Kalitta Motorsports: Finding Family at Top Speed
As both drivers and motorsports fans, we all have our secrets for success and happiness. The same can be said for RacingJunk.com’s featured drag racing team Kalitta Motorsports. Owned by founder and drag racing icon Connie Kalitta, Kalitta Motorsports has been a well-known name in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series world for many years.
Along with creating the legendary careers of the First Lady of Drag Racing Shirley Muldowney, better known as the Bounty Huntress, both Connie and his talented team have continued to rack up both wins and as well as five world championships since the early years of this series.
As this team continues to eye a possible Top Fuel championship trophy in 2016, we decided to slip Behind The Wheel with Kalitta to find out how they have managed to find the keys to success in this sport for so many years.
While sharp as a tack businessman and self-made millionaire Connie Kalitta has continued to lead the way for both this team as well as Kalitta Air throughout the last several years, every good leader needs a confidant and to Kalitta this has been Jim Oberhofer. Currently Vice President of Operations and Crew Chief, Oberhofer found his love for drag racing after spending time watching his father working in a paint and body shop preparing East Coast race cars, wild-colored Funny Cars and sleek dragsters.
“When he wasn’t working my dad would take my brother and I to our local drag strip and we fell in love with the sport,” said Oberhofer. “Of course, I thought that I would become a driver, but God had a different plan for me.”
During his time working for his father right out of high school, Oberhofer had the opportunity to meet Scott Kalitta, son of drag racing legend Connie Kalitta.
“The first time that I saw Scott, he just had this look like he was ready to pick a fight,” said Oberhofer. “Fortunately, he would eventually take me under his wing to help me see my future.”
Although Oberhofer would spend a few years working on drag cars around the sport for many years, he would eventually find himself working alongside a driver who quickly became one of his best friends.
“Although I really didn’t know if Scott would ever really want to work with me, in March of 1988 I was offered the opportunity to join Kalitta Motorsports,” said Oberhofer.
Since this time, Oberhofer has grown into this sport and has learned everything that he can to inspire other drivers to reach for their dreams the way that he did.
Along with spending most of his days pushing papers, keeping sponsors aboard at this team and doing just about everything to keep Kalitta Motorsports competitive, Oberhofer also serves as the crew chief for Top Fuel driver Doug Kalitta.
The cousin of Funny Car driver Scott Kalitta, Top Fuel driver Doug Kalitta has finished second in the point standings in 2003, 2004 and 2006 and currently sits second in the 2016 point standings, behind Antron Brown. This former motorcycle flat track racer and former United States Auto Club (USAC) Sprint Car Series champion found his way into drag racing thanks to his friend and close family member Scott Kalitta.
“Although I had a passion for USAC Sprint Car racing, Scott was jumping out of his Top Fuel seat at Kalitta Motorsports in 1998 and asked me to give it a try,” said Kalitta. “I wasn’t sure how I would do, but I seemed to have a knack for drag racing, especially in the Top Fuel car, so I decided that I would stick with it.”
Obviously, nitrous runs through this speed demon’s veins as Kalitta has continued to fuel his fire to win a championship since his first NHRA run.
“Although I have continued to work hard, the hard working Kalitta Motorsports team has gotten me where I am today, which is why it is my goal to win this championship this year,” said Kalitta. “Knowing that I have a chance to salute this family, especially the man who made my Top Fuel career possible – my cousin Scott Kalitta, is an honor.”
Following the death of two-time NHRA Top Fuel world champion Scott Kalitta, after an accident during a qualifying accident at Old Bridge Township Raceway Park in 2008, Kalitta Motorsports would task Funny Car driver Jeff Arend to compete in this illustrious seat. After a few short years this seat would be turned over to another legendary Funny Car driver.
Del Worsham began his drag racing career at the end of 1990 NHRA season. “I grew up in the sport of drag racing where I spent as much time as possible with my father, who was a crewman for a Top Alcohol Funny Car,” said Worsham. “In 1989, my dad was a partner on a NHRA Nitro Funny Car and as the end of the 1990 season the driver of this car became unable to drive and I was asked to fill-in,” said Worsham.
The following season would see Worsham running full-time for his father’s Nitro Funny Car team. After seven races into the season, Worsham would become the youngest driver ever to win a Funny Car event after winning the Southern Nationals, in Atlanta, GA.
As his drag racing career continued, Worsham would eventually make the leap to Top Fuel for his family race team. Worsham would continue to jump back and forth between Nitro Funny Car to Top Fuel racing until his family racing team domination would come to an end following the final race of the 2008 season.
After returning full-time to Funny Car racing for Alan Johnson Al-Anabi Racing Team during the 2009 and 2010 seasons, Worsham once again returned to Top Fuel racing for the same team in 2011. A year later would see the once dominating drag racing star hanging up his helmet to join Kalitta Motorsports as a crew chief.
“When I stepped out of the car, I really didn’t plan to drive again,” said Worsham. “I was actually looking forward to helping another young driver come along in the sport and after seeing Funny Car driver Alexis DeJoria compete, I knew that she would be the perfect person to take under my wing. I saw that she had the drive, spirit and talent that had once driven me and I thought that I could easily pass along what I had learned in order to further her career.”
