With a year under his belt in NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Funny Car competition, J.R. Todd can look back and note when he found his comfortable spot driving a car that, until the start of last season, was pretty much uncharted territory. Todd, a standout in Top Fuel racing, was asked to change horses in 2017, moving from his Kalitta Motorsports’ SealFast dragster to the recently vacated DHL Toyota Camry, formerly driven by 2015 champ Del Worsham.
Now entering his second season driving a closed nitro-powered car, Todd is definitely “more comfortable inside the car. This time last year I was pretty nervous, because I didn’t know what to expect and I was just learning every run down the track.” While he admits he’s still on a learning curve, “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…”
A man who’s comfortable in most any type of racecar, not only NHRA drag racing vehicles, Todd understands the most important thing is consistency when you’re strapped into a racecar, whether it’s a dragster, Funny Car, sprint car or sports car. You just have to be consistent. “We started [last] season slow, came around during the summer but went back into a slump in the [six-race playoff] Countdown. We found a lot of things wrong with the car mechanically in the off-season and we think we’ve adjusted those issues,” he said.
Todd’s crew chief Jon Oberhofer feels his driver has a better opportunity to succeed this year, now that he has a better understanding of his DHL Camry. “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 (Sonoma and the U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis). We just need to give him as good a car as we can in 2018,” Oberhofer said.
With that period of adjustment behind him, Todd takes on the added chore this year of helping his friend and teammate, Shawn Langdon, make the same adjustments he did last year, as the 2013 Top Fuel champion, too, moves from an open-wheel Top Fuel car to a Toyota Camry Funny Car. Langdon had his first taste of the Funny Car when he earned his license at Las Vegas the day after the season’s penultimate race, driving Worsham’s family-run Camry. “I’m making some small leaps in the learning process just going down the track in testing,” Langdon noted as he ran test laps on Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park’s dragstrip.
“JR.’s been very instrumental in my early learning process of these cars,” Langdon noted, “explaining a lot of the things that he went through and just the [different] characteristics of the car. He’s helped me get through steps 1, 2 and 3 of the learning process of what to expect. We’ve been sharing a lot of information through testing; it’s going to be a good fit for us both.”
Todd added, “We just bounce ideas off each other. He’s a world champ and he knows it’s going to take some time to figure this thing out, but he’s already doing a great job in testing. Our goal is just to help each other out. We want to see each other win and make ourselves better than the opposition.” Todd has known Langdon since the latter was a pre-teen (12) and he’d just become a teenager, both participating at a junior dragster national championship event in Colorado. “It’s cool to see how we’ve progressed through the years to get to this point.”
Langdon’s crew chief, Tommy DeLago, noted, “Shawn may be new to Funny Car but he’s not new to driving a Fuel car – and not really new to driving any drag racing car. He’s ultra-competitive and anything with four wheels, he can drive the hell out of. Right now it’s just a little acclimation for him to get used to having a body around him. It’s a little bit tighter space than in the dragster.”
In 2017, Langdon finished seventh in a Kalitta Global Electronic Technology dragster; Todd earned a ninth place season-long result in the DHL Camry. In Friday’s pre-season testing outside Phoenix, Langdon and Todd were eighth and ninth, respectively. Testing continues at that track again on Saturday.