Kalitta Motorsports’ NHRA Team Keeping Busy, Remaining Upbeat during COVID-19 Shutdown

When it was evident that the interruption in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing season caused by the COVID-19 pandemic might be a prolonged one, Kalitta Motorsports general manager Chad Head sprung into action.

Head, a former NHRA Funny Car driver himself, knew that he needed to keep the team together, busy and positive during a time that is being defined more by working at home and self-quarantines than it is by going 1,000 feet in under four seconds on the drag strip. That led to a call to the bossman, Connie Kalitta, who also runs Kalitta Air and Kalitta Charters out of Willow Run Airport, located not far from the Kalitta Motorsports race shop in Ypsilanti, Michigan.

“We got with Connie and Doug (Kalitta) and everybody and Kalitta Air and Kalitta Charters and just said, ‘What can we do to keep guys moving forward?’ I can’t say enough about both companies,” Head said. “They have just stepped up in a huge way and given us the opportunity to not have to lay anybody off or reduce anybody’s pay. It’s really been a great deal.”

So, while the folks from the motorsports shop are now working on engines and high-speed machines that are quite a bit different from the Funny Car and Top Fuel Dragsters they deal with during the racing season, Head says the team has stepped up to the plate and hardly skipped a beat.

“We’ve got 24, 25 guys fabricating, welding, taking apart airplanes, then turn around and use the good parts or sell the good parts,” Head said. “I can assure you that none of our crew guys are working on airplanes that will be flying in the sky. I can promise you that. We’re doing fiberglass work, machine work, we’ve picked up a lot of CNC (computer-aided machining) work from the Kalitta Air facility in Oscoda, Michigan.

“Really, we’re just trying to support Kalitta Air and Kalitta Charters any way we can. If they’re going to outsource something to another company, we’re trying to step in and do as much of that as possible.”

Head and machine shop foreman Scott Finnis work directly with the Kalitta Air machine shop on many CNC-designed and -manufactured pieces that help keep the company’s fleet of 747, 767 and 777 planes active.

The team is also getting a glimpse of what life in the race shop might be like when society, and the racing industry along with it, moves toward a new normal.

“Sure, 100%,” Head said. “We’ve got the hand sanitizers, social distancing, we’ve got the thermometers. We’ve kind of adapted to what Kalitta Air does, and I think we’re doing a really good job. I think we’re staying healthy, staying clean.

“We’re doing everything we can.”

Of course, Head and his Kalitta Motorsports teammates can’t wait to get back to the racetrack. The latest revised NHRA Mello Yello racing schedule has the series returning to action on June 5-7 at Gainesville, Florida. However, with several states extending stay-at-home orders well into May, that starting date could easily change.

“If you don’t keep a positive attitude, then when it does get turned back on, I feel you’re going to be that much further behind,” Head said. “You’ve got to keep a positive attitude with you partners. We can’t go backward. We’ve got to get through 2020, and we’re already starting to plan for 2021.

“It’s tough, but at the end of the day, it could always be a lot worse. Obviously, we’re sitting here with jobs and we’re staying busy. We’ve got a great owner in Connie and Doug, and everybody has jobs and everybody’s working. There’s really not much more you can ask for today.”

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