J.R. Todd

Photos courtesy Kalitta Motorsports

NASCAR Truck drivers feel the earth move sitting in NHRA powerhouses

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Several NASCAR Camping World Truck Series drivers got to see how the other half lives – namely, their counterparts in the NHRA – on Thursday at Charlotte Motor Speedway and across the street at zMax Dragway.

To say it was an eye-opening experience is putting it mildly.

Top Fuel drag racers Shawn Langdon and Troy Coughlin Jr., as well as Funny Car driver J.R. Todd – all from one of the top teams in the NHRA, Kalitta Motorsports – are in Charlotte for this weekend’s 4-Wide Nationals at zMax Dragway.

NASCAR Trucks driver Noah Gragson gets to feel the 10,000 horsepower of a Top Fuel dragster.

Thursday, they invited NASCAR drivers Ryan Truex, Christopher Bell, Grant Enfinger and Noah Gragson to show how it’s done NHRA-style.

Todd, Langdon and Coughlin started the day taking Toyota Camry pace cars around the 1.5-mile CMS oval.

Then everyone moved across the street to see some real horsepower, namely, 10,000 horses worth – which is roughly about 13 times the power they have under the hood of their race trucks.

Truex and Bell got a chance to “warm up” Todd’s Funny Car, while Enfinger and Gragson did the same with Langdon’s Top Fueler.

 

Meanwhile, Todd and Langdon both did smoky burnouts that, if the Truck guys thought they could do burnouts, they learned a lot to the contrary.

“It was a cool to do a big smoky burnout,” Todd said. “It was cool to see the guys reactions. We had a great time today and I think we created several new fans.”

Added Langdon, “Days like today is what makes me love our sport even more. Bringing these guys over here and letting them hit the throttle and sit in the car when it warms up gives them a look at what we do. To see the smiles on their faces after a badass burnout and how excited they are, just gets me pumped.”

Here’s what the NASCAR guys thought about the experience.

Bell: “J.R. Todd let me sit in his Toyota Camry Funny Car and they even cracked the throttle open for me when we were warming up the motor. It is something that I will remember for the rest of my life. It is a feeling like none other.”

Enfinger: “Just a crazy experience, something I have never done. Been able to do a lot of cool things with Toyota, but it is not every day that you get to make your dad jealous.”

Gragson: “This was awesome. It was the experience of a lifetime. It was great to hang out with J.R. Todd, Shawn and Troy Jr. Definitely a cool experience; one that I will remember forever.”

Truex: “This has probably been the craziest experience that I have ever been a part of. I got to sit in a Funny Car; they hit the throttle, which really scared me. When I was outside the car, I jumped about three feet in the air. It was cool to get inside and experience that. The nitro was all in my face, and I think they gained a new fan with me today.”

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NHRA: Shawn Langdon back behind wheel of Top Fuel dragster with Kalitta Motorsports

Photo courtesy Kalitta Motorsports
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Former NHRA Top Fuel champion Shane Langdon will soon be back on track.

The 2013 champion lost his ride with Don Schumacher Racing at the end of last season due to lack of sponsorship.

But Thursday, Langdon and Kalitta Motorsports announced a partnership with new sponsor Global Electronic Technology to campaign a new Top Fuel team, the third full-time dragster in the Kalitta stable.

“I’m really excited about the opportunity to drive the Global Electronic Technology dragster,” Langdon, 34, said in a media release. “It is awesome to see new companies like Global Electronic Technology come in to drag racing and I am excited to be a part of it.”

When DSR’s ongoing efforts to gain sponsorship failed to materialize, Kalitta Motorsports was able to put together a package with GET to bring the ex-champ aboard.

“It’s been a tough year so far with me sitting on the sidelines,” Langdon said. “It has been the first time since my rookie year in 2009 that I haven’t been able to attend the NHRA races.

“I cannot thank Connie (team owner Connie Kalitta) and Jim O (team vice president Jim Oberhofer) enough for the opportunity. Kalitta has top quality cars that contend for wins and championships, so I feel that this partnership will work well.”

