J.R. Todd may have not raced at Pacific Raceways near Seattle in five years, but the Top Fuel standout returns feeling as good as he has during anytime in his NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series career.
Todd, who was hired by Kalitta Motorsports prior to the fourth event of the 2014 season, kicked off the NHRA Western Swing in fine fashion, winning the opening event in Denver to give the driver of the 10,000-horsepower Optima Batteries dragster his first victory since 2008.
The next step is continuing that momentum to finish the Western Swing and qualify for the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship, and Todd gets that opportunity in his return to Seattle during the 27th annual O’Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Northwest Nationals presented by Super Start Batteries, Aug. 1-3.
“I've been No. 1 qualifier in Seattle before and have gone to the semi's a couple of times there as well,” Todd said. “To do well there is no different than any other event. You need to get qualified well on Friday and then go to work on your race-day setup. I'm looking forward to racing there with the Kalitta team. Our Optima Batteries team has done well there in the past, so I'm hoping we can continue to do well.”
Morgan Lucas (Top Fuel), Matt Hagan (Funny Car), and Vincent Nobile (Pro Stock) were last year’s winners of the event that will once again be televised nationally on ESPN2. The race is the 16th of 24 events in a 2014 Mello Yello Series campaign that’s quickly becoming a dream come true for Todd.
He had not raced on a full-time basis since 2008 and didn’t race at all in Top Fuel in 2010, 2011, and 2013. But when team owner Connie Kalitta offered the spot to Todd in Las Vegas in late March, he quickly jumped at the chance.
“I knew that once I got the opportunity to drive for the Kalitta group, it was probably the best opportunity I was ever going to have to win [a Wally],” said Todd, who has eight Top Fuel wins and is the first African-American to win a race in Top Fuel.
“I’m pretty hard on myself when one gets away that we should have won, and I feel like we definitely have had a couple shots that we let get away from us. It’s nice to get the win for [Connie Kalitta] to prove he made the right decision in hiring me.”
Todd has proven his worth and then some in a short time, posting three semifinal finishes to go with the victory in Denver. The win also gave him a boost in the points standings as he jumped to eighth, putting Todd in strong position to advance to the Countdown to the Championship, though he’s since slid back to 10th yet remains in a Countdown berth.
That possibility would have seemed far-fetched just a few months ago, which is also why Todd doesn’t plan on getting comfortable after one victory.
“I never change my approach,” Todd said. “My approach is to go out there and hit the Tree, keep the thing in the groove, and turn on win lights. You can’t let up out here. It’s way too tough of a field to do that.”
The Top Fuel field that Todd will contend with in Seattle is an impressive lineup that includes Tony Schumacher, who has four wins at Pacific Raceways, Antron Brown, Steve Torrence, points leader and Kalitta Motorsports teammate Doug Kalitta, reigning Top Fuel world champion Shawn Langdon, two-time season winner Spencer Massey, rookie Richie Crampton, and three-time season runner-up Brittany Force, who lost to Todd in the final in Denver.
Todd has found an ideal spot at Kalitta Motorsports, and he plans to continue to take advantage of an opportunity that has put him right in the championship mix.
“Winning the Denver race definitely gave us a little breathing room as far as making the Countdown, but that doesn't mean we can let up, though,” Todd said. “We just need to continue going rounds. Winning another race before the Countdown would put us in a good position and give us some momentum heading into the playoffs. Once I got hired, my goal was to make the Countdown.”
As always, fans will have the opportunity to interact with their favorite drivers as they’re granted an exclusive pit pass to the most powerful and sensory-filled motorsports attraction on the planet. This unique opportunity in motorsports gives fans direct access to the teams, allowing them to see firsthand the highly skilled mechanics service their hot rods between rounds and enjoy cherished face time with and get autographs from their favorite NHRA drivers.
Fans also will want to visit NHRA’s popular Nitro Alley and Manufacturers Midway, where sponsors and race vendors create a carnival atmosphere with interactive displays, race simulators, merchandise, food, and fun for the entire family.
Mello Yello Drag Racing Series qualifying begins Friday, Aug. 1, with sessions at 2:30 and 5:30 p.m. The final two qualifying sessions will take place Saturday, Aug. 2, at 12:30 and 3:30 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. Sunday, Aug. 3.
To purchase general-admission or reserved seats, call Pacific Raceways, 253-639-5927, or visit NHRATix.com. Kids 12 and younger will be admitted free in general-admission seating.