NHRA nitro mega-team Kalitta Motorsports announced just weeks into the 2015/16 offseason that multi-talented tuner Rob Flynn signed on as co-crew chief with team owner Connie Kalitta on J.R. Todd’s Top Fuel dragster. It’s a homecoming of sorts for Flynn, who worked on the late Scott Kalitta’s Top Fuel entry in 1987 and Connie’s dragster the next year.
“When I first came to Kalitta’s Rob worked here and was an early mentor of mine,” Kalitta Motorsports Vice President of Operations Jim Oberhofer said. “Not only is he going to add to make J.R.’s team more solid but he will add in making Kalitta Motorsports better as a whole.”
Flynn brings a wealth of experience to the Kalitta shop in Ypsilanti, Michigan. Since his time there in the late-‘80s, he has worked with drivers in Top Fuel and Funny Car, including Darrell Gwynn, Rod Fuller, Bob Vandergriff, Jack Beckman and current Kalitta Funny Car driver and reigning NHRA world champion, Del Worsham. This past season, Flynn led the part-time Dote Racing Top Fuel team with driver Leah Pritchett to career-best performances across the board.
Just hours after the announcement, Flynn shared with DRAG ILLUSTRATED his thoughts on reuniting with Kalitta Motorsports, his past experience with Todd, and why he’s so excited to get started on the 2016 NHRA national-event trail.
What is it like to return to Kalitta Motorsports now that you’ve been a respected tuner on the circuit for many years?
I think it’s great. Jim O wanted me to come up here and check it out first. You come in the door here and it’s like, wow. There are guys here that have worked for me before; guys that I’ve worked with in the past. It just felt like coming home, so to speak. It felt good.
You previously tuned for J.R. Todd when he drove the Al-Anabi Racing Pro Extreme car. How did you two Top Fuel guys end up back together?
It’s kind of funny. J.R. and I spent a lot of time together with the Pro Mod and we used to say, ‘Man, it sure would be
nice if we could do Top Fuel again sometime.’ That basically got started when some of the other rides that he had went away and Sheikh Khalid (bin Hamad al Thani) decided to put him in a Pro Mod car.
One day J.R. and Sheikh Khalid called me and asked if I wanted to run this Pro Mod car. I said I guess so, since I didn’t really have a job at that point. We built the car and took it to the Middle East. We hadn’t even started it over here yet. It was fairly successful. We won a couple races and actually finished first in the points. The championship over there was the Battle for the Belts, and we lost in the semifinals.
When it all fell apart midway through the year when we came back over here, I went over to Vandergriff’s and later J.R. came over to Vandergriff’s and drove part-time there, so we still worked together a little bit. I ended up leaving Vandergriff’s and now we’re back together again. It’s all a little circle.
Do you think that familiarity with Kalitta Motorsports and J.R. will help you adjust to your new role?
For me, having worked with Connie before, you get used to how he is. The same with J.R.; I think he’s one of the best drivers out there so I have a lot of respect for what he does, too. The whole thing should be a real good package.
Does it help you as a crew chief to know you’ll be working on a car that’s going out for all 24 races and contending for a championship?
Definitely. When Dote Racing had to take a sabbatical or whatever the situation is going to be, my goal was to be with a championship-caliber team. There weren’t a lot of opportunities like that available. I’m real excited about that part because if you’re going to go racing full time, that’s really what you want—the chance to be in the championship chase and to ultimately win a championship.
You’ve worked with several full-time teams over the years. Does this situation feel at all different?
It’s actually too soon to tell, truthfully. They obviously have all of the resources here; a lot of interesting projects going on all the time, a lot of in-house stuff getting done, and certainly a lot of very intelligent people running these cars.
There are similar situations to when I was at DSR (Don Schumacher Racing) with all of the people they have there, too. I see it’s a similar situation that they have here. These guys produced a championship with Del Worsham this year and they had two Top Fuel cars in the Countdown. There are a lot of parallels there, I would say.
This story originally appeared in Drag Illustrated Issue No. 105, the Champions Issue, in November of 2015.