DSR hired Langdon with six races left in the 2015 season after Alan Johnson Racing suspended operations due to lack of sponsorship. AJR had lost its primary sponsorship from Al-Anabi Racing just weeks before the 2015 season began and self-funding lasted just 18 races before team owner Alan Johnson parked Langdon’s dragster, leading to him moving to the Schumacher camp.

Langdon was Top Fuel teammates at DSR with three-time champ Antron Brown, eight-time champ Tony Schumacher and Leah Pritchett.

DSR and Langdon had planned to continue in 2017, but lack of sponsorship forced team owner Don Schumacher to park Langdon and his dragster.

“I also want to thank Don (Schumacher) and everybody at Don Schumacher Racing for bringing me in when I didn’t have a ride and making me feel like part of the family,” Langdon said. “We did everything we could to find adequate funding, and I want to thank Don for keeping me on the payroll throughout the process of trying to find sponsorship.”

Even though he now is racing for a new team, Langdon – who has 14 career national event Top Fuel wins – still has the same goals he had at DSR and AJR.

“My focus is to contend for a championship,” he said. “We are seven rounds out of the top 10 and we have 14 races to catch up (to qualify for the six-race Countdown to the Championship NHRA playoffs) and I am confident in my chances with the group that Kalitta is putting behind me.”

Langdon now joins Doug Kalitta and Troy Coughlin as Top Fuel teammates with Kalitta Motorsports.

The addition of Langdon will cause some slight juggling within the team when it comes to crew chiefs. Jim Oberhofer will become the lead tuner on both Kalitta’s and Coughlin’s dragsters.

Troy Fasching will also team with Oberhofer on Kalitta’s car, while Glen Huszar and Nick Casertano will head J.R. Todd’s Funny Car team.

Lastly, team patriarch Connie Kalitta will oversee Langdon’s team along with Rob Flynn.

Kalitta Motorsports also fields the Funny Car teams of Todd and Alexis DeJoria.

The team will make its first race two weeks at the next NHRA SpringNationals, April 21-23, at Royal Purple Raceway in suburban Houston.

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NHRA’s J.R. Todd, Red Bull GRC’s Alex Keyes crossover their rides

On Friday, Alex Keyes joined J.R. Todd at qualifying for the Las Vegas Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. (Photo: Gary Nastase)
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WIX Filters-supported drivers J.R. Todd (NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series, Funny Car) and Alex Keyes (Red Bull Global Rallycross, GRC Lites) participated in a ride swap over the last few days, with Keyes paying a visit to Todd’s most recent NHRA race in Las Vegas for his first nitro experience and Todd swinging back to Indianapolis to check out Keyes’ world of rallycross.

The release with full details is below:

Just days after Global Rallycross driver Alex Keyes experienced nitro for the first time, J.R. Todd completed the crossover as he stepped behind the wheel of Keyes’ WIX Filters machine this morning.

Todd strapping aboard the WIX Filters GRC Lite machine. (Photo: Kalitta Motorsports)

At a closed test session in Indianapolis at Lucas Oil Raceway, Keyes drove Todd around the prepped track before turning over the wheel completely to Todd. The NHRA veteran made two three-lap segments and was completely blown away.

“It is pretty cool to be driving around here where we typically park our 18-wheelers when we are here racing,” said Todd, driver of the DHL/WIX Filters Toyota Camry Funny Car for Kalitta Motorsports. “It gives you a new respect for what these guys do. You are shifting gears going all the way around the course, it is a lot of fun. It is easy to go as fast as you can on the straightaways, but then you got get on the brakes to get on the corners that are always coming up. Huge thanks to Alex and the WIX Filters team for having me out.”

Keyes said he jumped the first time he experienced nitro. (Photo: Gary Nastase)

Blown away could also discribe Keyes’ experience as he stood behind a 10,000-horsepower nitro-burning machine just days ago as Todd qualified for the Las Vegas Nationals on Friday.

