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The Dearborn County Register





Lawrenceburg native reaches peak of his NHRA profession By Jim Buchberger Sports Editor POMONA, California - J.R. Todd has made history on many occasions during his nine-year career in the National Hot Rod Association. Now the 36-year-old Lawrenceburg native will be known as World Champion - the first African-American Funny Car season champion in NHRA history. Driver of the DHL/WIX Filters Toyota Camry Funny Car for the Kalitta Motorsports team, Todd clinched the title even before firing up the motor for his first-round elimination run Sunday in the NHRA’s Super Bowl - the season-ending Auto Club NHRA Finals at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona. With a 74-point lead over Robert Hight in the Mello Yello Funny Car standings, Todd sat in the second pairing, waiting for Hight to line up against Bob Tasca III. When Hight’s tires went up in smoke as he lost traction in the Auto Club Chevy Camaro, Todd officially became the Funny Car World Champion for 2018 - without lifting a finger. But Mario and Kim’s son - the Lawrenceburg kid who cut his teeth racing dirt bikes before firing up his own Junior Dragster at age 10 - finished with a flourish Sunday, winning his sixth NHRA event of the season to finish 194 points ahead of Hight, 2,726-2,572. Winning six times in eight event finals during his magical season, Todd defeated Jim Campbell, Tasca and Ron Capps to reach the podium Sunday, finishing with a 44-18 record for 2018. Sunday’s win put Todd’s mark at 20-3 for the six-race NHRA playoff and 24-3 dating back to Labor Day, when he won his second-straight U.S. Nationals Funny Car title at Indianapolis. Todd and the Kalitta team clearly have hit on a winning combination, reaping eight victories in their past 34 races. They advanced to at least the semifinal round or beyond in each of their past 13 races. “This is what you live your whole life for when you start racing Junior Dragsters,” he told afterward. “You hope that you can get to this point in your life and your career. But you never really think it is going to happen.” Despite all his years of grooming - competing in the NHRA Junior Drag Racing League from 1993-98 to working as a crew member on Bob Gilbertson’s Funny Car team from 2003-05 - Todd never would have reached Sunday’s peak except for a 2014 phone call from team owner Connie Kalitta, the Michigan NHRA legend himself.

J.R. TODD 2018 Auto Club NHRA Finals Funny Car Summary Elimination Round 1: Todd defeated Jim Campbell - 3.938 sec., 315.64 mph to 9.664 sec., 74.73 mph Elimination Round 2: Todd defeated Bob Tasca III - 3.952 sec., 321.50 mph to 3.962 sec., 323.12 mph Elimination Round 3: Todd defeated Ron Capps - 3.932 sec., 316.97 mph to 3.889 sec., 328.14 mph Elimination Round 4: Todd defeated Tommy Johnson Jr. - 3.872 sec., 329.10 mph to 3.889 sec., 327.51 mph Although he’d earned the Auto Club Road to the Future award as the NHRA’s top rookie driver in 2006, racing Top Fuel rail dragsters, that phase of his career waned over the next three seasons, due to crew chief and sponsorship issues. He’s also lost close friend and competitor Eric Medlen killed during a 2007 testing accident. Todd did manage a 2008 victory at Dallas that ended Tony Schumacher’s record-breaking Top Fuel winning streak. By 2009, running a limited schedule, he managed only to make the semifinals at Sonoma and quarterfinals at Seattle. After a three-year hiatus, the Lawrenceburg lad returned as a sub driver in seven 2012 races, reaching the quarterfinals three times with a season-best fourth at Dallas. But Todd’s big break came four seasons ago. Kalitta sacked his Funny Car driver, Dave Grubnic, two races into the season and picked up the phone to call J.R. According to now-legend, Todd was used car shopping when his cell phone rang. He jumped on the next flight out of Indy for Las Vegas and drove the Kalitta car to a qualifying spot the very next day. The combination stuck, now having


Thirty-six year old Lawrenceburg native J.R. Todd exults with the hefty NHRA Funny Car World Championship trophy after capping his magical 2018 season with the Auto Club Finals title Sunday at Pomona, Calif. secured 10 race trophies ever since and counting. “That saved me there, getting that call,” Todd said. “It was totally out of the blue. “There definitely were some tough times when I got my start with Top Fuel. I didn’t know that I would ever be back. “I have so many people to thank, especially the Kalitta group as a whole. They have your back, no matter what.” Todd became the 21st racer in NHRA history to win a Funny Car title and he does so in just his second year, after transitioning from Top Fuel. It also was the second Funny Car title for the DHL Toyota Camry team, and fourth championship for Kalitta Motorsports. The team’s first Funny Car world championship came with Del Worsham piloting the car, which still bears Scott Kalitta’s name - owner’s son, who was killed in a 2008 qualifying accident at Old Bridge Township Raceway Park in Englishtown, N.J. Worsham, incidentally, was on the starting line, behind the wheel of his own Lucas Oil/Worsham Racing Camry, when Hight’s first round loss clinched the title for Todd. He joined

in on the celebration. “I have my hero, the champ Del Worsham, back there, and it’s so good to have him in my corner,” said a happy Todd immediately afterward. “Man, what a stressful weekend! But I’m glad that I can just go out and try to win two trophies now.” Sunday’s major victory marked Todd’s third win during this season’s Countdown to the Championship. He already had captured the Dodge NHRA Nationals in Reading, Pa., and, more recently, the NHRA Toyota Nationals in Las Vegas. Last weekend’s Auto Club NHRA Finals marked the 200th start of Todd’s career. Going in, he had yet to win at Pomona in a Funny Car in his previous three attempts. J.R. Todd now can claim 17 career wins in 29 final round appearances and a 210-179 round record. Sunday’s title was the second title for both of Todd’s twin crew chiefs, Todd Smith (Jack Beckman, 2012) and Jon Oberhofer (Worsham, 2015). Todd, along with his fellow NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series champions, traveled the short distance to Hollywood Monday for the organization’s year-ending awards ceremony at the Ray Dolby Ballroom at Holly-

wood & Highland. He, along with Steve Torrence, Tanner Gray and Matt Smith were honored for their season-long achievements and presented with checks and trophies for winning 2018 world championship titles during the NHRA Mello Yello Countdown. Torrence captured the Top Fuel dragster title, while the 19-year old Gray became the youngest world champion ever in the Pro Stock category and Smith was crowned king of the Pro Stock Motorcycles for a third time. Top Fuel pilot Bill Litton was named the Automobile Club of Southern California Road to the Future Award for the $20,000 prize, which Todd started with in 2006. The 2018 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series awards ceremony can be viewed worldwide on the internet starting Wednesday, Nov. 21, at, as well as at the NHRA channel on YouTube. Lawrenceburg fans may be especially interesting to view a Youtube video, produced by Toyota Racing, of J.R. and dad Mario Todd reminiscing about his early career while walking the old stomping grounds at Edgewater Raceway Park in nearby Cleves, Ohio.


J.R. Todd and his Kalitta Motorsports DHL/WIX Filters Toyota Camry Racing Team whoop it up with the trophy in celebration of their NHRA Mello Yello Series Funny Car World Championship following their sixth win of the season in Sunday’s Auto Club NHRA Finals victory at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona, California.

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J.R Todd World Champion  

2019 Hoosier State Press Association Best Sports Events Coverage, second place, division 2, The Dearborn County Register. By Jim Buchberger....

J.R Todd World Champion  

2019 Hoosier State Press Association Best Sports Events Coverage, second place, division 2, The Dearborn County Register. By Jim Buchberger....