The bar is high, but J.R. Todd aims to reach it in the DHL Funny Car
Kalitta Motorsports is an iconic house of triumph, and although last season didn't pan out as anyone within the hallowed halls of the legendary race shop expected, the group is fixed on generating improved results in the months ahead. J.R. Todd, fueled by an atypical and unsatisfying season, is leading the charge for the team's Funny Car sector with the drive of a man who knows how to win.
Last year's results fell into an anomalous category for former Funny Car champion Todd, who did not hoist a trophy despite glimmers of greatness in 2022. The 2006 NHRA Rookie of the Year earned three victories in his first season and has won at least once in all but five of the 15 seasons he's driven a nitro-fueled race car. His own expectations were set high at a very early hour, and, from Todd's perspective, bearing the No. 8 on the side of his DHL Toyota GR Supra this coming season is good — it's just not good enough.
"It's funny, people say, 'Hey, you had a good season,' but for me as a driver and for the 'Yella Fellas' as a team, we expected way more of ourselves," said Todd, who finished in the Top 10 for the ninth consecutive season and 11th time overall.
"It's nice to finish in the Top 10, but we expect to win races and contend for a championship, and anything short of that is really hard on you," he continued. "It's tough to not live up to your own expectations, and it's hard not to get disappointed. But those top three teams between Ron Capps, Robert Hight, and Matt Hagan, they set the bar high for the rest of us. I want our DHL Toyota GR Supra to be up there with those three this year."
Todd hovered mid-pack for most of the 2022 season of NHRA's Camping World Drag Racing Series, alternating mostly between the No. 6 and No. 7 position in the Funny Car standings as he and his team dug relentlessly to unearth win lights. Through their concerted efforts, the DHL Toyota would go rounds at a handful of races in a row, only to be stifled by a first-round loss and a crash of momentum.
In Seattle, though, Todd and the Yella Fellas rode a wave of velocity right into the final round, where they missed victory by .02-second. Robert Hight's 3.975 at 319.98 mph just barely eclipsed Todd's 3.978, 324.75.
"That final round was probably the highlight of the year for me," said Todd. "I could have done a better job to get us that win, but anytime you're going up against Robert Hight in the final round, it's a good day. The one thing that really stood out for me last year, though, was once we got rolling, we were able to run a 3.856 at the U.S. Nationals. That was low e.t. of the event, and that's when I thought, 'We're turning the corner.' "
Todd scooped up round-wins in Reading and St. Louis and reached the semifinals in Las Vegas after qualifying a season-best No. 4. Momentum was dashed yet again as Todd's season concluded with a first-round exit at the NHRA Finals in Pomona, and although the sour flavor still lingers, the lifelong drag racer is ready to shake it off and start anew.
"I'm looking forward to going testing next week," he said. "We have some new things we're going to try, parts and pieces, and what's got me most excited is a brand-new chassis we're looking to debut for 2023 if all goes well.
"Last year tested our patience, but at the end of the day, I get to drive a nitro Funny Car for a living. We threw out some big runs there during the season, and that shows we're capable of competing with the top cars. That gives me confidence as a driver, so my focus is on doing the best I can. If I keep working on being better as a driver, and we keep working as a team to find our consistency, we'll be in contention for that second championship."