Time after time, J.R. Todd watched Funny Car’s version of Groundhog Day in 2020. Despite putting up a valiant effort, the former world champ couldn’t stop DSR’s run of dominance in the class.
But it’s made Todd bound and determined to make sure it stops in 2021.
DSR was perfect in 2020 and has won 14 straight races in the class, dating back to the final three races of 2019. It’s been a remarkable and history-making stretch, keeping the team undefeated in Funny Car for what will be nearly 18 months when the 2021 season begins in mid-March in Gainesville. But as far as Todd sees it, he doesn’t want to see that streak last any longer.
“The Schumacher cars have won every race going back to 2019, so we need to step up. They have set the bar high and I think we know what we need to do to chase them down,” Todd said. “We want to work hard in testing and be a contender from the get go. Since I made the switch to Funny Car it seems like we have been slow starters early in the year and we just need to work on that. We want to get back in the winner’s circle sooner rather than later.
“I am hoping that once 2021 gets started we can go test once or twice before the first race in March. Then we can be even more prepared as a driver and team to get into a rhythm.”
Todd and his Kalitta Motorsports team had a solid season, but he never found his way to the winner’s circle, often bearing the brunt of DSR’s remarkable string of wins.
Of his 11 losses in 2020, nine came against either Matt Hagan, Tommy Johnson Jr., Jack Beckman or Ron Capps. That included back-to-back final rounds at Indy, most notably at the U.S. Nationals when Todd lost to Beckman.
Todd seethed after that loss, as Beckman double-bulbed him – unintentionally – but it seemed up his frustrations. He never got past the second round after that point, running well, but not good enough.
It left Todd with mixed emotions as well. He praised team owner Connie Kalitta for keeping things going during the unprecedented nature of the 2020 campaign, as the entire Kalitta organization returned in full force following nearly five months off due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
So while he was frustrated in not getting over the DSR hump in 2020, Todd remained thankful to race the full 11-race season.
“We made up some ground during the four races in Indy and then we just fell off again,” Todd said. “We didn’t live up to our own expectations. (But) at the end of the day I am just glad (team owner) Connie (Kalitta) was able to keep our team going and let us go race. This season definitely made me appreciate running more races and not complain about certain things.”
Todd, though, won’t be content with just a good season in 2021. He’s aiming for a great year, one that would include wins and competing for a championship.
NHRA released a 23-race schedule for next year, though it remains a fluid situation considering the ongoing nature of the public health crisis. Some things may change – especially early in the year – but Todd is preparing for a full year.
That means he’s already been hard at work to prep for next season, driven to end DSR’s string and put together a memorable year of his own. The season may not start for more than three months, but that simply leaves Todd with more time to work.
“That is something I have already talked about with my trainers at PitFit. With this much time off there is really no excuse for me to not be in better shape when you go to that first event. My goal is to go to the gym as much as possible to work on getting better physically and mentally,” Todd said.
“As a driver I want to be the best in the class so that means I want to work on my reaction times and getting more comfortable in the car. We are going to make some changes over the off-season to help get me more comfortable. Our overall goal is to contend for that Camping World Funny Car championship.”