A one-off drive for Kalitta Motorsports a year ago turned JR Todd's career around. Anne Proffit takes a look at the happy working relationship between Todd and Kalitta, and the unusual way that they will celebrate their one-year anniversary.
JR Todd had nothing to lose when he came to Las Vegas in the spring of 2014 to drive Kalitta Motorsports’ Red Line Oil Top Fuel dragster in NHRA’s Mello Yello Drag Racing Series.
It was a one-race audition, with the opportunity for the deal to be extended until the end of the season. Despite having not had a regular gig since 2008, Todd had performed well in his various one-off outings for a variety of teams, always able to step into a car and produce good numbers and results. Going rounds - that’s what it’s all about.
When Connie Kalitta took a leap of faith to hire Todd last year, the Hall of Fame driver/owner was rewarded with a victory in the Mopar Mile High Nationals at Bandimere Speedway at Denver in July and qualified for the six-race Countdown to the Championship after the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals on Labor Day weekend. He entered the Countdown in 10th place - despite missing the first few races of the year - and by the time the season ended Todd finished second in points to eight-time champ Tony Schumacher.
In reviving his career with the Ypsilanti, MI-based Kalitta team, a group that celebrates each and every race victory with a mosh pit on the start line, JR Todd has accumulated more than 25 round wins and reset his career-best numbers several times along the way.
His consistency, speed and accuracy in driving the 10,000-horsepower Red Line Oil Kalitta dragster 1,000-feet down drag strips has made him a formidable competitor in a class filled with them.
Taking the plunge
Now, to celebrate his one-year anniversary as a member of this Kalitta squad - which also includes dragster driver Doug Kalitta and Funny Car drivers Alexis de Joria and Del Worsham, Todd is going to travel another 1000 feet.
Only this time it’ll be downward.
Todd will make the SkyJump from atop the Stratosphere Hotel Casino on the evening of April 9. The SkyJump is a plunge from 108 stories - or about 1000 feet - at speeds of more than 40 miles per hour.
The trip will be a bit slower than the 330 mile per hour speeds he travels along the ground, perhaps, but this trip should be no less exhilarating. It’ll also take him around 17 seconds to go from the top of the Stratosphere to the ground, rather than his customary 3.8 seconds or quicker. But the exceptional views of the Las Vegas Strip should make this a great way to honor Connie Kalitta, Jim Oberhofer and the rest of the Kalitta Motorsports gang.
“After last weekend’s qualifying effort,” where Todd took first position at the 4-Wide Nationals on the zMax Dragway strip for his seventh career first and first of the young season (at a track record time of 3.713 seconds), “we are definitely on the right track,” he said.
“The SkyJump is a cool way to start the [Las Vegas race] weekend and hopefully we finish it with the Wally in Victory Lane.”