Coming off the biggest win in his career, J.R. Todd hopes to put that momentum to good use. Starting from the eighth position in the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship, the Funny Car standout knows he can’t waste any time, either.
For Todd to have any thoughts of a first career world championship, he’ll need a good start at this weekend’s NHRA Carolina Nationals at state-of-the-art zMAX Dragway, the first of six playoff races to conclude the 2017 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season. But coming off a win at the prestigious Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals in his 10,000-horsepower DHL Toyota Camry, Todd couldn’t be entering the Countdown to the Championship on a bigger note.
“I'm really looking forward to the Countdown, especially the way our Toyota Camry Funny Cars have performed these last few races,” said Todd, who has two wins in the last four races. “I'm hoping that we can get hot like these DHL guys did in 2015 (with Del Worsham) and end up holding the big trophy in Pomona at the end of the year.”
Antron Brown (Top Fuel), John Force (Funny Car), Jason Line (Pro Stock), and Chip Ellis (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were last year’s winners of the event that will be televised on FOX Sports 1, including live final eliminations coverage starting at 2:30 p.m. (ET) on Sunday, Sept. 17. It is the 19th of 24 races in the 2017 NHRA season and there’s undoubtedly a sense of urgency for Todd, who must climb a ladder loaded with Funny Car stars to claim a world title.
He watched Worsham do it in 2015 while driving a Top Fuel car for Kalitta Motorsports, and after some initial struggles in his first year driving in Funny Car, the talented Todd and his team, led by Jon Oberhofer and Todd Smith, have come on strong, winning in Sonoma and Indy. That has raised expectations and Todd knows what that means heading into this weekend in Charlotte.
“We definitely can't afford an early round loss,” said Todd, who has 11 career wins, with two coming this year in Funny Car. “Going late rounds and even winning Charlotte will help our chances of winning a Mello Yello championship. For whatever reason, I've run well in Charlotte. I'm excited about going back there. This DHL team has run well in the past, so that gives us confidence. We just need to stay aggressive. We need to qualify well and then go out and run hard on Sunday.”
Todd seems to thrive in the pressure-packed situations, running well in Indy and making a run at a title in 2014, climbing from 10th to second in the Top Fuel Countdown to the Championship. This challenge won’t be easy, either, as Todd will be dueling against the likes of reigning world champ and current points leader Ron Capps, as well as the likes of Robert Hight, Jack Beckman, Matt Hagan, Force, Tommy Johnson Jr. and Courtney Force. But racing in Funny Car has always been a dream for Todd, and he’s excited to see how his first season in the class will play out.
“You can't let the pressure get to you,” Todd said. “You just need to go out and race like you have before but at the same time maybe be a little more aggressive. I like the direction that our team is going. We still have a little work to do in qualifying but we have shown that we can run with anybody on race day.”
Mello Yello Drag Racing Series qualifying will feature two rounds at 2:45 and 5:15 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 15, and the final two rounds of qualifying on Saturday, Sept. 16, at 12:45 and 3:15 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 12 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 17.
To purchase general-admission or reserved seats, call 800-455-FANS (3267). Tickets also available at www.zmaxdragway.com. Kids 12 and under are free in general admission areas with a paid adult. To honor the Salute to First Responders, military and first responders can save 20 percent on general admission tickets at the gate