NHRA: J.R. Todd seeks more Dallas magic en route to 2nd Funny Car title


J.R. Todd may be from the Indianapolis area, but Dallas – or more precisely, Texas Motorplex in suburban Ennis, Texas, site of this weekend’s AAA Texas NHRA Nationals – has played a key role in his life, particularly the last decade.

It was back in fall 2008 at the Motorplex – when Todd was racing in Top Fuel – that he pulled off what many people still remember as one of the biggest upsets in drag racing history.

Todd came into the final round of that race vs. Tony Schumacher, who had won a record seven previous races and 10 of the previous 12, one of the greatest winning streaks in the annals of NHRA drag racing.

But Todd emerged as the upstart David to Schumacher’s Goliath at Texas, beating Schumacher to the finish line. Schumacher would rebound the next race and win the next three en route to end the season with a record 15 wins, as well as the sixth of what would be his eight career Top Fuel championships.

Here’s a replay of that outstanding race win (the Schumacher-Todd battle starts about 7:05 into the tape).

While that win was up to that point the biggest of Todd’s career, the celebratory feeling was short-lived. The team Todd was racing for at the time closed up shop five races later due to lack of sponsorship. That left Todd to bounce around through the sport as a part-time driver for the next five seasons before being picked up by team owner Connie Kalitta to drive one of his Funny Cars three races into the 2014 season. Of note, after his 2008 win at Dallas, Todd would not reach the winner’s circle again until he won at Denver in his first season driving for Kalitta.

For whatever reason, I’ve had success in the past there at that event (Dallas),” Todd told NBC Sports. “The year I won there with Morgan Lucas, that was my one and only season driving for Morgan. We just had a terrible season, I remember. We missed the Countdown, didn’t have many round wins, Schumacher came in there on a real big hot streak, much like Steve Torrence did last year.

For us to knock Tony off in the final on a hole shot, that kind of made up for having a bad season. A lot of people haven’t forgotten that one, especially the way I celebrated after I got out of the car and saluted him (Schumacher was sponsored by the U.S. Army and has had the nickname of “The Sarge”). A guy and team like that, they were unstoppable back then. For us to be able to knock them off, that was a big moment for me and my career.

But then after that, it was back to the drawing board. The funding went away from that team and I on the sideline for a bit, was just part-time with several teams just trying to keep my name out there, keep my license and keep my skills sharp. That eventually paid off when Connie Kalitta gave me the call to drive his car. In the first year in 2014, we went to the final at Dallas and we finished second in the championship.

When I was a part-time racer, I thought my best days in drag racing had come and gone because you weren’t getting the breaks you thought you should get with the bigger teams. “When I saw drivers getting driving jobs over me, I felt like I could do a better person than this person or that person.

Photo: Kalitta Motorsports

It keeps you hungry and makes you try harder. Yeah, it can be frustrating. There was a time when I thought this is it, I’m going to give it up and go find a regular 9-5 to pay the bills and what have you. I just persevered, didn’t give up and it definitely paid off in the long run and has made me appreciate times like this more than anything just because you know that this could go away at any time, so you better make the best of it and prove that you deserve to be out here in this position.”

Fast forward to last fall, again at Dallas, as Todd reached the final round but lost to Robert Hight. But that loss ultimately led to the biggest achievement ever of Todd’s career – even bigger than beating Schumacher 10 years earlier – when he went on to win the Funny Car championship two races later. That season capped off the best in Todd’s career, including a personal best of six wins.

As the NHRA moves into the second half of the six-race Countdown to the Championship this weekend when it returns to the Texas Motorplex, Todd feels confident he still can rally back to earn a second straight Funny Car title. He comes into this weekend’s race sixth in the points, 144 points behind class leader Robert Hight.

Speaking of the Countdown, Todd has been on a roll. Even though he started this year’s Countdown in eighth place, he has come back, climbing to fifth two weeks ago before falling back to sixth after this past weekend’s race at Charlotte. It’s not surprising, since Todd — prior to Charlotte — either won, finished runner-up or advanced to the semifinals in the previous eight playoff races, dating back to the start of last year’s Countdown.

J.R. Todd 2018-2019 Countdown Results

Reading – Won
St. Louis – Semis
Dallas – Finals
Charlotte – Finals
Las Vegas – Won
Pomona – Won
Reading – Semis
St. Louis – Finals
Charlotte – Lost in first round; lost traction at starting line.

If there’s some secret or magic to it, I’m not going to reveal what it is,” Todd said with a hearty laugh. “It shows what kind of team I have behind me. (Co-crew chiefs) Todd Smith and Jon Oberhofer do a great job and never get down and out. They have a lot of fun at what they do but at the same time are extremely serious about it and rise to the occasion. They make my job a lot easier than what it actually it is.

It’s a lot of fun to drive that hot rod. We’re going to tracks in the Countdown where that car has run good at in the past. … We want to keep that No. 1 on the side, that way the vinyl guy (who applies the No. 1 sticker to the car) doesn’t have a lot of work to do in the off-season (meaning the ‘vinyl guy’ won’t have to change numbers on Todd’s car).”

