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NHRA surprise: Kalitta Motorsports parts ways with Jim Oberhofer after 30-plus years

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In one of the most surprising moves of the 2018 Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season, Kalitta Motorsports announced it has parted ways with long-time crew chief and company executive Jim Oberhofer.

Team Kalitta owner Connie Kalitta made the announcement in a media release.

What makes the news all the more surprising is its timing: the NHRA just began its six-race Countdown to the Championship playoffs this past weekend at Maple Grove Raceway near Reading, Pennsylvania.

Now with five races remaining in the playoffs, Troy Fasching will replace Oberhofer as crew chief on Doug Kalitta’s Mac Tools Top Fuel dragster.

Doug Kalitta is currently ranked sixth in the Top Fuel standings, 116 points behind series leader Steve Torrence, heading into this weekend’s second playoff race at Gateway Motorsports Park near St. Louis,

Oberhofer had served with Kalitta Motorsports for more than 30 years and had held a variety of positions, including Vice President of Operations, as well as most recently as Doug Kalitta’s crew chief.

“I want to thank Jim for his years at Kalitta Motorsports and appreciate everything he accomplished here. I wish him the best in the future,” Connie Kalitta said in a statement.

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Hunter McElrea wins Mazda Road to Indy USF2000 Scholarship

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Hunter McElrea bested 18 competitors to win the third annual Road to Indy USF2000 $200,000 Scholarship Shootout on Sunday at Bondurant Racing School in Chandler, Ariz.

The two-day contest featured on-track competition in Formula Mazda cars as well as interview sessions and assessment from a panel of judges.

“I can’t believe it,” McElrea said at IndyCar.com. “This is definitely the most exciting opportunity that I have had in my racing career. I cannot thank Mazda and everyone enough for making this possible for me. The fact that I am going to be on the grid next year thanks to them is a dream come true.

“They have given me the opportunity to prove myself in such a high level that I never even thought I would be able to reach. I have to thank Andersen Promotions, Cooper tires, all of the judges, everyone from Mazda, the Bondurant Racing School and the other competitors, who literally pushed me to the limit.

“I am just so happy. It is still sinking in, but I just can’t wait to get next year started, and I’ll be representing Mazda in that nice Soul Red USF2000 car.”

MORE: Michael Carter wins Mazda Road to 24 shootout

The 19-year-old McElrea was born in California, but reared in Australia.

As a result of winning the award, McElrea will compete in the 2019 season of the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship, the first rung of the Mazda Road to Indy development ladder.

McElrea won the Australian Formula Ford Championship this year on the strength of 13 victories in 21 races.

Early competition resulted in a final field of six drivers that included Jake Craig, Michael Eastwell, Braden Eves, Flinn Lazier and Ross Martin. They competed in a qualification session and 30-minute simulated race. McElrea won that race.

“Today was an incredible day,” said Tom Long, Mazda Motorsports factory driver and one of the judges. “There was so much talent here for the shootout. Hunter McElrea just rose to the top when it was time to shine, but our decision was very, very difficult.

“In the end, given all of the circumstances, we were able to make a pretty good decision and we are really, really proud of not only Hunter but our whole team here with Mazda to be able to grant this $200,000 scholarship for his opportunity in USF2000 next year.”