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History and magic of U.S. Nationals brings out the best in J.R. Todd in Indy

J.R. Todd has been going to Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis since he was 10, knowing what performing well at the U.S. Nationals can do for a racer’s legacy.
03 Sep 2021
Josh Hachat
J.R. Todd

J.R. Todd has been going to Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis since he was 10, knowing what performing well at the U.S. Nationals can do for a racer’s legacy.

Over the years, he saw all the top stars bring out their big guns, eager to leave their mark on drag racing’s biggest stage.

All these years later, Todd has followed in those big footsteps and carved out his own impressive résumé at the Big Go. The Funny Car standout has won the U.S. Nationals twice, including his championship year of 2018, and advanced to the final round a year ago. Surging at the perfect time again in 2021 — which is nothing new for his Kalitta Motorsports team — Todd is eyeing more Indy glory at this weekend’s Dodge//SRT NHRA U.S. Nationals.

“Watching all the drama and all my heroes there, I knew from an early age it’s a special race,” Todd said. “If you win this race, you know you’ve done something special. It’s the biggest race of the year, and we have some good momentum going into Indy. We’ve run well there in the past, and it would be nice to get another win there.”

Todd and his team are certainly peaking at the perfect time, gearing up for what appears to be another run at a world title.

He advanced to back-to-back finals in Pomona and Topeka, added a semifinal berth in Brainerd, and has climbed all the way to second in points, where’s he’s tied with Bob Tasca III and is just 15 points behind defending world champ Matt Hagan.

A win in Indy could possibly make Todd the fifth different points leader in the last five races in the loaded Funny Car class heading into the Countdown to the Championship playoffs, further illustrating how intense the category has been in 2021.

Todd, though, wouldn’t have it any other way.

“It’s pretty wild. I haven’t seen a points race this tight in a long time. I feel like it’s going to be a six-car race going into the last race at Pomona,” Todd said. “It’s cool to see all these top cars shuffling around. You just have to keep your head down and keep racing at a high level.

“These last couple races, it’s almost like Countdown racing. Every round we’ve run the last 2-3 races seems like it could have been a final. It’s tough, but in my mind Funny Car is the coolest and toughest class in the NHRA.”

It’s hard to argue with Todd’s sentiment, and he’s excited to be right in the mix. He started the year with a win in Gainesville and the team, led by crew chiefs Jon Oberhofer and Todd Smith, have been consistent for the bulk of the season.

But they have a knack for turning it on this time of year, and it appears to be happening again with the U.S. Nationals and playoffs approaching. Todd loves the big moments and has made the most of them, and this weekend is the next one on the list.

“I eat, sleep, and breathe driving this Funny Car,” Todd said. “I’m excited for Indy and the seven races in the Countdown. Hopefully, there will be this big wave in Indy and beyond. I’m excited for this time of year, and I’m ready to get after it. I feel like the intensity definitely ramps up this time of year, but I believe this team has what it takes to win another title.”