“It was so sweet. I have seen NHRA on TV and I know they are fast, but it just does not do them justice,” said Keyes, driver of the WIX Filters GRC Lite for Dreyer & Reinbold Racing. “First off, I did not know that they ran on nitro, so I was crying a little bit. Then got to the starting line and wasn’t anticipating it and I jumped. After that, I got to watch about 10 runs. When you know its coming it is sweet. You feel it through your chest and it is definitely a cool experience.”

Both are making plans to attend the other’s actual events this season. Currently, Todd sits 10th in the NHRA point standings after four of 24 events, while Keyes will make his 2017 debut at the GRC season opener in Memphis at the end of the month.

2016 NHRA season in review: Top Fuel driver J.R. Todd

(Photos courtesy NHRA)
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Over the next three-plus weeks, MotorSportsTalk will feature season-ending reviews of the top drivers of the 2016 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season.

Each day, we’ll have one in-depth review of a driver that finished in the top-five in each of the four professional classes (Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle), as well as a compendium of select other drivers that did not finish in the top-five.

The list of drivers we’ve already posted is below. Today, we feature Top Fuel driver J.R. Todd:

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Driver: J.R. Todd

Age: 35

Hometown: Lawrenceburg, Indiana

Team: Kalitta Motorsports

Sponsor/car: SealMaster/Kalitta Air

Crew chief: Connie Kalitta

2016 season finish: Fourth in Top Fuel.

2016 season statistics: 24 races, 1 win, 5 runner-up, 7 semifinals, 4 quarterfinals. No. 1 qualifier one time. Round-by-round record: 37 wins, 23 losses.

Career statistics: 152 races, 9 wins, 10 runner-up, 21 semifinals, 41 quarterfinals. No. 1 qualifier 9 times. Round-by-round record: 149 wins, 139 losses. Four DNQ.

What went right in 2016: Todd enjoyed the second-best season of his Top Fuel career, finishing fourth. He joined Kalitta Motorsports three races into the 2014 season and finished second in the standings. But 2016 stands out because Todd had a single-season high five runner-up and seven semifinal finishes. Was part of major drag racing history, losing to teammate Doug Kalitta in the closest Top Fuel final round finish — .000 seconds — at Southern Nationals in Commerce, Ga.

What went wrong in 2016: Todd struggled in the first half of the season, racking up five first-round losses in the first 11 races. But he finally turned things around by reaching the finals three times in the next four races, including his lone win of the season (Sonoma). … Unfortunately, he fell behind quickly in the six-race Countdown to the Championship playoff, suffering first-round losses in two of the first three races Charlotte 2 and Reading). But he bounced back to reach the finals in the last two races of the season to jump from eighth after Reading to finish a strong fourth.

What to look for in 2017: While he’ll remain with Kalitta Motorsports, Todd will shift from Top Fuel to Funny Car, replacing 2015 Funny Car champ Del Worsham, who has returned to drive for his family’s team. Troy Coughlin, who was originally slated to compete part-time in Top Fuel in 2017, has been elevated to replace Todd in the Kalitta Motorsports’ dragster.

Season reviews already posted:

— Antron Brown (12/12)

— Ron Capps (12/13)

— Jason Line (12/14)

Jerry Savoie (12/15)

Doug Kalitta (12/16)

Tommy Johnson Jr. (12/17)

Greg Anderson (12/18)

Eddie Krawiec (12/19)

Steve Torrence (12/20)

— Matt Hagan (12/21)

— Shane Gray (12/22)

— Andrew Hines (12/23)

— J.R. Todd (12/24)

— John Force (12/25)

— Bo Butner (12/26)

— Angelle Sampey (12/27)

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NHRA: With 2 races left left in the Countdown, who’s next to be eliminated?

Photo courtesy NHRA
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For some drivers, the NHRA Countdown to the Championship is over early, as several were eliminated following Sunday’s final round of the AAA Texas FallNationals at Texas Motorplex.

