MADISON, IL – September 12, 2018 – (Motor Sports Newswire) – Still riding the wave of excitement after winning the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals for a second straight year, J.R. Todd is ready to use that momentum in his quest for his first NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Funny Car world title. To do so, he’ll have to replicate his Indy performance throughout the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship, including a stop at Gateway Motorsports Park for the AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals, Sept. 21-23.
It is the second of six NHRA playoff races and Todd, the former Top Fuel standout who is now in his second year driving the 10,000-horsepower DHL Toyota Camry Funny Car, will begin the hunt for a championship in fifth place. It’s better than the eighth he started from in his debut Funny Car season a year ago, giving the talented driver confidence a title run is possible.
“Our performance is right there with the top teams and I feel like as long as I drive like I did in Indy, that’s going to help us,” Todd said. “Our confidence is really high for these next six races. Having the consistency come around is extremely important and we went down the track almost every time in Indy. We’re hoping to keep that momentum going heading into the Countdown.”
Steve Torrence (Top Fuel), Ron Capps (Funny Car), Greg Anderson (Pro Stock), and LE Tonglet (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were last year’s winners of the event that will be televised on FOX Sports 1, including live final eliminations coverage starting at 2:00 p.m. (ET) on Sunday, Sept. 23. The second of six races in the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship is also the 20th of 24 events during a 2018 season where Todd may be peaking at the perfect time.
After starting the year strong, picking up back-to-back wins early in the season, Todd and his team, led by crew chief Jon Oberhofer and co-crew chief Todd Smith, didn’t pick up another win until Indy. As frustrating as that was, Todd was impressed with how his team handled it, continuing to push forward. The payoff was a semifinal appearance in Brainerd and then qualifying No. 1 in Indy en route to the victory, giving Todd supreme confidence in his team for the playoffs.
“A month or so ago, we weren’t doubting ourselves, but we were not as confident as we are now, said Todd, who has 14 career victories, five of which have come in Funny Car. “I feel like this is my best opportunity yet to win a championship. This DHL team, they won (the title) with Del (Worsham) in 2015, and they know what it takes. The ups and downs of the season showed the character of this team, and they just keep digging and never give up. I keep telling everybody I don’t think we’ve peaked yet. Hopefully we’re on the rise. These guys know how to win.”
But Todd also knows he’s competing against a loaded Funny Car field in the Countdown to the Championship, including Kalitta Racing teammate Shawn Langdon, who made his Funny Car debut this year. Other playoff contenders include points leader Courtney Force, defending world champ Robert Hight, defending event winner and 2016 world champ Capps, Jack Beckman, John Force, Matt Hagan, Tommy Johnson Jr. and Tim Wilkerson. It’s a talented field, which puts extra importance at doing well early in the playoffs, including the stop at St. Louis.
“You don’t want to dig yourself a hole and lose early in the first couple races,” Todd said. “You can only allow yourself one bad race. This team won at St. Louis in 2015, so that’s an added bonus, and if the conditions are right it can be very fast. I love going there, so hopefully we qualify well, and gain as many bonus points as we can and then do our best to try to win the race.”
Top Fuel points leader Torrence is after his first world title against a strong lineup that includes Clay Millican, defending world champ Brittany Force and Tony Schumacher.
Anderson starts the Countdown to the Championship second in points in Pro Stock, and will look to track down points leader Tanner Gray, who has five wins in 2018.
LE Tonglet’s Indy win gives him momentum in Pro Stock Motorcycle as he tries to keep pace with points leader and defending world champ Eddie Krawiec and Andrew Hines.
The AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals will also feature thrilling competition in the E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series presented by J&A Service, which will have its 10th of 12 races, as well as the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series, showcasing the future stars of the sport.
Those in attendance will also have the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to interact with a few of the most renowned names in drag racing during the NHRA Legends Tour. This will feature meet-and-greets, autograph sessions, and a variety of other activities. The legends scheduled to attend the AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals include Shirley Muldowney.
As always, fans can interact with their favorite drivers as they’re granted an exclusive pit pass to the most powerful and sensory-filled motorsports attraction on the planet. This unique opportunity gives fans direct access to the teams, allowing them to see firsthand the highly-skilled mechanics service their hot rods between rounds, and get autographs from their favorite NHRA drivers.
Fans also will want to visit NHRA’s popular Nitro Alley and Manufacturers Midway, where sponsors and race vendors create a carnival atmosphere, with interactive displays, simulated competitions, merchandise, food and fun for the entire family.
Mello Yello Drag Racing Series qualifying will feature two rounds at 4:00 and 6:15 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 21, and the final two rounds of qualifying on Saturday, Sept. 22, at 2:15 and 5:00 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sunday, Sept. 23.
To purchase general-admission or reserved seats, call (618) 215-8888. Tickets also are available online at www.gatewaymsp.com. Kids 12 and under are free in general admission areas with a paid adult. To honor the Salute to First Responders, military and first responders can save 20 percent on general admission tickets at the gate. For more info about NHRA visit www.NHRA.com.
Headquartered in Glendora, Calif., NHRA is the primary sanctioning body for the sport of drag racing in the United States. NHRA presents 24 national events featuring the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series, NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series, and E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series presented by J&A Service. NHRA provides competition opportunities for drivers of all levels in the NHRA Summit Racing Series and the NHRA Drags: Street Legal Style presented by AAA. NHRA also offers NHRA Jr. Street program for teens and the Summit Racing Jr. Drag Racing League for youth ages 5 to 17. In addition, NHRA owns and operates four racing facilities: Atlanta Dragway in Georgia; Gainesville Raceway in Florida; Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis; and Auto Club Raceway at Pomona in Southern California. For more information, log on to NHRA.com, or visit the official NHRA pages on Facebook, YouTube and Twitter.
Source: National Hot Rod Association