While things went Todd’s way more often than not en route to last year’s championship, this season has been a struggle at times. He has earned just one win (Las Vegas in spring) and has three other runner-up finishes.

I feel like we haven’t been living up to our standards that we set for ourselves,” Todd said. “We have the No. 1 on the side of the car so you’re expected to go out and perform at a high level and win races, and we just haven’t done that.

We started off the year fairly well, went to the final at Phoenix and won in Las Vegas in the 4-Wide, and then in summer we just struggled and fell in the points. To start off the Countdown in the eighth spot is tough; you want to be close to the top-5, that way you’re not that far behind the leader when the points are reset.

But once the U.S. Nationals came around, I feel like the performance of the car came around. We’re still not as consistent as we’d like to be, but we’re going more to the later rounds and that’s key in trying to make a run to the championship. We’ve made a move in the points and we just need to keep going to those later rounds and keep pace with the leaders.”

Todd knows there are a lot of eyeballs upon him, wondering whether he can win two championships in a row. Plus, Hight is once again having a strong season (he has led in the points most of the year), legendary John Force is enjoying a rejuvenated season (he’s third in the points, just 79 points behind Hight), and others like “Fast Jack” Beckman (second), Ron Capps (fourth), Matt Hagan (seventh), Tommy Johnson Jr. (eighth) and Shawn Langdon (ninth) are others standing in Todd’s way of repeating as champion.

Kalitta Motorsports team owner Connie Kalitta with J.R. Todd. Photo: Gary Nastase/Auto Imagery.

It’s just hard to win, period,” Todd said. “All these events are tough and I feel the Funny Car category gets harder each year. Top to bottom, there’s 10 cars that can go out and win any given race. I feel the top five right now will battle it out for the championship, and even the top eight have a shot at it, really. It gets harder every year. What we did last year would be hard to repeat, going to five of the six finals. It definitely been harder this year because the competition has risen to the challenge and I think it will come down to more than one or two drivers at Pomona (season-ending race in mid-November) battling for the championship.”

Todd has had this weekend’s race at Dallas circled on his calendar all season. He remembers what happened in last year’s race very clearly – but also that it was the linchpin that led to his championship.

Last year (at Dallas), we got beat by Robert (Hight) in the final but we kept pace with the points and after that, that’s when we started making up a lot of ground of him,” Todd said. “That was a pivotal race in the championship.”

Could the championship battle once again come down to the final round of the final race, particularly since competitors at Pomona will earn 1.5 times more points per run (like at the U.S. Nationals) than in most other races?

It very well could,” Todd said. “I think it will come down to more than one or two drivers in Pomona. Plus points-and-a-half always make it interesting. It’s going to be hard for somebody to wrap it up early. The competition is way too stout for that to happen. I think there’s going to be as many as three or four in the mix battling it out and hope we’re one of those to come out on top.”

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Jett Lawrence wins Hangtown Pro Motocross, remains perfect in 450s

Lawrence Hangtown Motocross
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Jett Lawrence remains perfect in the Pro Motocross series after recording another perfect round at Hangtown in Rancho Cordova, California. In his second start on a 450, Lawrence won his second National with his fourth consecutive moto win. It is getting increasingly difficult to find the right superlatives to describe the exploits on the reigning 250 West Supercross champion.

“The track was so brutal out there,” Lawrence told NBC Sports Jason Thomas. “The bike handles amazing even when it’s not too friendly. You had to be really patient; you couldn’t take too much. I didn’t eat enough before that second moto. I kind of lost energy halfway through, but luckily I could use technique and balance and just keep that flow going.”

Lawrence leaves Hangtown with an 18-point advantage over Ferrandis in the 450 Motocross standings, but perhaps more importantly, he climbed to 19th in the SuperMotocross standings and should he stay there, he has an automatic invitation to the Main events in the SMX Championship.

“On this track, you just have to manage,” Lawrence continued. “If you try to take too much and not respect the track, it will bite you very quickly. It was humbling on the first few laps. I got kicked on the cutout at the start of the third section, the tabletop going to the left. I had to get my focus because the boys were coming.”

Still in his first few races since returning from a concussion suffered at Houston in the Supercross series, Dylan Ferrandis finished second with results of third in Moto 1 and second in Moto 2. While Ferrandis was happy with the result, he remains hopeful that he will contend for victory shortly.

“The first moto was very hard for my physically, Ferrandis said. “I got arm pump and when you get arm pump your body gets tired. But I’m very happy because we made a big change for the second moto. We tried stuff every session today and in the last moto the bike was much better, but unfortunately I wasn’t sure what I could do with this bike because the track was very hard and difficult to pass.”

RESULTS: How they finished in the 450 Overall at Hangtown

With the rash of injuries at the end of the Supercross season, the podium was filled with heartwarming stories. Cooper Webb returned to action last week in Pala and failed to make the podium. He is steadily improving with a third-place finish in Hangtown. after finishing with a 4-2.

“It’s incredible what seven days can do,” Webb said. “Last week I felt like I was going to get lapped in the second moto. This week, I could see the leader. It was nice. I fought hard, learned how to suffer again there and that felt nice.