Although Worsham was honored to serve as a Funny Car crew chief for DeJoria, the plan would change as the 2013 season approached. In November of 2012, Worsham would be asked to grace the seat of the former Funny Car legend Scott Kalitta for Kalitta Motorsports.
“While I really wasn’t sure if I should return to the driver’s seat, being out of the car for over a year gave me a new perspective and when you are asked to take over the reins of a car like this it is hard to say no,” said Worsham.
Moving on with her career at Kalitta with crew chiefs, Tommy DeLago and Glen Huszar, Alexis DeJoria has continued to benefit from the winning ways that seem to follow Kalitta Motorsports.
Despite not really being brought up around the drag racing scene, DeJoria and her famous father, John Paul DeJoria – co-founder of the Paul Mitchell line of hair products, enjoyed being around hot rods. “My father loved cars and I always had a lot of fast cars around me growing up,” said DeJoria.
As soon as she was able, this tomboy decided to get her own hot rod as soon as she obtained her driver’s license. Before long she was taking her 1967 Chevy Chevelle to her local tracks and running it as fast as she could.
Before long, DeJoria would find herself competing in the Super Gas category of the NHRA before moving into a rear engine Super Comp dragster. Eight months after her NHRA debut, she went on to win the Sportsman Nationals in Fontana, California. After this accomplishment this never say die drag racer decided to take on the next challenge – competing in a Top Alcohol Funny Car.
In 2009, DeJoria made a major commitment in her racing career by building her own team, Stealth Motorsports. She co-owned and operated the team for three years, and is one of the few females ever to do so.
While racing for Stealth, DeJoria made her way to four national event final-rounds, won a divisional event, and at the 2011 NHRA Northwest Fall Nationals, raced her way to the Winners Circle, claiming her first ever NHRA national event victory in the TAFC category. She is only the second woman to win a national TAFC event.
After successfully owning her own Top Alcohol Funny Car team for several years, DeJoria decided that she was ready to take on her dream challenge – joining Kalitta Motorsports team as their fourth member and second Funny Car driver.
“I had so many people telling me not to take on this difficult challenge,” said DeJoria. “Fortunately, that is exactly what fuels my fire. Tell me that I can’t do something and I will go out there and do it.”
Do it, she did! During her sophomore season, DeJoria raced to an impressive four semi-final finishes, but it was in her third full year where she really caught her stride. In 2014, DeJoria enjoyed what can only be described as her breakout season. In Pomona, California, during the NHRA Winternationals, DeJoria made history when she became the first woman to make a sub-four second run with her 3.997-second E.T. At the very next event in Phoenix, DeJoria finally realized her goal of winning her first race in the Funny Car category.
“I always knew that I someday wanted to join a team after running on my own and I had talked to a few other teams before deciding to join Kalitta Motorsports,” said DeJoria. “This was the one team that really felt like a family. Connie and his entire team welcomed me with open arms and I felt like it was my destiny to join this team.”
As this up-and-coming driver looks for continued dominating performances with Kalitta, the youngest driver in this team’s stable is hoping for the same.
NHRA Top Fuel driver J.R. Todd was ready to give up on his racing career until a phone call from Connie Kalitta reignited what felt like dying flame in the now 34-year-old driver. Finding his passion for drag racing as a young child competing in junior dragster, it wouldn’t be long before Todd would find himself climbing the ladder to the NHRA.
“I love the power of a dragster and after racing one for the first time I knew that I wanted to continue racing, although I didn’t know then if I would have the opportunity to ever do so professionally,” said Todd.
Before long, this young driver would begin competing for teams like Tuttle Motorsports, Morgan Lucas Racing and Bob Vandergriff Racing and would even become the first African-American to win a Top Fuel race.
After going through several changes over the next few years, including running races for the Alan Johnson Al-Anabi Racing Team in the middle-east, J.R. Todd would see his dreams begin to truly take shape in the middle of the 2014 race season.
“After Al-Anabi Racing ceased their operations, I didn’t really have anywhere to turn,” said Todd. “I started to sit at home and think of any idea that I could to stay involved with this sport whether it meant working for a vendor or something, just so I could keep my name and face out there, I would do it. I needed some way to pay my bills. I did not want to do something outside of racing. I knew that would just mean giving up and that wasn’t an option.”
Fortunately, Todd had already begun to make the right contacts, including the most valuable of them all – Connie Kalitta.
“I had met Connie several years before that memorable phone call came from him in 2014,” said Todd. “He was actually at the track in Las Vegas and found out that their then Top Fuel driver was ready to take another direction, so Connie asked me if I could be on a plane that night for a race in Las Vegas the next day.”
The rest is history, as they say. Today, J.R. Todd is seeing what he felt was a dwindling dream begin to come to fruition. In fact, Todd won his first race for Kalitta shortly after joining the team and is now sitting within the top-10 in the Top Fuel NHRA Mello Yello Point Standings.
So you say that you have dreams to someday be a Kalitta Motorsports driver? If you are going to see this dream come true, it is important to remember the golden rules of success that have been found from this racing family – stay tuned to what is really important in life, reach for the stars and never, ever give up on your dream no matter what.
Stay tuned for more between RacingJunk.com and Kalitta Motorsports. Details to come shortly!!