NHRA’s Funny Car Countdown to the Championship playoffs have been a true roller coaster. When the six-race combat began, John Force Racing’s Courtney Force led the 10-car flopper field. Then her brother-in-law, reigning champ Robert Hight took over.
After the fifth race, it’s now Kalitta Motorsport’s J.R. Todd atop the standings, thanks to his victory at Las Vegas and his overwhelming consistency throughout this six-race playoffs. Now owning five victories on the year and two runner-up slots, Todd and his “Yella Fellas” hold a 74-point advantage on Hight, who has four victories during this 24-race season, while perennial championship candidate Ron Capps in third, with three wins in his Dodge Charger R/T and 165 points back.
It’s anyone’s game among those three, although Tim Wilkerson (Ford Shelby Mustang) is only 21 points behind Capps and could take over third if the 2016 titleholder falters. Todd and Hight have split wins at two each in this five-race slog, with Capps taking victory at zMAX Dragway. As good as Hight’s been, Todd’s been equally effective going rounds, something Hight was unable to accomplish last weekend.
As Hight came into the Las Vegas race, he was hounded by the DHL Toyota Camry, which slid into the race just six points behind his Chevrolet Camaro SS. Going out in the first round, he left the door open for Todd, Capps and Wilkerson, who fell to race runner-up Matt Hagan’s Dodge Hellcat SRT in Round 1.
J.R. Todd’s been knocking on championship doors in both Funny Car and Top Fuel his entire career. A true racer, he’s able to succeed in any sort of drag racing car and has the talents to make a mark in other forms of motorsports. (At the special race held shortly after the death of his best friend, Eric Medlen, a mini-sprint contest, Todd was the winner.)
The Kalitta team Todd drives for has experience winning Funny Car championships. Co-crew chief Jon Oberhofer did the deal with Del Worsham in 2015 driving the DHL Camry. Todd Smith, co-crew chief was Jack Beckman’s tuner when that driver won his Funny Car championship in 2012 at Don Schumacher Racing. These guys know how to win and are guiding Todd to that promised land.
The DHL team appeared to get serious about winning this title at Indy, the final race of an 18-event “regular season”, when Oberhofer and Smith “felt like they needed to get aggressive with the tune-up.” This aggression began at Brainerd, followed through with their win at Indy and hasn’t let up. “It’s really about being consistent,” Todd said. “We’re racing smart, not overthinking or overdoing things.”
The ebullient Todd would rather have that 74-point advantage as the tour heads to Auto Club Raceway at Pomona next weekend, where points-and-a-half are on offer . “We still have some unfinished business at Pomona. Hopefully we can go there and come out with two trophies,” he said.
Todd’s comfort in the car is certain. Even with a fuel issue that set the team back on Friday at Las Vegas, the entire Kalitta squad pitched in to get their title contender back on-track. As he preps for the season closer next weekend, Todd now owns seven Funny Car victories and nine national event wins in Top Fuel. His versatility is unquestioned; his dedication is common knowledge.
Will J.R. Todd bring home a pair of trophies for team owner Connie Kalitta, backing up Worsham’s accomplishment three years later? After winning both Las Vegas races, going to four finals in five Countdown races, “We just need to keep doing what we’re doing.”
For those still in Vegas for SEMA, this could be a fine bet.