(Photo credit: Kalitta Motorsports) – It was announced today by Kalitta Motorsports that 32-year old JR Todd will become the full time driver of the Optima Batteries top fuel dragster for the remainder of the 2014 season, starting next weekend at zMax Dragway for the 5th annual NHRA Four Wide Nationals. This announcement comes just days after Todd drove the car for Kalitta Motorsports during the recent NHRA event in Las Vegas. Todd is a tough competitor and for his young age, a grizzled one. At the age of 18 and just a few weeks out of high school, Todd licensed with and ran a second car for team owner Bruce Litton on the IHRA circuit. Since those early days, Todd had amassed an impressive list of accomplishments garnering a half dozen NHRA top fuel Wallys and in 2006 he became the first African-American driver to win an event in the top fuel category in the history of the NHRA. He’s long been known as one of the tour’s strong leavers and now at age 32, he’s been around the snarling monsters of top fuel for nearly half of his life. The Optima Batteries top fuel car was previously driven by David Grubnic who has always been widely regarded as one of the most technically proficient drivers on the tour and his role at Kalitta Motorsports has been shifted to take advantage of that strong technical knowledge, according to the team.
Don’t look now but there is a bit of a youth movement afoot in NHRA top fuel. One peek at the entry list for the Four Wide Nationals shows that Todd finds himself among other fresh faced company in the form of Steve Torrance, Shawn Langdon, Spencey Massey, Leah Pritchett, Brittany Force, and Rich Crampton. Now that he has been named the full time driver of the Optima car for the rest of the season, Todd can get comfortable with the car, get familiar with the crew, and work closely with one of the living legends in the sport as Connie Kalitta himself is the guy who calls the tuning shots on this car. We look forward to seeing what this combo of youthful enthusiasm and hard nosed experience can bring to the table as the Kalitta Motorsports team as a whole has been surging this season already.
HERE’S THE FULL RELEASE FROM KALITTA MOTORSPORTS ANNOUNCING JR TODD AS THE NEW FULL TIME DRIVER OF THE OPTIMA BATTERIES CAR –
YPSILANTI, Mich., (April 3, 2014) – Kalitta Motorsports, one of the largest and most successful teams in NHRA (National Hot Rod Association) professional drag racing history, announced today that six-time NHRA Top Fuel event champion J.R. Todd will assume the duties of full-time driver of the Optima Batteries Top Fuel dragster beginning at the next event of the 2014 Mello Yello Drag Racing Series, the 5th Annual NHRA Four-Wide Nationals at zMAX Dragway in Charlotte, N.C., April 11-13.
Team owner, crew chief and drag racing icon Connie “the Bounty Hunter” Kalitta made the decision to change direction with his dragster by tapping Todd to drive his Top Fueler during the previous event, the 15th annual SummitRacing.com NHRA Nationals in Las Vegas.
Todd, a 32 year-old resident of Lawrenceburg, Ind., has accumulated six wins in eight final round appearances in NHRA Top Fuel competition. He began his straight-line racing career in the NHRA Jr. Drag Racing League, where he competed from 1993 until 1998. After serving as a crew member on a Nitro Funny Car team from 2003 until 2005, Todd got his chance to drive at NHRA’s highest level, Top Fuel, in 2006. He earned his first career Top Fuel trophy in 2006 in Denver to become the first African-American to win an NHRA Top Fuel race. His most recent victory in NHRA Top Fuel was in Dallas in 2008.
“To say I’m excited to be a part of Kalitta Motorsports is a huge understatement,” Todd, who most recently drove a Top Fueler for Bob Vandergriff Racing in Gainesville, Fla. last month, said. “Driving for Connie Kalitta is a great honor. Connie’s commitment to success is one of the big reasons he’s considered one of the best owners to work for. He’s been drag racing for over 50 years so I’m sure I will learn a lot from him, and hopefully drive his car to a lot of winner’s circles for Optima Batteries.”
The Optima Batteries Top Fuel dragster was previously driven by David Grubnic. Native Australian Grubnic, a 51-year old resident of Bozeman, Mont., will remain with Kalitta Motorsports as a technical consultant.
“We knew we were eventually going to move Grubnic into a more technical role,” Jim Oberhofer, vice president of operations for Kalitta Motorsports, said. “It just so happened that the timing was right for Connie and the team to do that now. We are very confident that J.R. will represent our team, Optima Batteries, and all of our sponsors to the utmost of his ability. We’re extremely excited to see what he can do driving for Kalitta Motorsports.”
Optima Batteries will remain the primary sponsor on Todd’s dragster for 19 of the 20 national events remaining in the 2014 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series.