For the Kalitta Motorsports team, success is measured not only in the speed of the race cars and the number of winning Wallies (drag racing’s most competitive award), or the coveted trophy of the NHRA. The team enjoys the passion of drag racing and the family atmosphere instilled by company founder Connie Kalitta, and in the adrenaline-intensive, competitive world of drag racing, the bar rises every year.
Kalitta Motorsports’ four race cars – two Top Fuel and two Funny Cars – now compete in 24 races a year, placing major demands on the assembly and repair crew. To meet the challenge, the team relies on the cooperative spirit of its 60 employees and its parts, equipment and tool partners.
While race fans may be familiar with Kalitta Motorsports celebrity drivers like Alexis De Joria, Del Worsham, David Grubnic, Doug Kalitta and Conrad (“Connie”) Kalitta, the responsibility for keeping the cars running at optimum performance falls to the entire crew.
Under the supervision of Jim Oberhofer, vice president of operations, the staff remains passionate about the assembly, maintenance and repair of the cars at the facility in Ypsilanti, Mich.
“Trying to keep that competitive edge is huge,” explains Oberhofer, who is now in his 25th year with the Kalitta team. “We win and lose races by thousandths of a second. To remain competitive, we have to make sure the chassis are as fast as possible.”
The team uses a combination of OEM- and custom-made parts to remain competitive. The team assembles two to three cars per year, Oberhofer notes, and competes in a race almost every month of the year.
A custom-designed work space
The 50,000-square-foot building at the Kalitta headquarters was constructed 10 years ago in an industrial park to meet the growth of the team, which 74-year-old Connie Kalitta started in 1957. The rectangular building houses an open work area where technicians attend to maintenance, assembly and repair.
The work areas include spaces for parts assembly, tire work, brake repair, and a soundproof room for analyzing the air flow of the teams’ blowers, an important part of creating speed for the engines. Seven 53-foot-long semi trailers that transport the race cars, pit crews and tools to and from races double as movable partitions inside the main work area, designating areas for specific tasks. The building also has business offices and storage areas.
Repair stations share the same open work area as the assembly. There are five dedicated repair technicians. Thirty company-owned toolboxes are positioned throughout the general work area. The repair techs also work on the transport trailers. Each tech is responsible for the tools in a section of the shop.
Everything is assembled in-house. Painting and testing are done off site. The company custom-builds over 100 parts. While they don’t make their own engine blocks, they do repair them, along with cylinder heads.
The engines are assembled according to National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) specifications for Top Fuel Dragsters and Funny Cars. Crankshafts, pistons, valves, connecting rods, cam shafts, gears, front hub lifters, piston rings, superchargers, clutch discs and bearings are used to assemble the engines.
Preparation for future events is also done at Kalitta headquarters. “It’s a constant rotation of parts,” notes Oberhofer. In meeting the NHRA specs, the team has the flexibility to experiment with different clutch and cylinder head configurations. “We’re planning a whole year out for clutch parts right now,” Oberhofer says. “Everything is so specialized with these cars that you have to plan ahead or you fall behind.” Planning for future needs is challenging because parts are becoming obsolete faster.
The highly sophisticated engines are inspected regularly to determine wear. The cylinder walls of the engines must retain a specific size. They get replaced if they get “out of round.” A dial board gauge is used to determine this.