Chris Kullberg needed a bedsheet and string in order to ride his bike safely around the streets of Mesa when he was a boy in the mid-1980s.
He would tie the string to the sheet’s four corners and then tie the other ends to his bicycle seat. With the sheet slung over his shoulder he would throw the parachute contraption behind him to catch wind and slow his speed as he raced down the street.
He always knew that he would end up in racing.
Both his parents were drag racers. His dad, Bob, won one of the biggest races of his driving career the day Kullberg was expected to be born. His parents took him to his first race when he was one week old.
He fell in love at the first Checker Schuck’s Kragen Nationals event at Firebird International Raceway in Chandler in 1984.
Now, 22 years later, he’s back.
But this time he’s not in the stands — he’s in the pit.
Kullberg is one of the seven crew members for the Skoal racing team, owned by Don Prudhomme — one of the country’s most well-known drag racers who began racing in the 1960s. Tommy Johnson Jr. is the driver and posted the funny car’s best speed and time last year — 331.45 mph in 4.7 seconds.
“These are the fastest accelerating machines on the planet,” Kullberg said Saturday from the pit. “I still get butterflies whenever they sing the national anthem. It’s game time then. On (race day), there is no looking back — you either have it right or you don’t. That’s where you get your paycheck.”
The crew breaks down and rebuilds the entire racing car in an hour and 15 minutes between races. The 1995 graduate from Red Mountain High School tears down and rebuilds the right cylinder head — one of the main engine components — about 200 times during the February to November racing season.
Kullberg said he’s done it so many times that he doesn’t even think anymore when the car rolls into the pit — he just acts.
“It’s pretty much automatic,” he said. “We rebuild an entire engine in the time it takes you to get an oil change done. If you had a clutch replaced in your car, it would take a couple of days. We can do it in 45 minutes.”
Kullberg, who now lives in Indianapolis, said he was surprised it took him so long to get where he’s at today — but now that he’s there, he doesn’t plan on going anywhere fast.
“I think my body will wear out before I get tired of it,” he said.