CONCORD, N.C. – Coming off the biggest win in his career, J.R. Todd hopes to put that momentum to good use. Starting from the eighth position in the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship, the Funny Car standout knows he can’t waste any time, either.
For Todd to have any thoughts of a first career world championship, he’ll need a good start at this weekend’s NHRA Carolina Nationals at state-of-the-art zMAX Dragway, the first of six playoff races to conclude the 2017 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season. But coming off a win at the prestigious Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals in his 10,000-horsepower DHL Toyota Camry, Todd couldn’t be entering the Countdown to the Championship on a bigger note.
“I’m really looking forward to the Countdown, especially the way our Toyota Camry Funny Cars have performed these last few races,” said Todd, who has two wins in the last four races. “I’m hoping that we can get hot like these DHL guys did in 2015 (with Del Worsham) and end up holding the big trophy in Pomona at the end of the year.”
Antron Brown (Top Fuel), John Force (Funny Car), Jason Line (Pro Stock), and Chip Ellis (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were last year’s winners of the event that will be televised on FOX Sports 1, including live final eliminations coverage starting at 2:30 p.m. (ET) on Sunday, Sept. 17. It is the 19th of 24 races in the 2017 NHRA season and there’s undoubtedly a sense of urgency for Todd, who must climb a ladder loaded with Funny Car stars to claim a world title.
He watched Worsham do it in 2015 while driving a Top Fuel car for Kalitta Motorsports, and after some initial struggles in his first year driving in Funny Car, the talented Todd and his team, led by Jon Oberhofer and Todd Smith, have come on strong, winning in Sonoma and Indy. That has raised expectations and Todd knows what that means heading into this weekend in Charlotte.
“We definitely can’t afford an early round loss,” said Todd, who has 11 career wins, with two coming this year in Funny Car. “Going late rounds and even winning Charlotte will help our chances of winning a Mello Yello championship. For whatever reason, I’ve run well in Charlotte. I’m excited about going back there. This DHL team has run well in past so that gives us confidence. We just need to stay aggressive. We need to qualify well and then go out and run hard on Sunday.”
Todd seems to thrive in the pressure-packed situations, running well in Indy and making a run at a title in 2014, climbing from 10th to second in the Top Fuel Countdown to the Championship. This challenge won’t be easy, either, as Todd will be dueling against the likes of reigning world champ and current points leader Ron Capps, as well as the likes of Robert Hight, Jack Beckman, Matt Hagan, Force, Tommy Johnson Jr. and Courtney Force. But racing in Funny Car has always been a dream for Todd, and he’s excited to see how his first season in the class will play out.“You can’t let the pressure get to you,” Todd said. “You just need to go out and race like you have before but at same time maybe be a little more aggressive. I like the direction that our team is going. We still have a little work to do in qualifying but we have shown that we can run with anybody on race day.”
Indy and seven-time Top Fuel winner this season Steve Torrence starts with the points lead, but will have to fight off back-to-back world champ Brown, Leah Pritchett and Tony Schumacher.
Line’s Pro Stock title defense continues in Charlotte, but he will have to chase down top drivers like points leader Bo Butner, rookie Tanner Gray, who has four wins, and teammate Greg Anderson.
Ellis’ Pro Stock Motorcycle win help spur a fifth-place finish for the veteran a year ago, but everyone is chasing former world champ LE Tonglet, who has five victories in 2017.The NHRA Carolina Nationals also features thrilling competition in the NHRA J&A Service Pro Mod Drag Racing Series, as well as the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series. After Nitro qualifying, fans can watch spectacular jet cars. Larsen Motorsports’ four jet dragsters sponsored by Florida Tech, Matrix System Automotive Finishes, Halo Technology, and the American Dream, will make exhibition passes. As always, fans can interact with their favorite drivers as they’re granted an exclusive pit pass to the most powerful and sensory-filled motorsports attraction on the planet. This opportunity gives fans direct access to the teams, allowing them to see firsthand the highly-skilled mechanics service their hot rods between rounds, and get autographs from their favorite drivers.
