J.R. Todd Looking Forward to IHRA Race at Martin MARTIN, Mich. (August 1, 2006) -- A lot has happened to J.R. Todd since his last International Hot Rod Association Top Fuel race, like him going from driver to crew member and back to driver, this...
J.R. Todd Looking Forward to IHRA Race at Martin
MARTIN, Mich. (August 1, 2006) -- A lot has happened to J.R. Todd since his last International Hot Rod Association Top Fuel race, like him going from driver to crew member and back to driver, this time in National Hot Rod Association action.
But all that paled in comparison to the incredible three weeks Todd, Dexter Tuttle, Jimmy Walsh and the SKULL Shine/Knoll-Gas Torco Racing Fuels team had on the NHRA's grueling Western Swing -- races in the mile-high altitude of Denver, to sea level in Seattle and Sonoma, Calif.
This crew few people knew prior to the Denver event has become the feel good story of the 2006 season. Todd scored bookend victories in Denver and Sonoma and reached the semifinals at Seattle. All that in their first 11 races together.
Actually, the real transformation began in the last few months when Todd -- given an NHRA driving opportunity to drive by Tuttle this year -- was blessed with sponsorship from Evan Knoll's SKULL Shine/Knoll Gas - Torco Racing Fuels in May.
Now Todd is returning to IHRA Top Fuel racing on a certifiable hot streak -- thanks to Walsh's tuning and Todd's impressive driving style on the hot racing surfaces -- in a favorite's role for the Knoll Gas-Torco Race Fuels Northern Nationals at U.S. 131 Motorsports Park, Aug. 4-6, in Martin, Mich.
And there's nothing he'd like more than to plunk his first Ironman trophy on the shelf next to his Wally.
"It's pretty exciting," says Todd. "It's kind of a homecoming because that's where I got my first start in Top Fuel and a lot of old friends and family will be there. It will be nice to see them and now that we have a pretty competitive car in NHRA, it will be nice to go over there with a really competitive car.
"It would be cool to line up against Bruce. I've never raced him before and it would be neat to race my old car owner, for sure. I'm looking forward to it. It's Evan Knoll's race and we're his car. Hopefully we can put it in the winner's circle for him, SKULL Shine and Torco Race Fuels.
"We are racing today because of Evan Knoll, and I can't thank him enough. That allows us to run until the end of the season," continued Todd, now 24 and six years removed from his first nitromethane-fueled driving assignment with Bruce Litton. "Since that happened we've been qualifying well and, in the last five or six races, we've been going some rounds and winning races."
Todd has gone some rounds alright -- he won 10 in the last three races when he was suddenly thrust onto center stage after winning in just his ninth NHRA race. He's beaten some of the best along the way, including Tony Schumacher, whom he defeated in both final rounds.
It was only a few hours after his Denver victory that Todd realized the enormity of his accomplishment. He'd become the first African American to win a professional Top Fuel race.
It was important to Todd, but that isn't the primary reason he's racing. He's racing because he loves it, lives it every day.
"I'm happy to be the first one to do it, but what it all comes down to is once you're in the car and strapped in and the helmet's on, nobody knows what color you are," Todd said. "You're all equal out there and that's the cool thing about drag racing."
Todd was 18 when he stepped into Litton's second dragster and drove it for six IHRA races. When the car's funding ended, he became a Litton crew member for two years and then shifted to NHRA. He served as a crewman for Bob Gilbertson's Funny Car team in NHRA from 2003 through 2005.
Tuttle saw Todd's driving potential, took a chance on him, and the results have been sweeter than they'd ever imagined.
Todd didn't "expect to win this early in my career," he says. "That shows how capable we are and how capable Jimmy Walsh is. Nobody knew me before the Denver race. People would come up to the car and ask me who the driver is. Now when I get out of the van at our pit area people are asking me to sign autographs right away.
"We don't have anything to prove running in IHRA," Todd said. "We just want to run well for Evan, but a win would be good for bragging rights. Any laps down the track for me in the Top Fuel car are good because I definitely need the seat time. I am learning something on every lap. U.S. 131 Motorsports Park is a nice facility and the fans should see some pretty quick times. I'm looking forward to racing against the IHRA guys. It should be fun."