JR TODD LIKELY WON’T FLY UNDER RADAR MUCH LONGER
JR Todd said he has shaken the nervousness and is working hard to fine-tune his Funny Car skills. In his second season as a Funny Car racer, the former Top Fuel driver said this campaign “definitely feels different, simply because I’m more comfortable inside the car. This time last year, I was pretty nervous. I didn’t know at all what to expect, and I was just learning every run down the track. I’m still learning, but now I’m working on things to make myself a better driver inside the car. Before, I just wanted to get comfortable and work on things like my reaction time. Now I’m thinking what can I do inside the car to make myself better.
“It’s amazing what running a year in these cars can do for you,” he said. ”They’ll still ground you, though. Shawn [Langdon] put it best when he said, “It’s like playing a video racing game and you make it to the expert level and it’s really hard to play. That’s what driving a Funny Car is.”
Todd is one of only a handful of drivers in NHRA history to win in both classes. Moreover, he scored back-to-back victories at Sonoma in 2016 and 2017 – the first in a dragster, the second in the DHL Toyota Camry Funny Car. His skill blends well with those of his Kalitta Motorsports colleagues.
“In my mind, we have four of the best drivers out here,” Todd said. “We all want to do what we can to make each other better. It doesn’t get much better than Doug Kalitta driving the Mac Tools Toyota. He’s been doing this longer than any of us, and he’s forgotten more than most of us will ever learn. When times get tough, we go to him for some advice. I want to see him and Richie go out and beat all of those guys in Top Fuel, and in turn I think they want to see Shawn and me go out and do the same in these Toyota Camrys. We’ll do whatever we can to make ourselves better than the two other top teams in the sport.”
Todd said he and Langdon “just bounce ideas off each other. He will come to me with something and I’ll say, ‘I know exactly what you’re talking about, because that’s what I went through.’ He’s a world champ, and he knows it’s just going to take some time to figure this thing out, but he’s already doing a great job in testing. Our goal together is just to help each other out. We want to see each other win and make ourselves better than the opposition. I first met Shawn when he was probably 12 and I was 13 at a Junior Dragster national championship in Colorado. It’s cool to see how we’ve progressed through the years to get to this point.”
Still, he won’t feel bad if he has to defeat Langdon on his way to his goals.
“My goal is to go out there and win as many races as we can,” he said. “Ideally, you want to set yourself up better for going into the Countdown than what we did last season. You want to be somewhere around the top five going into that first Countdown race. We just need to work on our consistency. We started the  season off slow but came around during the summer, but then went back into a slump in the Countdown. We found a lot of things wrong with the car mechanically in the off-season, and we think we’ve adjusted those issues. That should set ourselves up better for 2018. If we can address the consistency in runs down the track, I think we can work together with the Global guys and have two Toyota Camrys compete for the championship this year.”
Todd won two races in his maiden Funny Car season, including the U.S. Nationals. However, he seemed to surprise some people with his success, never mind he had won nine Top Fuel events.
“I’d rather be under the radar. My whole career has been that way. When we won Indy, I don’t think anyone expected us to win Indy, even in the final round they weren’t giving us a shot. That’s fine with me,” he said. “ If we can come out of 2018 with the No. 1 on the side of the car going into next season, that would get everyone’s attention.”
Crew chief Jon Oberhofer said he has no doubt Todd can claim his first championship.
“We have the team to do it, and we have the driver to do it,” Oberhofer said.
Toyota’s support is invaluable, he said.
“It’s been great. I’m really excited about continuing to work with TRD and Toyota and some of the things we’re starting to do with them. The addition of [NASCAR notable] Slugger Labbe to the program has been very beneficial. We’ve opened the lines of communication. There are a lot of technical areas we’ve expanded upon. We’re better as a group than we are individually, and those guys are fantastic. I have nothing but praise for them. We’ve been with TRD for a while, and I firmly believe that they’ll do whatever it takes to help us succeed,” Oberhofer said.
The crew chief said he has noticed impressive improvement in Todd.
“He’s just that much further ahead. At this point last year, he was still figuring it out. He did a really good job last year and ended up the season on a strong note, winning two of the biggest races of the year,” Oberhofer said. “We just need to give him as good a car as we can in 2018.”