Moto 2 wasn’t pretty for Lawrence. On several occasions in the opening laps, he nearly high sided as he rode the front wheel through the ruts. The reward was worth the risk. By the halfway point, Lawrence had 4.5-second lead over Webb, who was embroiled in a tight three-rider battle for second with his teammate Aaron Plessinger pressuring him and Ferrandis ready to take advantage if those made contact.

It took 20 minutes for Plessinger to get around Webb and once he did, he trailed Lawrence by four seconds. But then, with three minutes remaining, Plessinger crashed and had difficulty restarting the bike, handing second back to Webb who has seven seconds behind Lawrence. Plessinger fell to fourth with results of third and sixth.

Adam Cianciarulo rounded out the top five with a 5-4.

Last week Hunter Lawrence won the overall with a 3-1. He repeated that feat in Hangtown in an exact replica of his Fox Raceway results last week. In Moto 1, Lawrence got off to a slow start and lost 10 seconds in the opening laps. Forced to overcome a sixth-place position in the race at the end of Lap 1, he once again caught the riders ahead of him when the field hit heavy traffic. For the second week, scored another 3-1 for the Hangtown National win.

“The start was crucial’ I knew I had to go,” Lawrence told NBC Sports’ Jason Thomas. “They laid a lot of water down, so I didn’t want to be behind any longer than [I was]. First hot one of the year, was a bit of a wakeup call, so I’m happy to get out of here safe and healthy.”

Lawrence’s third-place finish in Moto 1 featured a fierce battle for final spot on the podium when he caught Spain’s Guillem Farres and France’s Tom Vialle. With Lawrence hailing from Australia, the international nature of the sport was highlighted.

Lawrence left Hangtown with a 10-point advantage over Haiden Deegan in the Pro Motocross championship battle.

Click here for 250 overall results

Justin Cooper finished second in both motos to finish second overall. Hangtown represented a huge improvement from Fox Raceway where he finished fifth overall with a 5-4 finish in the two motos. Cooper pressured Haiden Deegan in the second half of Moto 1 and he earned the holeshot in the second moto and stayed within three seconds of Lawrence in that race.

“He was following me a little bit, checking out my lines, seeing where he was better,” Cooper said. “It’s disappointing to give up the lead like that but it was way better than last weekend. I will definitely take two seconds. I want to be on the top of the step. I feel like I get close to the top step but I never get it done. That’s building up the frustration – the fire. I really want to get one of these wins, so it’s time to start digging.”

Haiden Deegan earned the first holeshot of his career in Moto 1 and rode away from the field, building a four-second lead in the opening laps. Cooper trimmed the lead at the halfway point and for a while it leveled off at two seconds. Then Cooper made another charge with three to go and closed to within a second. Deegan was biding his time, however.

“I was saving a little. I knew at the end Justin was going to try and put a charge on. I let him get up close and then sent it super hard at the end to break him a little at the end.”

Deegan’s first moto win comes in only his fourth National and he remains perfect in regard to podiums this year.

“This was a dream since I was a little kid, to win,” Deegan said. “And in my fourth race, it’s gnarly. I was just sending it. I was getting a little tired at the end becasue I left my mouth open the whole time. It’s unreal; I’m so hyped. I wanted to win bad and I proved it to you guys.”

Chaos erupted in turn 1 in Moto 2 Jeremy Martin went and another rider ran over his arm. Michael Mosiman crashed further down the track on that same lap. Both riders were helped off course by the Alpinestars Medical team.

2023 Motocross Race Recaps

Fox Raceway: Jett Lawrence wins in first 450 start

2023 Supercross Race Recaps

Salt Lake City: Chase Sexton ends the season with win
Denver: Chase Sexton wins, takes points’ lead with Eli Tomac injury
Nashville: Chase Sexton keeps hope alive; Cooper Webb out
New Jersey: Justin Barcia wins muddy race; first in two years
Atlanta: Chase Sexton is back in the championship picture
Glendale: Eli Tomac wins 51st, breaks tie with James Stewart
Seattle: Eli Tomac wins and ties Webb for first
Detroit: Chase Sexton inherits win after Aaron Plessinger falls
Indianapolis: Ken Roczen gets first win in more than a year
Daytona: Eli Tomac extends Daytona record with seventh win
Arlington: Cooper Webb wins for second time, closes to two of Tomac
Oakland: Eli Tomac ties Ricky Carmichael with 48 wins
Tampa: Cooper Webb gets first 2023 win
Houston: Eli Tomac bounces back from A2 crash to win third race of 2023
Anaheim 2: Triple Crown produces new winners Chase Sexton, Levi Kitchen
San Diego: Eli Tomac, Jett Lawrence double down
Anaheim 1: Eli Tomac wins opener for the first time

More SuperMotocross coverage

Chase Sexton is out for Hangtown
Enzo Lopes re-signs with Club MX for 2024
Record Supercross attendance reported in 2023
SuperMotocross Power Rankings after Pala
Results and points after Pala
Jett Lawrence wins Pala in his first MX start
450 Champion Chase Sexton takes back what he gave away
250 West Supercross champion Jett Lawrence ends dream career
250 East Supercross champion Hunter Lawrence overcomes doubt and injury