INSIGHT: How Kalitta Motorsports rolled with multiple Winternationals punches

NHRA photos

INSIGHT: How Kalitta Motorsports rolled with multiple Winternationals punches


INSIGHT: How Kalitta Motorsports rolled with multiple Winternationals punches


A little after 1:30pm local time on April 1, J.R. Todd and John Force collided in the second round of NHRA Funny Car qualifying for the Winternationals at In-N-Out Burger Pomona Dragstrip.

At first glance, it looked like Force got the worst, and his John Force Racing machine was heavily damaged. The wild incident happened in seconds as Force lost control of his car, veered into Todd’s (left) lane and collided with Todd when their parachutes tangled. Todd was then along for the ride as Force’s car crossed back into the right lane and hit the wall head-on.

Both drivers walked away, and both competed the next day. But the story goes much deeper for Kalitta Motorsports.

To the naked eye, it might have looked like Todd’s car, his primary car, escaped with minor damage. In reality, both the body and chassis were badly damaged, and for the rest of the day, the team began making plans to get it back to Indianapolis, where Precision Built Race Cars (PBRC) could get to work on repairs.

Kalitta Motorsports was initially scheduled to stay out west between Pomona and Las Vegas. So, a decision had to be made whether to leave the hospitality trailer and equipment on the West Coast while two team members drove to Indianapolis to drop off the chassis before going to the race shop in Ypsilanti, Mich.

How did the car get to Indianapolis? With help from a friend and a touch of old-school racing transportation.

“Del [Worsham] and I have a great relationship, personal and professional,” said Kalitta Motorsports general manager Chad Head. “Anytime we both get screwed up, we always come to each other and go, ‘What do we do? Here’s what I think.’ I was going down a path and Del goes, ‘Why would you do that? Just take my Tundra and my open trailer … put your guys in it and go home, and get this car to Indianapolis.’

“So, Saturday night, we hashed that out and that’s what our two hospitality guys got in Sunday afternoon and headed east. It takes everybody to try to make the best plans you can; you’ve got to use the people around you, and that’s what I tried to do.”

Incredibly, the story doesn’t end there.

With Todd’s primary car on the road, the 2018 world champion went into Sunday’s eliminations driving his backup. Todd didn’t drive it long.

In the first round of eliminations, Todd’s car blew to literal pieces before the finish line. Todd again climbed out and walked away.

Kalitta Motorsports was now down two cars, and the team’s workload got much heavier. Any plans team members had during the off-week between Pomona and Las Vegas were gone, with it becoming an all-hands-on-deck effort from all to rebuild its fleet of cars.

“We’re fortunate to have three complete race cars,” Head said. “We travel with two, and we have one at the race shop (for) this situation. You never dream of this situation happening, but last year we made the investment, and we built a third car exactly for this reason. So, our efforts and the financial part of it really paid off in doing what did

“So, we basically were left with our third car in line — which is a great race car, no issues at all — but it was at the shop. Getting our primary car back to Indianapolis to those who constructed the car ASAP was pivotal. Every hour, every minute counted to get that car back to Indianapolis.”

The front half of Todd’s chassis was destroyed in the Saturday qualifying crash. The car’s body is likely headed to life as a show car because of how much patchwork it will require.

The backup car was destroyed in the Sunday explosion. While the body was a complete loss after the explosion, Kalitta Motorsports will look closer at how much work needs to be done on the chassis in the coming days, as the focus has been on getting the primary back in action.

To better understand what has gone into Kalitta Motorsports and Todd getting to Las Vegas for this weekend’s Four-Wide Nationals, here is a day-by-day timeline picking up with the rest of the team departing Pomona for Michigan and the hauler then departing the team shop to head back west to Las Vegas.

Monday, April 3

The team haulers depart Pomona for the race shop in Ypsilanti, Mich. The hospitality team members, who left Pomona Sunday, arrived in Indianapolis Monday night with the primary car from the Saturday crash.

Tuesday, April 4

PBRC begins its work on the primary chassis. The two team haulers arrive at the race shop in Michigan at midnight.

Wednesday, April 5

By 2 p.m., the third chassis — now to become the backup — is scaled and ready to go. By the end of the day, the fabrication department has two new Supra bodies prepared to be fitted into the chassis. Also, by the end of the day, the primary chassis repair is completed by PBRC in Indianapolis.

Thursday, April 6

In the morning, a Kalitta box truck leaves for PBRC in Indianapolis and returns that evening with the repaired primary chassis.

Friday, April 7

Now back in the race shop, the primary chassis is at the attention of the whole race team in the morning, who works to get it scaled. By 6 p.m., the chassis is ready for the clutch, safety systems, and all the electronics to be installed.

Saturday, April 8

A day of clutch, safety systems, and electronics are installed in the chassis.

“Everything was done Saturday night,” Head said.

Sunday, April 9

The team has the day off for Easter.

Monday, April 10

The race shop is cleaned, and the team haulers reloaded to completion by 2pm.

Tuesday, April 11

Kalitta Motorsports team haulers depart for Las Vegas, where they are expected to arrive Wednesday.

“The effort and the team camaraderie as far as Kalitta Motorsports,” Head said when asked about the biggest thing to know from the last week. “It started with Connie 60-plus years ago and it continues today, and everybody wants to work as hard as they can for Connie. The coordination — it started with our two hospitality and Del helping us out, and then it went into the chassis manufacturer there in Indianapolis and then the entire staff at Kalitta Motorsports in Ypsilanti. We have a traveling crew, but we also have a shop crew, so this was a really total team effort. I think it shows preparation.

“The last couple of years, our team hasn’t produced the results that we would like to see, that Connie would like to see, or our partners would like to see. But we’re prepared, and we’re working really hard to get that trophy.

“This would be a pretty cool weekend to do it.”