SEATTLE — Reigning Funny Car champion J.R. Todd claims his class is the toughest in NHRA competition.
You should believe him. He has won eight races in a Top Fuel dragster and as many in a Funny Car, mastering the move to the closed-body, shorter-wheelbase Funny Car with a series title during his second season in the DHL Toyota Camry.
But Todd has experienced many other forms of motorsports.
Most recently, the drag racer visited Indianapolis Motor Speedway, where he squeezed into the cockpit of the Dreyer & Reinbold Indy car driven by his Wix-sponsored teammate Sage Karam, and Todd immediately erased his assumption that it might be akin to a Top Fuel dragster.
“They’re so laid out. Your feet are so far in front of you. It’s a tight fit,” Todd said of Karam’s office. “And they’ve got a lot going on with the steering wheel.”
Todd also rode in the two-seat Indy car with Mario Andretti behind the wheel.
“To be able to do it with Mario Andretti driving was a dream come true,” Todd explained. “Going into the corner like that, I thought, ‘No way this thing is going to stick.’ That just shows how much downforce one of these things has. It gives you a new perspective and respect for what they do going around the corner here at 220 mph. I cannot imagine that. It was a lot of fun and totally a different sensation to what us drag racers go through.
“We don’t deal with lateral Gs like that. Going into a corner, it pins your hands up against the side. It is just a different sensation. That is by far the fastest I have gone turning left,” Todd added. “Just the sensation of the G-forces you feel going into the corners. We deal with a lot of Gs going in a straight line and you aren’t going as fast as we do, but you are going fast through a corner, which means you are dealing with a different type of G-forces than we are.
“I can see why these guys need to work on their neck muscles to keep their head from moving around there. That would wear me out, going 500 miles around this place. I was trying to keep my neck straight so I could see what was going on, but it was trying to ping your head to the side of the car, which was pretty cool. It was a lot of fun and I would love to do it again.”
Todd was the epitome of cool when in 2016, he rode along with Formula Drift star Ken Gushi in his GReddy Racing Toyota at Evergreen Speedway in Monroe, Wash.
“I didn’t have anything to hang onto. I had both hands on my phone, videoing the whole time. So I was somewhat relaxed. I didn’t have time to be scared,” he said.
The skidding, tire-shredding Tilt-A-Whirl-like sprint roughly compared to a drag-racing pedalfest gone amok.
Gushi’s 870-horsepower race car was no match for Todd’s 11,000-horsepower machine. A single cylinder of the eight in Todd’s dragster produces 750 horsepower. Gushi’s car accelerates from zero to 60 mph in 3.6 seconds; Todd’s would be stopping by that time.
“It’s definitely something that you need to experience in person, kind of like drag racing,” Todd said. “It’s pretty impressive seeing these four-cylinder and six-cylinder cars the amount of horsepower they’re making and burning the tires off in a different way than what we’re used to. These things make a lot of power for what they are.
“They’re definitely out of control but in control. They’re inches away from the walls and barriers out here and going at a high rate of speed and in control,” Todd noted. “It’s a different style of burnout than I’m used to, for sure. We don’t turn on our burnouts. The only drifting I’ve ever done is in the snow in Indiana and usually it’s unintentional.”
In 2016, Todd and Kalitta Motorsports teammate Richie Crampton, in Crampton’s words, “got our helmets handed to us” in a midweek karting matchup with Rico Abreu and Matt Crafton that took place on an eighth-mile dirt track located on the Abreu family’s California property.
Powered by motorcycle engines, the outlaw karts they drove were equipped with wings and capable of speeds around 80 mph. Still, Todd said, “My arms got tired.”
Todd even learned about Global Rallycross at Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis in 2017.
Rallycross’ Alex Keyes was the tutor at the 10-turn circuit staked out in the paved lot where the Kalitta Motorsports team parks Todd’s DHL Camry during NHRA’s U.S. Nationals.
“You are shifting gears going all the way around the course,” Todd said. “It’s easy to go as fast as you can on the straightaways, but then you got to get on the brakes to get on the corners that are always coming up.”