Indianapolis: U.S. Nationals preview

TODD HOPES TO KEEP TOP FUEL MOMENTUM GOING AT PRESTIGIOUS MAC TOOLS U.S. NATIONALS INDIANAPOLIS - J.R. Todd is a rookie driver in Top Fuel this season, but when it comes to racing at O'Reilly Raceway Park at Indianapolis, he's got a few laps...

TODD HOPES TO KEEP TOP FUEL MOMENTUM GOING AT PRESTIGIOUS MAC TOOLS U.S. NATIONALS

INDIANAPOLIS - J.R. Todd is a rookie driver in Top Fuel this season, but when it comes to racing at O'Reilly Raceway Park at Indianapolis, he's got a few laps under his belt.

The Lawrenceburg, Ind. native, who now calls Avon, Ind. home, has been racing at the famed track all of his life. In fact, he made his Mac Tools U.S. Nationals debut way back in 1993, when he was only 11 years old. His Jr. Dragster was one of several participating in an exhibition of the NHRA O'Reilly Jr. Drag Racing League at the event.

A lot has changed for Todd since those days when he was in awe standing in the staging lanes admiring the powerful cars of the NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series. Today, Todd has come full circle and is now living his dream as a professional race car driver. Last month he made history by becoming the first African-American to win an NHRA Top Fuel race. Two weeks later he won again. Both times his final round victim was three-time POWERade Series world champ Tony Schumacher.

As he prepares his 330 mph Skull Shine Top Fuel dragster for the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals, the world's most prestigious drag race, Aug. 30-Sept. 4 at ORP, Todd says he's sure he will be feeling a full range of emotions when he pulls to the starting line for his first qualifying run. The $2.6 million race is the 18th of 23 events in the $50 million NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series. Larry Dixon (Top Fuel); Del Worsham (Funny Car); Greg Anderson (Pro Stock) and Steve Johnson (Pro Stock Motorcycle) are the defending winners.

"I'm sure I'll be a little nervous," Todd said. "You just have to take it as another race. You can't let the history and tradition get to you. On Friday night when I roll up to the starting line for that first qualifying session I am sure I will think about it a little, but inside I will need to focus on getting the job done, getting the race car down the track and getting a good qualifying run to get in the field."

Todd made history and major headlines with victories at Denver and Sonoma, Calif. during NHRA's demanding Western Swing in late July. His story appeared in USA Today, CNN Headline News, ESPN SportsCenter, National Speed Sport News, Denver Post, Seattle Times and San Francisco Chronicle to name a few. In both races, in a tale of David and Goliath, Todd defeated Schumacher's U.S. Army dragster in sizzling final round battles. In both races, Todd flat outran Schumacher.

Todd says if he has similar success at Indy with all of his friends and family in attendance, it will produce a stellar ending to the final chapter of his memorable rookie campaign.

"If I could win Indy it would cap off my season," Todd said. "That's the biggest drag race there is. Just the history of the race is incredible and to be able to add your name to the list of past winners is a big accomplishment. To win a race that you know everybody is shooting to win with everything they've got, it would be an amazing feeling for sure."

Todd is looking for a great performance at Indy to put his team back on the winning track. In races at Brainerd, Minn. and Memphis, Tenn., Todd posted first round losses.

"Now that we've had two first round losses, it's kind of a reality check," Todd said. "It just shows you how tough it is to win on this tour. We've definitely proven that we are capable, and now there aren't any teams out there taking us lightly anymore."

Todd, who is in contention for the Auto Club Road to the Future Award which rewards the season's top performing rookie driver, says winning the award that is voted on by more than 100 motorsports journalists would be great, but now his focus in on winning races. His main competition for the award, Top Fuel driver Hillary Will, advanced to her first final round of the season recently at Memphis.

"There are plenty of races left and I am sure she's going to win a race pretty soon," Todd said. "They have a great team over there. We both still have some opportunities to win and I am sure it will be a close call. But I am not even looking at that, I am focused on winning rounds and getting in the top 10. That's my main goal right now."

