As far as Funny Car finals go, this wasn’t exactly a Mona Lisa, but J.R. Todd will gladly accept his first career Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals title. Todd, the 2018 NHRA Funny Car champion, won his 19th career nitro title when he stopped three-time champ Robert Hight in the final round. Both drivers smoked the tires at the hit of the throttle, but Todd was able to recover more quickly to wheel his Kalitta Motorsports/DHL Toyota to a 5.184 for the victory and the early points lead in what promises to be an extremely competitive season in the Camping World NHRA Funny Car class.
The importance of winning one of NHRA’s oldest and most prestigious events in a car owned by Hall of Famer Connie Kalitta isn’t lost on Todd, who has 10 wins in Funny Car to go along with 9 in Top Fuel.
“It’s amazing to be among the legends that have won this race,” Todd said. “This is [Big Daddy] Don Garlits country down here. It almost makes me want to become a Florida resident. I might not go back to Indiana now. I have to thank Connie for giving me this opportunity. No offense to anyone else in Funny Car, but Robert Hight is the best out here. That team sets the benchmark for the rest of us. I was surprised when it blew the tires off. I just kind of rolled into the throttle but he never came by and we got another one of these gold men [Wally trophy].”
Todd started from the No. 6 qualifying spot with his Jon Oberhofer- and Todd Smith-tuned Toyota and worked his way to the final with wins against Blake Alexander, Tim Wilkerson, and Cruz Pedregon. Todd had every reason to be surprised when his car smoked the tires in the final since he’d made three clean 3.9-second runs to that point including a 3.933 against Alexander and a 3.940 in his win against Wilkerson’s Levi, Ray, & Shoup Mustang.
Hight, who has been sidelined for a calendar year, showed zero signs of rust in his return to the sport. Tuner Jimmy Prock put the Auto Club Camaro into the No. 4 spot in qualifying and the four-time Gainesville winner did the rest by scoring wins against Bobby Bode, boss John Force, and Bob Tasca III. Hight dropped a cylinder in the semifinals and slowed from his earlier 3.9-second pace to a 4.09, but that was enough to cover Tasca, who also dropped a cylinder in his Motorcraft Quick Lane Ford.