Fans also will want to visit NHRA’s popular Nitro Alley and Manufacturers Midway, where sponsors and race vendors create a carnival atmosphere, with interactive displays, simulated competitions, merchandise, food and fun for the entire family.
Mello Yello Drag Racing Series qualifying will feature two rounds at 2:45 and 5:15 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 15, and the final two rounds of qualifying on Saturday, Sept. 16, at 12:45 and 3:15 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 12 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 17.
To purchase general-admission or reserved seats, call 800-455-FANS (3267). Tickets also available at www.zmaxdragway.com. Kids 12 and under are free in general admission areas with a paid adult. To honor the Salute to First Responders, military and first responders can save 20 percent on general admission tickets at the gate. For info about the NHRA visit www.NHRA.com.NHRA Carolina Nationals Fact Sheet
WHAT: 10th annual NHRA Carolina Nationals, the 19th of 24 events in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series and the first of six races in the NHRA Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship playoffs. Drivers in four categories – Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle – earn points leading to 2016 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series world championships.
WHERE: zMAX Dragway- Track is located on Hwy 29 off I-85 at exit 49 (Speedway Blvd.) in the Concord, N.C. area.
COURSE: Championship drag strip; Track elevation is 630 feet above sea level.
WHEN: Friday through Sunday, Sept. 15-17SCHEDULE:
FRIDAY, Sept. 15 – LUCAS OIL SERIES qualifying
NHRA J&A SERVICE PRO MOD SERIES qualifying at 2:and 4:30 p.m.
MELLO YELLO SERIES qualifying at 2:45 and 5:15 p.m.
SATURDAY, Sept. 16 – LUCAS OIL SERIES qualifying and eliminations
NHRA J&A SERVICE PRO MOD SERIES qualifying at noon; first round of eliminations at 2:30 p.m.
MELLO YELLO SERIES qualifying at 12:45 and 3:15 p.m.
SUNDAY, Sept. 17 – Pre-race ceremonies, 11 a.m.
MELLO YELLO SERIES eliminations begin at noonTELEVISION:
Friday, Sept. 15, FS1 will televise one hour of live qualifying coverage at 6 p.m. (ET).
Sunday, Sept. 17, FS1 will televise one hour of qualifying coverage at 2 a.m. (ET).
Sunday, Sept. 17, FS1 will televise three hours of live finals coverage starting at 2:30 p.m. (ET).2016 EVENT WINNERS: Antron Brown, Top Fuel; John Force, Funny Car; Jason Line, Pro Stock; Chip Ellis, Pro Stock Motorcycle.
Top Fuel – 3.713 seconds by J.R. Todd, Mar. ’15; 332.18 mph by Spencer Massey, April ’12.
Funny Car – 3.851 seconds by Courtney Force, April ’17; 333.91 mph by Robert Hight, April ’17.
Pro Stock – 6.455 seconds by Jason Line, Mar. ’15; 215.48 mph by Greg Anderson, Mar. ’15.
Pro Stock Motorcycle – 6.792 seconds by Eddie Krawiec, April ’17; 199.88 mph by Arana Jr., Mar. ’15.
Top Fuel – 3.640 sec. by Leah Pritchett, Aug. ‘17, Brainerd; 333.66 mph by Brittany Force, May ‘17, Topeka, Kan.
Funny Car – 3.793 sec. by Robert Hight, Aug. ’17 Brainerd; 339.87 mph by Robert Hight, July ’17, Sonoma, Calif.
Pro Stock – 6.455 sec. by Jason Line, March ’15, Charlotte, N.C.; 215.55 mph by Erica Enders, May ‘14, Englishtown N.J.
Pro Stock Motorcycle – 6.728 sec. by Andrew Hines, Oct. ’12, Reading, Pa.; 199.88 mph by Hector Arana Jr., March ’15, Charlotte, N.C.
TICKETS: For tickets call (800) 455-FANS. Tickets also are available online at www.zmaxdragway.com.
Photos courtesy of NHRA