Scott Kalitta, son of NHRA drag racing legend Connie Kalitta and cousin of 2023 NHRA Top Fuel champion Doug Kalitta, was inducted into the International Drag Racing Hall of Fame in Gainesville, Fla., on March 7, 2024. Scott was a two-time NHRA Top Fuel champion who died in a 2008 racing accident.

Scott’s former teammates, Jon Oberhofer, Jim Oberhofer and Nickie Boninfante remembered their close friend and teammate in a conversation that led to the Scott Kalitta bio below, part of which was printed in the Hall of Fame Induction program.

Scott Kalitta
Scott Kalitta – Kalitta Motorsports

  • Scott was a larger-than-life character.”
  • He was a big brother, a mentor and a best friend rolled up in one.”
  • He had a big, big heart.”
  • He was a practical joker; he messed with everyone.”
  • If you were loyal to him, he was 10 times more loyal to you.”
  • He’s the baddest-ass racer I’ve ever known.”

Those are just a few of the ways some of the people who knew Scott Kalitta best describe him today. Whether it was fighting to win races and championships, giving friends from other teams a race car after they crashed their own or flying his team to California for Blaine Johnson’s funeral in 1996, Scott Kalitta was quite simply, an amazing human.

Kalitta won the NHRA Top Fuel championship in 1994 and ’95 and is one of only 18 drivers to win races in both Top Fuel and Funny Car. After Kalitta Motorsports resumed operation following a brief shutdown, the team hired Dick LaHaie in 1992 as Kalitta’s crew chief and brought back the core team members to run his Top Fuel car.

After finishing second in the final season standings in 1993, Kalitta became the first Top Fuel driver to win four-straight races in 1994 reaching the winner’s circle at Columbus, Ohio, Topeka, Kan., Denver and Sonoma, Calif. He won five races that season on the way to his first NHRA Top Fuel title. The next season, he won six races and his second-consecutive season championship and followed the championships with a runner-up finish in 1996. That was second, first, first and second in four seasons. Not bad.

Although he made his mark in Top Fuel, his first win came in the Kalitta Flying Service Funny Car in 1989. It was a race win for the ages that showed the kind of driver and competitor Scott Kalitta was.

Scott was very competitive; he wanted to win races,” teammate Jim Oberhofer remembered. “Early on, you could see his struggle with that. In the old days, it was show up at the race track, and the thought mentality of the crew was like, ‘we hope we can qualify’, getting to the second round was like winning a race. Anything further than that was amazing. That’s kind of the way his first win in Houston was.

We always thought, ‘Scott will win a race when hell freezes over;’ it just happened that in Houston that year, the race was snowed out. It was so cold, and the weather was so miserable, the race was postponed till the next weekend. We stayed in Houston all week and won the Houston race when there was no way we should have won it; we had luck on our side. In the final round running against Bruce Larson, who won the championship that year, you could see what kind of driver Scott was.

Larson was ahead of us, but you could see Scott was driving the wheels off it. I’m guessing there was a cylinder out because he was so close to the wall…he got it back, drove around Larson and won the race. That was Scott Kalitta’s competitive nature – never say die, never give up.

Scott was old-school racer,” Oberhofer continued. “He was an interesting mix because you have the guys who were the foundation of drag racing like Don Garlits and Connie, The Greek (Chris Karamesines) and all these guys. And then somewhere in the middle falls Scott. I think he was very under-appreciated as a legend of the sport.”

When Scott returned to Top Fuel, the team needed new autograph postcards for the season. Scott and Connie wanted a picture on the front of the card showing them racing side-by-side. Scott desperately wanted to be ahead of his father in the picture, but it didn’t quite work out that way.

Connie left on Scott in qualifying so the picture showed Connie in front of Scott,” Oberhofer said. “Tammy (Tammy Oberhofer who was doing team public relations) showed it to Scott. And he said, ‘we need to fix this. Can we move my car out in front of Connie’s car?’ They photoshopped the image so Scott was in front of Connie. The cards were out, and Scott was happy, but the old man (Connie) had no idea this happened.”

We were friends before I worked for him,” teammate Nickie Boninfante remembered. “I’d see him at the track, and we’d all be in the bar together at night. He took a liking to me for some reason. We’re working on my father’s car when RC Sherman crashed it in Baton Rouge; the throttle hung open, the thing went into the guard rail and destroyed the car. We were budget racers – didn’t really have any money. My Dad worked hard so we could race.

We got loaded up and were about to head back to our shop. Scott came over and said, ‘I know you guys don’t have a lot of money. We have a Plueger Funny Car with an Olds body like the one you guys are running sitting at the shop. If you guys will go up there and pick it up, put it together – just keep it and use it.’ We told him we couldn’t afford it, and he said, ‘No, I’m not talking about buying the car, just take it– it’s your car. If you feel like paying us someday, ok, but if not, just go racing and don’t worry about it.’ Connie and Scott did a lot of things like that, but most people don’t know about them.”

When Scott met Kathy, whom he would later marry, everything changed. Despite all the racing accolades, the fun, frivolity and friends, being a good husband to Kathy and a good father for Corey and Colin was more important to Kalitta than anything else.

As good a race car driver as he wanted to be and as many races and championships as he wanted to win, he wanted to be the best father ever, and he worked hard at that,” Jim Oberhofer said. “I give him a tremendous amount of credit for how hard he worked at that. He was an awesome dad, an awesome husband and an awesome son.”

The versions of Scott described here are a young Scott, Scott after he met Kathy and Scott the father,” teammate Jon Oberhofer said. “They’re all very different versions of him, and they’re all unique. For me to be a father and to see how he was as a father is really cool. Every version of him was cool.”

Scott Kalitta – a larger-than-life big brother, mentor, best friend, practical joker and bad-ass racer with a big, big heart is now rightfully a member of the International Drag Racing Hall of Fame.

My cousin won it two years in a row so that’s our goal, too.

We were in Bradenton – I hadn’t seen Don Garlits so talked to him, and he was super-excited for me. Those kinds of people, and that’s Connie, too, just being there and supporting me all those years. It means more to get the accolades from the true legends of the sport. True, hardcore drag racers are the people Don picks out over the years. My cousin’s family, the two boys and his wife, were there. Don was kind enough to give Connie a lifetime achievement award from the International Drag Racing Hall of Fame He was really touched by that because those two go way back, and that was really cool. He was actually kinda surprised; I was thinking about mentioning what was going to happen to him but decided to let it be a surprise. He was pretty happy; it was cool.

“The banquet was overwhelming for me – everyone out here realizes how hard I’ve worked to try to pull this off, and it was gratly appreciated. The racing family, more than anything, is the goup Ive idolized over the years. It was real special for sure; it was one of those moments.

It was incredibly cool – especially having Kathy and the two boys up there on the stage. Scott’s older son, Cory, said a little bit which was really nice so it was really cool. Connie was really excited as well. Don Garlits definitely did a helluva good thing for our family so it was a really good deal for us.

Scott was such a hardcore racer; I grew up kicking around with him back in the day when Connie and Garlits and all that rivalry stuff was going on. It would have meant a lot to him for sure.