J.R. Todd Chasing
J.R. Todd took some time to look back at a difficult NHRA season. (NHRA photo)

J.R. Todd Chasing Another U.S. Nationals Wally

CLERMONT, Ind. – NHRA drag racing greats, including Don “The Snake” Prudhomme, Shirley Muldowney, “Big Daddy” Don Garlits, and Kenny Bernstein, talk about the drag strip at Indianapolis with an element of reverence in their voices.

They have preserved the almost-magical aura that has swirled around “IRP,” Indianapolis Raceway Park — now Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis — for the past 59 years. It has been hallowed ground, the place that could make a drag racer’s career.

To J.R. Todd, it was his playground.

The youngster from Lawrenceburg, Ind., had the run of this marquee race track in his carefree days as an elementary-school student. He dashed around the grounds, gathering autographs and posing for snapshots with the stars of the sport. He raced a Jr. Dragster and won some of his first trophies there.

Today, as the driver of the DHL Toyota Camry Funny Car for Kalitta Motorsports, Todd has 18 victories, evenly split between the Top Fuel and Funny Car classes.

As he prepares for this weekend’s Denso U.S. Nationals, Todd has morphed from superfan to superstar. He’ll be attending the Labor Day classic for the 28th year and he is a two-time winner of the race.

Todd scored back-to-back U.S. Nationals Funny Car victories in 2017 and ’18 and hopes to extend his feat to three times in four seasons.

“I came here for the first time when I was 10 years old. This place means a lot to me,” he said. “This is home for me. I grew up an hour and a half southeast of here and raced here as much as possible from the time I was 10 years old basically up to right now. I grew up racing here in Jr. Dragsters, then moved up to Super Comp and bracket racing.

“I’ve been to every U.S. Nationals since 1993. I’ve seen a lot happen here and watched all the legends of the sport. It’s definitely a special place,” Todd continued. “Not only because I’m from here, but the older you get, when you see those legends who still come back here for the U.S. Nationals, they show you and teach you the importance of this race and how much it really means.”

The NHRA hosted three races at Indianapolis — two in July, one in August — as it returned from the pandemic pause. However, Todd said he didn’t think data from the post-lockdown trio of races will play much of a role in the outcome of the U.S. Nationals.

“The first two events in July, the track was so hot. The air temperature was hot. The air wasn’t good. Those really aren’t conditions we usually see at the U.S. Nationals. Hopefully it’s back to normal Indy conditions,” noted Todd, who was the Funny Car runner-up to Ron Capps at the most recent event. “These first three races definitely don’t have the same feeling as the U.S. Nationals.”

Todd said it’s difficult to win this race, even if this were to be everyone’s first look at the track since last September.

“I don’t know that these past races will play a major factor into the U.S. Nationals,” Todd explained. “When you roll into the gate at Indy, the intensity is through the roof. Everybody is amped up, ready to go, laser-focused on the mission at hand.

“I fully expect everybody’s attitude to be different.”