While Todd is working to break into the POWERade Top 10, Doug Kalitta, Schumacher, Brandon Bernstein and Melanie Troxel are the main players in the Top Fuel world championship chase. Entering the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals, five-time season winner Kalitta holds a 136 point lead over Schumacher, who has won at Indy four times in the last six years. Schumacher's U.S. Army dragster has been very fast lately, as he had posted five consecutive final round appearances, including two victories, before losing in the second round at Memphis to Kalitta. Troxel led the standings for much of the season, and needs to get back on track in her Skull Shine/Torco Race Fuels dragster if she is going to be able to join Shirley Muldowney as the only women to win Top Fuel world championship titles. Others to watch include three-time and defending Indy winner Dixon and two-time Indy champ Cory McClenathan.

In Funny Car, John Force holds a 17 point lead over Ron Capps, who had led the standings for most of the season. Force has two wins this season and four at Indy, while Capps is a five time winner this year but is still looking for his first at the U.S. Nationals. Both drivers are qualified for the lucrative Skoal Showdown, and both are former multi-time winners of that event. Tony Pedregon, Tommy Johnson Jr., defending winner Worsham and Robert Hight also are among drivers to watch.

Jason Line has moved into a comfortable lead in Pro Stock over teammate Anderson, however Anderson has owned the U.S. Nationals in recent seasons and will be trying to win his fourth consecutive title at the prestigious race. Dave Connolly, Kurt Johnson, Jim Yates and Mike Edwards are all talented drivers and major threats to win at ORP.

In Pro Stock Motorcycle, Andrew Hines holds a very slim three point lead over past U.S. Nationals winner Antron Brown in the POWERade Series standings and the two are among the pre-race favorites in the two-wheel category. Chip Ellis, Angelle Sampey, defending winner Johnson and Ryan Schnitz are among many of the riders who have the talent and horsepower to get the job done.

* SCHEDULE: The first of five pro qualifying sessions is scheduled for 6:15 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 1. Qualifying continues at 1 p.m. and 6:15 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 2 and concludes at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 3. Ringers Gloves Pro Bike Battle eliminations are at 2:15 p.m., 6 p.m. and 7:25 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 2. Skoal Showdown eliminations are at 12:30 p.m., 2:15 p.m. and 4 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 3. Final eliminations begin at 11 a.m. on Monday, Sept. 4.

* TICKETS: Tickets are available for the 52nd annual Mac Tools U.S. Nationals. Call (800) 884-NHRA (6472) for ticket information, or check online at ticketmaster.com, nhra.com and oreillyracewaypark.com.

* ON TV: ESPN2 and ESPN2 HD will televise more than 10 hours of coverage of the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals beginning with a one-hour qualifying show on Saturday, Sept. 2 at 5 p.m. (ET). A two-hour qualifying show will be telecast by ESPN2 at noon (ET) on Sunday, Sept. 3, along with a three hour qualifying show at 11 p.m. (ET). On Monday, Sept. 4, ESPN2 will telecast two shows, with two hours of early eliminations coverage at noon (ET) and a three-hour final eliminations show at 4 p.m. (ET). NHRA 2Day, ESPN2's popular magazine show that covers the NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series, will feature one show live from ORP during the event at 11:30 a.m. (ET) on Sunday, Sept. 3.

-credit: nhra

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About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers Shirley Muldowney , Antron Brown , Larry Dixon , Kurt Johnson , Tony Pedregon , Del Worsham , Ron Capps , John Force , Tony Schumacher , Doug Kalitta , Greg Anderson , Cory McClenathan , Melanie Troxel , Brandon Bernstein , Jason Line , Andrew Hines , Steve Johnson , Chip Ellis , Robert Hight , Hillary Will , J.R. Todd , Angelle Sampey , Dave Connolly , Tommy Johnson Jr.