Those who will not advance into the final two races of the season (Oct. 27-30 at Las Vegas and the season finale, Nov. 10-13 in Pomona, California) are:

Top Fuel: Richie Crampton and Clay Millican.

Funny Car: Alexis DeJoria.

Pro Stock: Five-time champion Jeg Coughlin and two-time defending champ Erica Enders.

“We’ve had a tough year but I promise big things are straight ahead and we’ll be back better than ever in 2017,” Enders said after Sunday’s race.

The only major professional category that has not seen any Countdown contestants eliminated yet is Pro Stock Motorcycle.

Now teams have a weekend off coming up to regroup and try to make one last attempt for the championship.

However, several teams that are still mathematically eligible for the title (within the 260 total points – 130 points for each of the last two races on the schedule) are likely closer to elimination – particularly at Las Vegas – than to rallying back for the championship:

Top Fuel: Even though she qualified No. 2 at Texas this past weekend, eight-ranked Leah Pritchett (-254 points) and seventh-ranked J.R. Todd (-244) are on the verge of elimination. Also on the hot seat are eight-time Top Fuel champ Tony Schumacher (ranked sixth, -209), fifth-ranked Steve Torrence (-197) and even fourth-ranked Brittany Force (-191).

“We really needed to win this one and we needed for the Countdown contenders ahead us in the standings to have problems,” Schumacher said. “It wasn’t shaping up that way, to begin with.”

While Schumacher isn’t giving up, if he can’t win a ninth championship, he’ll support his teammate’s quest for his second straight title and third in the last five seasons.

“Antron and his team have been lights out all year, and they’re peaking here in the Countdown,” Schumacher said. “They deserve to be on the verge of clinching the championship and, if we can’t be the ones to win the championship, we’re always rooting to keep it in the U.S. Army and DSR family.”

As for Force, she’s adamant that she is still in the championship hunt.

“I think doing well in Las Vegas will be a big factor for the championship,” Force said. “Our goal is to have a chance to win the championship when we get to the Auto Club Finals in Pomona.

“We are going to do everything we can to be in a position where we can win. We go into every race thinking we can win and it starts with the first round of qualifying. This has been an amazing season and these last couple of races will be even more exciting with the championship on the line.”

Funny Car: It’s not looking good for John Force Racing. Courtney Force is ranked eighth (-227), 16-time champ John Force is seventh (-198) and even though he had a strong weekend at Texas, sixth-ranked Robert Hight is -187. Early exits during much of the first or second rounds in the first four races of the Countdown have been the downfall for the three JFR drivers.

“I thought I needed a Hail Mary and now I need two,” said John Force, who uncharacteristically red-lit in his first round elimination race with Alexis DeJoria, immediately losing. “I didn’t do my job and they gave me a good race car. That is the bottom line.

“You can’t win championships by making that mistake. My brain just faded and I put a red light out there. I apologized to my team, my fans and the sponsors. That is all I can do.”

Added Hight, who is not giving up, “We are running with the top cars out here and there are two races left. I want to win those races and see what happens.”

As for Courtney Force, “We have two more races to go and we’re definitely motivated to go out there and continue to move up in the points and see if we can end this season on a high note.”

Pro Stock: While no one is ready to concede the championship to frontrunner Jason Line or teammate and second-ranked Greg Anderson (-26), it’s not looking good in Las Vegas for eight-ranked Allen Johnson (-241) or seventh-ranked Chris McGaha (-232). Drew Skillman, who won Sunday at Texas, is still a massive 185 points back in sixth-place.

Pro Stock Motorcycle: While none of the 10 Countdown riders have been eliminated yet, it’s likely three, four or even more could be knocked out of the playoffs at Las Vegas. Hector Arana Jr., who has struggled in the Countdown, is ranked 10th (-242). Matt Smith is ninth (-223), Hector Arana is eighth (-214) and Cory Reed is seventh (-196). Even sixth-ranked LE Tonglet IV isn’t safe (-137).

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