Today's win marked J.R. Todd’s first-ever Gatornationals victory and gave him a sweep of the NHRA “Grand Slam” of the four biggest races in the sport – the Winternationals, the Gatornationals, the U.S. Nationals and the NHRA Finals. He also won the 2018 Funny Car world championship. This was his 19th career NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series victory and his 10th in a Funny Car since moving to the series in 2017. He becomes just the 18th driver in history to win 10 Nitro Funny Car events.
“It was nice to put our DHL Toyota Camry in the winner’s circle,” said Todd. “Our goal every week is to show up and win. 2021 is a new year and it’s a good way to start off the season with a win here at one of the biggest races of the year. Now we need to ride that momentum as long as we can. This is one you want to check off the list when you see the schedule whether it’s the first race or the third race. It’s the first time this has ever been the first race of the season and I guess we’re the points leader until we get out west.”
Getting the Gatornationals win secured his place in history as a “Grand Slam” NHRA event winner.
“To be able to win all the majors that are on the schedule, that’s pretty awesome,” said Todd. “This is Don Garlits country. When you think of the Gatornationals you think of all the legends of the sport that have done well here. Connie (team owner Kalitta) has won this race and I lost my really good friend Eric Medlen here, so it’s a pretty special event for me. For whatever reason, I’ve always had terrible luck here in the past. It’s nice to finally turn that around for the DHL Toyota guys.”
Today’s win was the third for a Kalitta Motorsports Nitro entry in the last four Gatornationals. Richie Crampton previously won in Top Fuel in 2018 and 2019. For the 2018 Funny Car world champion this weekend and the start of the 2021 NHRA season are steps back towards normalcy that disappeared just over a year ago prior to this race.
“The crowd today looked more like a normal crowd that we’re used to seeing in Gainesville,” said Todd. “I hope this is a sign of things to come in the future so we can run all of the events on the schedule and we can get fans back in the stands because they are the ones that make this happen. I have a lot of friends from my hometown of Lawrenceburg, Indiana, that came down here and it felt great to put our DHL Toyota into the winner’s circle in front of them.”
In the first round Todd had to race Blake Alexander and the Jim Head tuned Funny Car. Todd set the tone for his day with a dominant 3.933 second run dramatically quicker than his best qualifying effort and one of the strongest runs of the first round.
In the quarterfinals Todd outran veteran driver Tim Wilkerson and set himself up with lane choice over two-time Funny Car champion Cruz Pedregon. In the quarterfinal race with Wilkerson Todd grabbed a starting line advantage and never trailed in the race posting a winning time of 3.940 seconds.
The semifinal race against Pedregon continued to show how well the DHL Toyota Camry was dialed in to track conditions and optimal performance. As the No. 6 qualifier he was facing the No. 7 qualifier in the semis and Todd took the win with a 3.970 pass.
The final round against Robert Hight was a race Gatornationals fans will be talking about for years to come. Todd took a starting line advantage but almost immediately his Goodyears overpowered the track. Luckily, Todd did not panic and right after he experienced his issue Hight also lost traction. Todd was able to gather control of his DHL Toyota Camry Funny Car and he mashed on the throttle repeatedly to get his race car to hook up and he blast to victory.
“It was a little warm and the sun was on the track and at this place, the later in the day with the sun out, the track can just get hot and nasty,” said Todd. “That was definitely the case in the final. The starting line wasn’t as good as it was early and we both blew the tires off. I thought for sure that he was going to be driving away from us. I never saw him and just rolled back onto the throttle and was able to go all the way down with it and turn on the win light. It’s pretty special to do here in Gainesville.”
It was a classic pedalfest and Todd’s skill behind the wheel was once again evident on the race track.
“My first Funny Car win came on a pedalfest at Sonoma back in 2017. We don’t get a lot of practice to do that. It just comes with seat time. It was more lucky than anything,” added Todd.
J.R. Todd on defeating Robert Hight in John Force Racing’s return to racing: “Everybody out there in Funny Car is tough, but in my opinion, Robert Hight is the best driver in the category and that team sets the benchmark for the rest of us. When you beat them in the final round, you feel like you really accomplished something.”