NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Top Fuel standout J.R. Todd finished his 2014 season by racing in Pomona. He will start the 2015 season back at the historic drag racing venue in Southern California with the Circle K NHRA Winternationals, Feb. 5-8, at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona.
For a driver who jumped into an ideal role with Kalitta Motorsports a year ago and will spend 2015 driving full time for the first time since 2008, that is a big deal. Todd is well aware of that, which has him as excited to start this season as any in his career.
“Competing in all 24 events is something that I have been looking forward to for a very long time now,” said Todd, who finished second in Top Fuel in 2014 despite missing the first two events of the season. “There was definitely a period where I wasn’t sure if I would ever get a shot at competing full time again. Now that I have the opportunity, I feel like I need to do everything possible to make myself a better driver and prove that I deserve to be out there competing with the best in our sport.”
Khalid alBalooshi (Top Fuel), John Force (Funny Car), and Jason Line (Pro Stock) were last year’s winners of the NHRA’s annual season-opening race that will once again be televised nationally on ESPN2.
Todd also has the added incentive of carrying over his hot finish from a year ago into the 2015 season. He was named driver of Kalitta Motorsports team’s second Top Fuel dragster at the fourth race a season ago and took full advantage of the opportunity.
He won in Denver — Todd’s first victory since 2008 — and despite the later start qualified for the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship. Todd appeared even more comfortable in the seat of the 10,000-horsepower Red Line Oil/Kalitta Air Top Fuel dragster in crunch time.
He posted two final-round appearances in the NHRA’s six-race playoffs, finishing only behind reigning world champion Tony Schumacher. To call the season a success, especially considering Todd didn’t even expect to be driving on a regular basis, would be a massive understatement.
“I feel confident that our team can be a threat to win every week with the way we finished the season,” Todd said. “I still have improvements to make inside the car, and I think that when me and the car are on the same page, that we can have a lot of success this season. Hopefully we can carry the momentum we had in the Countdown on into the 2015 season.”
Everything appears to be lining up that way. The four-car Kalitta Motorsports team, which includes veteran Top Fuel standout Doug Kalitta, remains intact and with the same strong personnel it had a year ago. While Todd had to learn and adjust on the fly in 2014, doing so in impressive fashion, that comfort level should be greatly increased in 2015.
“I am so proud to be a part of this Kalitta Motorsports group,” Todd said. “All four teams ran extremely well last year, and there is no reason that all four will not improve on our 2014 results. Each team has every crewmember coming back for 2015, which says a lot for how great of a place it is to work at Kalitta Motorsports.”
Getting to start the season racing at the historic Circle K NHRA Winternationals in Pomona should give Todd an added boost as well. He will face an ultra-talented field that includes the likes of Schumacher, Kalitta, former world champions Shawn Langdon, Larry Dixon, and Antron Brown, as well top challengers Spencer Massey, 2014 NHRA rookie of the year Richie Crampton, and class newcomer Dave Connolly.
“Anytime you get to race Pomona it’s exciting,” said Todd, who also posted three No. 1 qualifiers in 2014. “The Winternationals is one of my favorite races, and I cannot wait to kick off the season there. To win there definitely sets the tone for the season. Everybody gets excited for that event to see all of the new looks, and for us here in the Midwest, it’s nice to see some sunshine and warm weather.”
In Funny Car, Virginia cattle rancher Matt Hagan claimed his second world championship at the season-ending race last season, dethroning 16-time world champion John Force in Pomona. Hagan, who won his first championship in 2011, will try to thwart off a list of perennial stars in the loaded class, including John Force, Courtney Force, Ron Capps, Jack Beckman, Cruz Pedregon, Tommy Johnson Jr., Alexis DeJoria, Del Worsham, and Tim Wilkerson.
In Pro Stock, Erica Enders-Stevens reigned supreme in one of the most exciting championship battles ever, defeating Jason Line in a winner-take-all final side-by-side race of the year to claim her first world championship. Enders-Stevens, who became the first female Pro Stock world champion, will be looking to add to her 12 career victories but will face stiff challenges from the likes of Line, Allen Johnson, Shane Gray, Greg Anderson, Jonathan Gray, and Vincent Nobile.
As always, fans will have the opportunity to 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 in motorsports gives fans direct access to the teams, allowing them to see firsthand the highly-skilled mechanics service their hot rods between rounds, and enjoy some cherished face time 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.
The event will also feature thrilling competition in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series.
NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series qualifying begins Friday, Feb. 6, with sessions at 12:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. The final two qualifying sessions will take place Saturday, Feb. 7, at 12:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sunday, Feb. 8.