ROOKIE HANDLES MOUNTING PRESSURE, LOOKS FORWARD TO DRAG RACING'S MARQUEE EVENT AT HOME TRACK INDIANAPOLIS -- J.R. Todd was eleven years old when he made his debut at NHRA's most prestigious event. He remembers pulling his jet black junior ...
ROOKIE HANDLES MOUNTING PRESSURE, LOOKS FORWARD TO DRAG RACING'S MARQUEE EVENT AT HOME TRACK
INDIANAPOLIS -- J.R. Todd was eleven years old when he made his debut at NHRA's most prestigious event.
He remembers pulling his jet black junior dragster into the staging lanes for an O'Reilly Jr. Drag Racing League exhibition run, next to living legend Kenny Bernstein's 7,000 horsepower ride. In 1993, getting autographs from Bernstein and John Force was at the top of the priority list, with making a good show for his hometown crowd at the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals. Unfortunately he lost in the first round, but he was able to snag autographs from his idols.
Almost 15 years later, Todd's progress toward his ultimate dream has accelerated faster than the Skull Gear Top Fuel dragster he now uses to race Bernstein's son Brandon. In his rookie season, Todd has already won two events -- both against three-time and defending Top Fuel world champion Tony Schumacher -- and is gunning for a spot in the POWERade Series top 10. He credits his success to focus, time on a practice tree and advice from his father Mario.
Q: WHAT DO YOU REMEMBER FROM YOUR DEBUT AT INDY? DID YOU THINK ABOUT WHAT IT WOULD BE LIKE TO RACE THE PROS?
TODD: "It was just real exciting to be able to line up your junior car next to Kenny Bernstein and the other big drivers. I was pretty nervous. It was the biggest crowd I'd ever raced in front of at 10 years old. I lost in the first round. I was pretty upset about that because it was the U.S. Nationals and my home race, but it was cool just to be able to race there. I have some pictures of when I met Force and Bernstein in the staging lanes, and I got a few autographs on my T-shirts. It was pretty neat."
Q: HAVE OTHER DRIVERS GIVEN YOU ADVICE THIS YEAR? WHAT'S THE BEST TIP YOU'VE GOTTEN AS A ROOKIE?
TODD: "I talk to Larry Dixon every now and then. He'll give me a few pointers about what to do driving-wise, but for the most part I try to go and do my thing. I don't think they'd want to give me much advice when I'm trying to go out and beat them. They still talk to me, and help me out when I need help. My dad (Mario) just tells me to go out there and stick to my game and do my thing, and stay focused. The best advice comes from my dad. He's always been there for me in racing. He was racing (motorcycles) before I was even born. I was born and raised at the racetrack."
Q: YOU'VE BEEN SPOTTED SALUTING SEVERAL TIMES AT RACES LATELY. WHAT'S THE DEAL?
TODD: "I had it planned all year long that every time I raced (three-time and defending Top Fuel world champion Tony Schumacher), even if I was in the first round or the last round, I would salute him (because Schumacher, or 'The Sarge,' drives the U.S. Army dragster). It's just something I do. He hasn't said anything about it yet."
Q: WHAT HAVE YOU LEARNED THROUGH EXPERIENCE THIS YEAR?
TODD: "Just that you have to be really patient. The first four or five races we went through we qualified pretty well, but we got beat in the first round. Then we started picking up round wins, and then we won a race. You have to be patient and stay focused on what you're doing, and eventually things will work out."
Q: DO YOU EVER THINK ABOUT BEING VOTED ROOKIE OF THE YEAR?
TODD: "I think about it now. At the beginning of the year, after we didn't qualify in Phoenix, I thought that was pretty much out the window. Now that we've won we're kind of in the lead, but Hillary was in the final (in Memphis). I'm kind of surprised she hasn't won a race yet. Right now we're focused on winning rounds, and getting in the top 10 (in the POWERade Series points chase)."
Q: DESCRIBE THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN YOUR PROFESSIONAL DEBUT IN POMONA AND NOW GOING TO INDIANAPOLIS.
TODD: "In Pomona, there was no where near the pressure that there will be in Indy next week. In Pomona they didn't really know who we were, but coming into Indy after winning two races, being a leading rookie and having one of the top cars, there will be a little pressure there. You've got to treat Indy like it's another race and go out there and do your job and not let the hype and pressure get to you, or you'll buckle for sure."
Q: MANY NHRA DRIVERS LIVE IN INDIANAPOLIS. DO YOU EVER GET TOGETHER AWAY FROM THE TRACK?
TODD: "Lately I've been doing my own thing (when I'm home), but (Top Fuel driver) Morgan Lucas doesn't live too far from me. I'm supposed to go over to his house for a cookout. I'm starting to hang out more with the guys on the crew around here."
Q: HOW DO YOU GET READY TO RACE ON RACE DAY?
TODD: "First off I go and hit the practice tree for 30 min. I try to stay calm and relaxed, and maybe sign some autographs or whatever. Right before I get in the car I stay in the van and listen to a few rounds of competition."