Editor’s Note: Texas-born brothers Jim and Jon Oberhofer have become vital members of the Kalitta Motorsports racing team and created quite a following for themselves during the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season. The Oberhofers were featured in the January issue of SPEED SPORT Magazine. Here is an excerpt from that story.
The Oberhofers have come a long way from cleaning parts in the Kalitta pits and even further from the days of racing their Big Wheel tricycles — complete with garbage bags rigged as parachutes — up and down the streets of their New Jersey neighborhood.
Their earliest memories of drag racing are of watching their father compete with his Pleasure Seekers dragster at tracks on the East Coast before the family moved to Texas during the late 1970s. There Dave Oberhofer established his paint and body shop that catered to the likes of Don Garlits, Chris Karamesines, Raymond Beadle and Connie Kalitta and his son, Scott. With the younger Kalitta frequently in the area to conduct business, Jim Oberhofer got to know the up-and-coming racer better.
After graduating high school, Jim Oberhofer worked with the Frank Cook and Chuck Landers Drag-On Charger team and then on Jay Meyer’s alcohol dragster, but he periodically reminded Scott Kalitta that he wanted to work on his Funny Car. Finally in early 1988, Jim Oberhofer got the call to meet the Kalitta crew in Gainesville, Fla., for the Gatornationals.
“It was nuts; it was surreal for me,” Jim said. “Here I was working on Scott’s Funny Car and in the same pits is Connie Kalitta’s dragster. We raced two cars with five crew members and we all worked out of the same trailer. It was a lot of fun.
“When I showed up in Gainesville in 1988, I thought, ‘I’m going to do this for a couple of years. Then when I grow up and get this out of my system, I’ll go back into the paint and body shop world and that’s where I’ll spend the rest of my life.’”
Three years later, Jon Oberhofer joined his older brother at Kalitta Motorsports and, like Jim Oberhofer, began working his way up the ladder, beginning with bottom-end responsibilities like building short blocks and piston racks before progressing to cylinder heads and clutches. Jim Oberhofer, meanwhile, tried to learn as much as possible from the drag racing legends around him, Connie Kalitta and driver-turned-tuner Dick LaHaie.
“I wanted to be that kind of crew chief, like a Dick LaHaie or a Tim Richards or a Dale Armstrong — someone who could tune a car and make it run really fast,” Jim Oberhofer explained. “Back then, I didn’t think I was capable of doing that, but I kept putting my time in and trying to pay attention to what was going on.”
Under LaHaie’s tutelage, the Oberhofer brothers were part of back-to-back championships when Scott Kalitta earned Top Fuel titles in 1994 and 1995.
“I never thought I’d be part of a team that won a race, much less one that won championships,” Jon Oberhofer admitted.