Kalitta Motorsports is going to look a bit different this year. Already announced are changes to the team’s NHRA Funny Car operations, with Alexis DeJoria “retiring” for the time being and Shawn Langdon moving over from Top Fuel to the flopper class to drive a blue Global Electronics Toyota Camry; he passed certification Funny Car runs the day after Las Vegas last October.
The team had already announced the pairing of Doug Kalitta and Richie Crampton in two dragsters for 2018 and two Funny Cars, for Langdon and J.R. Todd; now it’s clear that the management for this operation has warranted a few changes at the top.
The Ypsilanti, Michigan mega-team is pretty well isolated from the balance of NHRA’s nitro runners, most of whom prep their cars near Brownsburg, Indiana. That doesn’t harm their chances to attract quality team members, as they’ve got a good core group that works well together. Those race-winning “mosh pits” aren’t corporate; they’re real.
It’s been apparent, at least for the past few years, that Jim Oberhofer, the long-serving crew chief for Doug Kalitta, had a great deal on his plate. Not only did he oversee Air Doug’s Mac Tools dragster, Jim O has also served as general manager for the entire Kalitta Motorsports group the past few decades. It was a bit more than he felt capable of performing, as Oberhofer has always stated that his primary intent is to see driver Doug Kalitta finally earn his first NHRA Top Fuel championship.
Those efforts might have been diluted by the extra duties Jim O has been called upon to perform. That, coupled with his wife Tammy’s cancer diagnosis, her ultimate death and the book he wrote about setting priorities following this tragedy, certainly meant that Oberhofer was allocating time based on the immediate needs of the shop, likely before his needs as a crew chief. Setting aside time for his family? Well, that was the root problem.
Now, in talking with www.competitionplus.com editor Bobby Bennett, Jim Oberhofer revealed he’s stepping back from the general manager’s post. After seeing his driver, Doug Kalitta, earn a third-place result this past year, having Langdon, who joined the team at Houston in 2017 qualify for the Countdown to the Championship a ninth consecutive season, and switching drivers in the third SealMaster dragster from Troy Coughlin Jr to Crampton at the U.S. Nationals in September, the game of musical chairs and their logistics became a bit much.
True, Kalitta won the Countdown’s initial contest in the six-race playoff series for top 10 drivers at Charlotte, his tenth year in a row in the Countdown. Yes, Kalitta qualified No. 1 twice last year and had three runner-up results. It just wasn’t enough for Oberhofer, as he told Bennett. “As the team’s grown over the years, the whole organization has grown. You go from one car to two cars, two cars to three cars, three to four and then you add a CNC shop in the mix, a chassis shop into the mix, a repair shop and you’ve got marketing people, PR people and social media people. Pretty soon you’ve got almost 80 employees,” he told the website.
It was time to step back, and that’s what Oberhofer is about to do. He’s putting his primary efforts into making Doug Kalitta’s championship in Top Fuel a reality. “I’ve been thinking about this for the past two years, and I’ve been thinking I need to do one or the other.” He’ll stick with crew chiefing and continuing to get to know his daughter better.
As he explained to Bennett, “18 years of being the figurehead for Connie over here at Kalitta Motorsports, there’s been a lot of great times, there’s been ups and downs and everything in between. But it’s taken its toll on me. And in the middle of all that, we lost Scott [Kalitta at Englishtown in 2008], I lost my wife. My kid went from being just five years old and now she’s 22. I missed a lot of things with that. I want to live life a little bit. I want to enjoy racing.”
To that end, Rachel Delago, a longtime, essential member of the Kalitta Motorsports team takes over the post of general manager, with former driver and team manager Chad Head, who also worked in operations with INDYCAR some years ago and will aid Delago moving forward. “We weren’t happy with how the Kalitta team performed last year. Four total wins is unacceptable; it’s not what we’re about. We’re not out here to play second fiddle to Schumacher, Force, Torrence, anybody like that.”
Look for Jim Oberhofer to make his ultimate statements about this change in the pits as he tunes the car and on the start line from here on out. He’s going back to what brought him to this dance.