He was a Top Fuel neophyte at 19-years old, the NHRA’s Rookie of the Year in 2006 and now after a couple of years out of the driver's seat, J.R. Todd is about to accept his next challenge as Al-Anabi Racing’s newest Pro Extreme (PX) pilot behind the wheel of a brand-new, Garret Livingston-built ’57 Chevy. He’ll make his competition debut Dec. 2-3, in the Arabian Drag Racing League’s 2010-11 season opener at the Qatar Race Club.
“I am going at this totally blind,” Todd says. “I was hoping to get some testing in before we left the States, but this is the hand that we have been dealt. With the great equipment I have been provided and the great complex they have here at the Qatar Race Club, I am hopeful that everything is going to be just fine.”
Todd has always been known as a racer willing to pay his dues.
After getting his start in Jr. Dragsters, he graduated to Super Comp as soon as possible at age 16, then attended Frank Hawley’s Drag Racing School to earn a Top Alcohol license before making his Top Fuel debut at the tender age of 19 at an IHRA event in 2000 in Dinwiddie, Virginia, under the tutelage of veteran Bruce Litton.
Unfortunately, the ride lasted only one season because Litton’s race operation was destroyed by fire late that year, but Todd quickly transitioned to crew member on Bob Gilbertson’s NHRA Funny Car, a position which greatly increased his nitro racing savvy and better prepared him for a return to a Top Fuel hot seat in 2006 for NHRA team owner Dexter Tuttle.
Todd won three races that year, plus the prestigious Auto Club Road to the Future Award, and followed up with a single win in ’07 before moving over to the Lucas Oil Top Fuel team in 2008 and adding one more race title to his resume.
While racing in the NHRA, Todd also became fast friends with Sheikh Khalid, an owner and sponsor in the NHRA Top Fuel and Funny Car ranks, as well as team owner and race-winning driver in the ADRL’s Pro Extreme class. True to his history of watching, trying and then applying what he’s learned, Todd attended most ADRL events contested this year as an Al-Anabi team member.
“The bad part is that I have had all this time to sit and think about driving. I'd rather it be I just hop in the thing and go,” he says. “When I had the long break in between driving a fuel car from 2000 to 2006, I was always second guessing myself as to if I could manage to drive the car without any problems. Now this Pro Extreme deal comes along and it is totally new to me.
“I have been to most of the ADRL events this season and watching these guys, I have to tell you at times they are pretty wild. Therefore, outside of the car you—or at least I am—you’re always thinking about this and that and what could possibly happen. The best thing for me is to just get in the ‘57 and make as many laps as possible to get comfortable.”
Todd won’t be alone as he takes this next step in his racing career. Along with the extensive Al-Anabi support system, he’ll also have his parents by his side.
“My mom and dad are my number-one supporters and they are headed to Qatar for the first two races of the season,” he says. “I think they are very excited about the new opportunity. My mom is pretty nervous about the whole Pro Extreme deal after attending the Martin race this year, but I think she'll get the hang of it. In the end I think they are just happy to see that I have a racing deal again.”
The plan to put him in a PX ride has been in the works for several months, Todd says, and though it was deliberately kept low key, he enthusiastically made the decision to pursue the opportunity.
“To be honest, sitting at home watching on TV wasn't cutting it, so when the right opportunity came about, I took it. I have always thought they were cool cars from sitting back and watching, but to actually be around them, they are animals,” he says without ruling out an eventual return to his Top Fuel roots.
“Don't get me wrong, Top Fuel is where my heart and soul is. I would love to step on the pedal in a nitro car again. It's hard to compare anything to a nitro-burning Top Fuel dragster or fuel Funny Car, but at the same time I've never driven one of these Pro Extreme cars so we'll see what happens.”
Todd says the extended plan is to see how he does in the Arabian series before mounting a full-season assault on the Stateside ADRL Pro Extreme class in 2011, but for now he’s just looking forward to making his first test passes this weekend on the Qatar Race Club eighth mile.
“I am excited about this new opportunity as it is something totally out of my element,” he freely admits. “I've never driven anything with a suspension or where I sit off the left side.”
He also is looking forward to being out of the pressure cooker of top-level NHRA competition, as well as the sense of security he’s found being part of Al-Anabi Racing.
“This type of racing is definitely a more relaxed atmosphere than what I have been used to in the past and it's going to be way cool to line up against the likes of Frankie Taylor, Von Smith, Todd Tutterow, Alex Hossler, Sheikh Khalid Al Thani, and the rest of the great drivers that make up the sport.
“Of all my driving deals in the past, I've never had anything that was totally solid as to where I felt comfortable that I was going to be around for a while. With this deal, I think it's secure and I can just focus on driving and doing my job and not have to worry about cashing in coins to make a house payment.”
Just like learning, though, Todd realizes it’s all about building on the foundation laid before and any success coming his way will be a direct result of his racing relationships and experiences from the past.
“I have a lot of people to thank in drag racing for getting me to this point, but that would probably take too long,” he states. “All I can say is wish us luck because we can sure use some!”
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