Every year, the Todd family takes a vacation in their motorhome that puts them at Bristol Dragway during the annual NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series race. The event, the Fitzgerald USA NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals, takes place on Father’s Day weekend, June 15-17, making it a special time for Funny Car’s J.R. Todd to have his father and mother at the race.
Winning the race in Thunder Valley, something Todd has yet to do in his standout career, would make the weekend even more memorable, and it’s something Todd hopes can happen this year in his 10,000-horsepower DHL Toyota Camry. The good news is Todd already has two wins this season, riding a strong wave of momentum into Bristol Dragway.
“It would be really cool to get Dad a Wally on Father’s Day,” Todd said. “They’ll be camping in the motorhome and that would be pretty special. Bristol is one of those more unique places and it’s a cool setting, and I feel like anytime your parents come out and spend the weekend with you is great. I’ve been fortunate enough to share the winner’s circle with them a handful of times so far, and it would be great to take advantage and do it on Father’s Day.”
Clay Millican (Top Fuel), Ron Capps (Funny Car), and Alex Laughlin (Pro Stock) were last year’s winners of an event that will be televised on FOX Sports 1, including final eliminations coverage starting at 7:30 p.m. (ET) on Sunday, June 17. It marks the 11th of 24 events during the 2018 season and is the third in a stretch of four straight race weekends.
That’s just fine with Todd, who is fifth in points and welcomes the busy schedule heading into summer. The race at picturesque Bristol Dragway is often a challenging one, but Todd enjoys those moments in the talent-filled class. In addition to the wins at Las Vegas and Houston, Todd and his team, led by crew chief Jon Oberhofer and Todd Smith, have been consistent in 2018 as the former Top Fuel driver has found his rhythm in his second season in Funny Car.
“I feel like the performance of our car has come around compared to where we were this time last season,” said Todd, who has 13 career wins between the two classes. “We’ve made some changes, I’m feeling more comfortable and I think this four-race stretch is good for us. We seem to run well when the tracks are hot. We’re all motivated to get better and perform better. Myself, I want to be the best and that means winning races and hopefully a championship.”
Todd has shown championship potential through the first portion of 2018, but he’ll face off against the likes of points leader Courtney Force, who has four wins, Jack Beckman, Matt Hagan, defending world champion Robert Hight and teammate Shawn Langdon in Bristol. It’s a major challenge, but Todd also knows it speaks to the importance of building momentum now to have a strong position heading into the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship.
“I’ve been saying all along that Funny Car is the most competitive category in all of NHRA,” Todd said. “It’s going to be a battle just to make the top 10. You hear people say they’re not counting points, but we all know that’s a lie. My goal is to be around the top five once the Countdown starts. That’s where we are, and we want to stay there and try to move up.”
Top Fuel’s Clay Millican earned his first career NHRA win a year ago at Bristol, picking up a second in Topeka. He’ll try to track down points leader Steve Torrence, who has three wins in 2018, and hold off defending champ Brittany Force and Leah Pritchett.
Alex Laughlin edged out eventual Pro Stock world champ Bo Butner last year in Bristol, and will try to become the ninth different winner in 2018. Season winners include points leader Vincent Nobile, Butner, Erica Enders, Matt Hartford, Tanner Gray, Chris McGaha, Deric Kramer, and Jeg Coughlin Jr..
The E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series presented by J&A Service makes the sixth of 12 stops during its 2018 season in Bristol. The event also features thrilling competition in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series, showcasing the future stars of the sport, as well as the Mickey Thompson Tires NHRA Top Fuel Harley Drag Racing Series.
Those in attendance will have the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to interact with some of the biggest names in drag racing during the NHRA Legends Tour. This will feature meet-and-greets, autograph sessions, and a variety of other activities. Legends scheduled to attend the Fitzgerald USA NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals include Shirley Muldowney, Roy Johnson and Allen Johnson.
As always, fans can 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 gives fans direct access to the teams, allowing them to see firsthand the highly-skilled mechanics service their hot rods between rounds, 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, simulated competitions, merchandise, food and fun for the entire family.
Mello Yello Drag Racing Series qualifying will feature two rounds at 4:30 and 7:30 p.m. on Friday, June 15 and the final two rounds of qualifying on Saturday, June 16, at 1 and 3:30 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for noon on Sunday, June 17.
To purchase general-admission or reserved seats, call Bristol Dragway at (423) 989-6900. Tickets also are available online at www.bristoldragway.com. Kids 12 and under are free in general admission areas with a paid adult.