J.R. Todd takes over NHRA Top Fuel ride for team owner Connie Kalitta


Legendary former Top Fuel driver and veteran team owner/crew chief Connie Kalitta has always been somewhat of a maverick.

It’s how he’s built a very successful airline and shipping business, and also how he has run his drag racing operation for more than three decades.

But replacing your driver in the middle of a race weekend? That’s something you don’t see every day.

Kalitta, however, did just that this past weekend at Las Vegas, pulling Australian native David Grubnic out of the Optima Batteries Top Fuel dragster after the first two rounds of qualifying and replaced him with J.R. Todd.

Todd eventually lost in the second round of Sunday’s final eliminations, but it must have been enough to impress Kalitta, as the team announced Todd will remain behind the wheel going forward for the rest of this season.

The move appears to be amicable, as Grubnic, 51, will remain with the team as a technical consultant.

“We knew we were eventually going to move Grubnic into a more technical role,” Jim Oberhofer, vice president of operations for Kalitta Motorsports, said in a statement. “It just so happened that the timing was right for Connie and the team to do that now.

“We are very confident that J.R. will represent our team, Optima Batteries, and all of our sponsors to the utmost of his ability. We’re extremely excited to see what he can do driving for Kalitta Motorsports.”

Todd, 32, a resident of suburban Indianapolis, is a six-time career winner and two-time runner-up in the Top Fuel ranks. He joins new teammate Doug Kalitta, who leads the Top Fuel points standings after the first four of 24 national events this season.

Todd became the first African-American driver in NHRA history to earn a win in the Top Fuel class in 2006. His last win was in 2008.

“To say I’m excited to be a part of Kalitta Motorsports is a huge understatement,” Todd said in a press release. “Driving for Connie Kalitta is a great honor.

“Connie’s commitment to success is one of the big reasons he’s considered one of the best owners to work for. He’s been drag racing for over 50 years so I’m sure I will learn a lot from him, and hopefully drive his car to a lot of winner’s circles.”

The next NHRA national event is the fifth annual NHRA Four-Wide Nationals at zMAX Dragway in Charlotte, N.C., April 11-13.

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Reaction to INDYCAR/NBC Sports Group announcement: Mario Andretti, Roger Penske, Bobby Rahal and social media

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Like countless others on the East Coast, Mario Andretti was fighting through a snowstorm Wednesday morning.

But emotionally and personally, it was a very bright and sunny day for the legendary Indy car driver.

In an exclusive interview with NBCSports.com, Andretti spoke in glowing terms about this morning’s announcement of a multi-year media rights partnership between INDYCAR and NBC Sports Group beginning next year.

“I think this is awesome,” Andretti said. “It’s music to my ears and all of us. NBC has been very familiar with IndyCar racing, so they’re a great partner. I’m elated that it’s all nailed down, secured and I’m looking forward to the future.

“It’s also great for the young lads in Indy Lights coming on, and it’s great for all the sponsors to have that kind of exposure. It’s a good day for INDYCAR today.”

Andretti lauded the fact that all elements of INDYCAR coverage – TV, digital and streaming – will now be under one corporate roof, so to speak.

“Personally, I think it’s huge,” Andretti said. “Everybody is going to be very familiar with everything, the storylines are going to flow perfectly from event to event. There’s nothing like continuity.

“It’s okay sometimes if you have two networks, but to me, the best possible solution is this. That’s why I think this is really a great day for INDYCAR racing to have NBC involved and the continuity is huge for us.”

MORE: NBC Sports Group, INDYCAR partner on new TV and digital rights agreement starting in 2019

MORE: Optimism abounds with new INDYCAR media partnership


Several other high-profile individuals within the IndyCar community also gave their take on Wednesday’s announcement, including statements from team owners Roger Penske and Bobby Rahal.

Roger Penske: “As an industry, we are very fortunate to have the NBC Sports Group grow their presence and coverage of INDYCAR racing and really invest in the future of the sport. We believe there is a great deal of positive momentum in the Verizon IndyCar Series right now, from the development of the new race car, to the very talented group of young drivers and new teams coming into the sport this season.

“With the announcement of the enhanced broadcast partnership with NBC, it certainly adds to the excitement for the future. We know that the ways our fans are watching races and viewing INDYCAR content is rapidly changing, so staying ahead of the curve and the developing technology with our partners is important to the growth of our sport. We look forward to working with the NBC team to continue to build INDYCAR and take the sport in new directions.

“We also need to thank ABC and ESPN for all their terrific coverage over the years. The ABC network helped bring some of the most memorable moments in racing to life – including many of our team’s Indianapolis 500 victories – and we appreciate all of their hard work and passion for INDYCAR racing.”

Bobby Rahal: “It’s great news. I think the fact that the IndyCar Series will be under one roof, so to speak, network-wise can do nothing but great things for our sport. To increase to having eight races on network TV is also great news of course.

“The quality of the NBC broadcasts have gotten better and better over the last several years. They do a great job of providing interesting and entertaining content for the viewers and I think that will only continue to grow with the relationship going forward. That type of storytelling is also what helps bring new fans to the sport.”



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