The NHRA ‘silly season’ came a little late this year, but once changes began, the falling dominoes sent a reverberating shake throughout the sport of drag racing.
First off was the surprising resignation of NHRA VP of Public Relations and Communications Terry Blount, who joined the sanctioning body in July of 2015. He contributed to the expansion of the NHRA media program, making great strides in promoting the sport in the new electronic age. He will be missed in the media room.
On Monday afternoon, Kalitta Motorsports announced their revamped lineup after Fuel champion Del Worsham decided to depart his championship ride last week to rejoin the family operation run by his father Chuck. There’s a great possibility of a sponsor coming on board to lighten the cost load for the California-based team.
With Worsham’s seat open, owner Connie Kalitta and VP of Operations Jim Oberhofer decided to put J.R. Todd in their DHL Toyota Funny Car, and elevated Troy Coughlin, Jr. from part-time status to a full-time Top Fuel ride, replacing Todd in the SealMaster Top Fuel dragster. Todd isn’t a stranger to the class, having worked on the Bob Gilbertson Funny Car from 2003-05 with then crew chiefs Nick Boninfante and Tommy DeLago, both of whom are now directing their Kalitta Motorsports team.
“Connie told Jim O the DHL Toyota is a special car and that I was the right guy for the job, which was a huge compliment to me,” said Todd, who will make his Funny Car debut at the Circle K Winternationals in February. “I am going to miss Del as a teammate as he has always been one of my heroes. I want to also say a huge thanks to SealMaster and their awesome franchisees. They are great people and it was an honor to represent them.”
Todd turns to the Funny Car class after a career season aboard the Kalitta Motorsports Top Fuel dragster. In 152 Top Fuel events, Todd has earned 9 victories, 19 final round appearances, 9 No.1 qualifiers and 149 round wins. He was the 2006 AAA Road to the Future rookie winner and has placed in the top five in the point standings two times, including a fourth-place effort this year.
“Ever since I worked with Nicky and Tommy D on a Funny Car, driving one has been in the back of my mind and most people have known that. This car has quite the legacy and it is a huge honor to be picked to drive it,” he stated.
The Kalitta Motorsports team has put Troy Coughlin, Jr. in a prime position both to take the rookie title in 2017, and possibly become a quick championship contender in his inaugural nitro season.
“I am thrilled to be competing full-time for Kalitta Motorsports in 2017 with an incredible backer like SealMaster and their franchise owners,” said Coughlin, Jr. “The car is one of the best looking machines on the race track and it is awesome to be able to know I will have a car that can compete for the title.”
Coughlin, Jr. won the 2013 Super Gas title in division 3 and is a two-time NHRA U.S. Nationals winner. In 2015, he drove in the NHRA J&A Service Pro Mod series and was named Rookie of the Year. During his career, the 26-year-old driver has driven Junior Dragsters, Super Comp, Super Gas, Top Dragster and Pro Mod machines. He earned his Top Fuel license earlier this year.
The last time a Coughlin drove in the Top Fuel class was the 1980 Mile-High Nationals at Bandimere Speedway, where he suffered a first round loss with Jeg Sr. at the helm.
Finally, the Kalitta Motorsports Funny Cars will also see a reorganization of the team’s crew chiefs. Jon Oberhofer and Todd Smith will lead Todd’s DHL Toyota Camry Funny Car as co-crew chiefs. Former DHL co-crew chief Nicky Boninfante will join Tommy DeLago on the Tequila Patrón Toyota Camry Funny Car driven by Alexis DeJoria, and Glen Huszar will lead Paul Lee’s McLeod Racing Funny Car. All five Funny Car crew chiefs are former NHRA champions.
“I am excited for the future of our team,” said Jim Oberhofer, Vice President of Operations of Kalitta Motorsports. “First, I want to thank our incredible partners, DHL and SealMaster, for helping make this transition seamless. Both J.R. and Troy are ready for the 2017 season. J.R. is a very motivated driver and continues to be a perfect fit at Kalitta Motorsports. I know he will be a great ambassador for DHL and Toyota and I look forward to seeing what the season holds. I am also thrilled to be able to get Troy into a full time seat. He proved to be a very precise driver during our test session in Las Vegas and I know he is going to do a great job in the SealMaster Top Fuel dragster.”
Coming up on Friday is a major announcement from John Force Racing in conjunction with the Indianapolis PRI show. They have also announced that long-time public relations director Elon Werner is departing his position to move back to his Mansfield, Texas home to spend more time with his family.
“I have had the luxury of working with the best team and drivers in motorsports,” said Werner, the winner of the Jim Chapman Award for excellence in motorsports public relations, an award considered by many as the highest honor in racing PR. “I have every confidence this transition will be seamless. I know with the exciting announcements on the horizon for the team that it will continue to garner national media attention both inside and outside the world of racing. I have to thank John and Robert as well as every driver I have worked with for their willingness to accommodate the media and our sponsors. Their passion and professionalism made me a better PR person.”
Also announced at the PRI Show will be NHRA Pro Stock car owner Richard Freeman’s decision on what type of manufacturer he will see six-time World champion Jeg Coughlin and two-time Pro Stock World champion Erica Enders behind the wheel of in 2017 along with their new sponsorship for Elite Motorsports. It will be held at the PRI Media Center (Hall 116 and 117) at 11:30 ET on Thursday, Dec. 8, emceed by NHRA on FOX TV’s Bruno Massell.