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Todd Paton relives past Indy glory with second-career Top Fuel round win

Todd Paton won his first NHRA national event at Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis when he defeated an all-star line-up of Top Alcohol Funny Cars. A quarter-century later, he's still turning on win lights.
19 Jul 2020
Kevin McKenna, NHRA National Dragster Senior Editor

In 1996, Todd Paton won his first NHRA national event title and it was a big one. Paton, then an up-and-coming Top Alcohol Funny Car racer, won the U.S. Nationals at Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis. He jokes that he “backed into” the win, but the reality is that his path to victory includes wins against Brad Anderson, Pat Austin, and Tony Bartone, three of the most successful racers in the history of that class. Paton later won three more Top Alcohol Funny Car titles before switching to a nitro Funny Car and eventually to Top Fuel.

“Oh yeah, I have a lot of great memories from here [in Indy]. My brother sent me a text earlier and reminded me of the magic we had here,” said Paton. “I haven’t run here that much. I raced a nitro Funny Car a few times, but this is my first race in Top Fuel.”

Paton was a late addition to the Lucas Oil Summernationals entry list. He got a call from team owner Terry Haddock last week and was quick to accept. He was rewarded with a round win when he defeated low qualifier Clay Millican in an upset-filled opening round. Paton qualified on the bump spot with a 4.71 but improved dramatically in Sunday's opening round with a 4.01 that held for a win after Millican hazed the tires. It was Paton’s second-round win in Top Fuel. He also defeated Brittany Force at the 2016 Epping event.

“Cameron [Ferre, who normally drives Haddock’s Top Fuel dragster] has been busy at home so when Terry called, I told him I’d help him out,” said Paton, who operates Performance Data Service, a new company that helps race teams with data acquisition. “It’s kind of a have helmet, will travel deal. It's actually nice that people trust me with their stuff. I got to drive Del [Worsham’s] car last year and I filled in for Doug Foley before he had his license.”

Paton’s all volunteer crew rushed to service his car before a round two meeting against Tony Zizzo, but their efforts were hampered because Haddock was racing his Funny Car and was one of the last pairs down the track. Paton barely got off the starting line against Zizzo, a move that was not totally unexpected since his team had no time to service their clutch.

“We just ran out of time,” Paton said. “We had time to service the engine but that was it. We wanted to see if the clutch could go two runs but it couldn’t. The run against Clay was good, though We knew that we just wanted to go A-to-B and we did. I was really happy for our guys. We didn’t hurt any parts and we got a little round money for Terry. Now, he can keep going. I even sold him some sensors so now I know he can pay me.”