On what has become an important weekend for J.R. Todd, the Funny Car standout is hoping to enjoy success at the 31st annual Toyota NHRA Sonoma Nationals, which takes place July 27-29 at Sonoma Raceway, for a third straight year.
Todd won the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series event two years ago in Top Fuel, following it up with his first career Funny Car win in 2017 on a weekend that featured one of the most thrilling runs of the season. Driving the 10,000-horsepower DHL Toyota Camry at the event makes the weekend that much more important for the Kalitta Motorsports driver, which means Todd hopes to keep up his impressive pace at the scenic facility in the heart of Northern California’s wine country.
“Last year was a special day and one I won’t forget,” said Todd, who is currently sixth in Funny Car points. “There were so many things tied into that weekend, getting my first Funny Car win at a Toyota-sponsored event and that kind of kick-started our performance the rest of the year. It’s another unique track we go to and the facility is always top-shelf. It’s a place where I won early in my career (Top Fuel in 2006) and it would be great to do it again.”
Steve Torrence (Top Fuel), Todd (Funny Car), Tanner Gray (Pro Stock) and LE Tonglet (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were last year’s winners of the event that will be televised on FOX, including live final eliminations coverage starting at 4:00 p.m. (ET) on Sunday, July 29. It serves as the second stop on the NHRA’s famed three-race Western Swing and is the 15th of 24 events in 2018.
Only three events follow it before the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship begins and a strong start to 2018 gave Todd aspirations of winning his first career world championship. He won back-to-back events early in the year and had four semifinal appearances in a recent five-race stretch before a pair of first-round losses. But based on what he has seen this year, Todd believes those to be an aberration and is confident his team, led by crew chief Jon Oberhofer and co-crew chief Todd Smith, will get back on track during the Western Swing.
“Up until Epping I feel like we had been performing at a high level,” said Todd, who has 13 career wins. “We’re hoping to bounce back in Sonoma and continue to pick up the performance, and then kind of carry that into the beginning of the Countdown. I would love to be in the top five and get closer to second, have some momentum and get hot like this team has done before. We’ve been able to go out there, be consistent and pick away at it. That’s what Todd and Jon O have done, and they haven’t had to make drastic changes.”
Todd sits in sixth place, with everyone chasing points leader Courtney Force, who has four wins this season, and Matt Hagan, who has posted three. But Todd has enjoyed good fortune in Sonoma, included a memorable semifinal race last year against Jack Beckman. After early tire shake, Todd recovered and went roaring past Beckman at the finish line, providing one of the ultimate highlights of the 2017 season. It’s a run that still has people talking, and Todd expects to hear plenty about it from fans when he returns to Sonoma.
“There’s still people talking about it like it happened last week,” Todd said. “It’s one of those runs that stick out in people’s mind. Things just lined up and it was one of those things that made for great TV. Sonoma is one of those tracks when conditions are right, you can have some great runs.”
Mello Yello Drag Racing Series qualifying will feature two rounds at 4:15 and 7:00 p.m. on Friday, July 27 and the final two rounds of qualifying on Saturday, July 28 at 1:10 and 4:20 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sunday, July 29.
To purchase general-admission or reserved seats, call 800-870-RACE (7223). Tickets also are available online at www.sonomaraceway.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.