Reigning NHRA Funny Car Champ J.R. Todd Has 'new Respect And Perspective' For IndyCar

2018 NHRA Funny Car champion J.R. Todd, describes riding in nan IndyCar two-seater with Mario Andretti. Robert General, Indianapolis Star

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INDIANAPOLIS – J.R. Todd has new respect for IndyCar.

The 2018 NHRA Funny Car Champion experienced what it was like riding around the oval in a two-seater Indy car Wednesday morning at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Normally, Todd said, he doesn’t like being in something so fast when he’s not in control.

But to take a ride with Mario Andretti? He’ll make the exception.

“That was way cool,” Todd said of the experience. “To be able to do it with Mario Andretti, that’s like a dream come true. Going into the corners like that, you’re like ‘No way this thing is going to stick.’ That just shows how much downforce these things have.

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Reigning NHRA Funny Car champion J.R. Todd hops in the back of a two-seater Indy car with Mario Andretti. (Photo provided: Luke Fath, Kalitta Motorsports) (Photo: Luke Fath, Kalitta Motorsports)

“It gives you a new respect and perspective for what these guys go through going around 220 miles per hour. I can’t imagine that. It’s a lot of fun, just a totally different sensation compared to what us drag racers go through.”

While Todd’s run didn’t quite reach the 220-230 miles per hour that the 36 Indy 500 entrants were averaging during their second day of practice, going fast is nothing new to the 18-time drag racing winner. Todd’s career best speed, according to the NHRA website, is 332.51 miles per hour.

Still, that’s going straight on a 1,000-foot dragstrip compared to the 2.5-mile, four turn track at IMS. While the 10,000-horsepower NHRA engines he’s used to create plenty of force, he said speeding around the turns in an Indy car, which produces 550-  to 700-horsepower, is a completely different feeling.

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J.R. Todd celebrated a Funny Car win over Matt Hagen during the NHRA U.S. Nationals in 2018 at Lucas Oil Raceway. (Photo: Matt Kryger/IndyStar)

“I mean, we deal with a lot of (g-force) going in a straight line going 300-plus miles per hour,” Todd said. “They’re not going that fast around here but you’re going fast into a corner, which you’re dealing with different types of g-forces than what we are.”

After taking a few laps around the track, Todd made his way to the Dreyer & Reinbold Racing Garage on Gasoline Alley to talk with Sage Karam and JR Hildebrand.

Sitting in Karam’s No. 24 DRR WIX Filters Chevrolet, Todd got to see some of the different controls IndyCar drivers have to deal with while on the track. The two talked about the differences between their racing disciplines, such as how the clutch sits between a drag-racers legs and how aerodynamics – which is everything in an Indy car, according to Karam – isn’t as big of a deal in drag racing.

“It’s cool when you talk to guys like him and you get an insight on, more or less, what they have to go through in one single run,” Karam said. “… He got to sit in the car and he got to see what we’re looking at. It’s a bit different of a sitting position than what he’s used to and he was like, ‘Yeah, I can’t even imagine driving around that fast like this.’ But, you know, I’d probably say the same thing if I sat in his car.”

Todd is a Lawrenceburg native who grew up with a respect for IndyCar racing and watched the Indy 500. He said it was never something he personally wanted to do, however.

After learning what goes into an Indy car and experiencing the track, he hasn't changed his mind. “I’m not going to quit my day job," he said. 

After his IMS experience, Todd heads out to Richmond, Virginia, for this weekend’s NHRA Nationals. The back-to-back U.S. Nationals winner is fourth in the 2019 NHRA Funny Car National Championship Standings and recorded a win at the NHRA Four-Wide event at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Follow IndyStar sports reporter Robby General on Twitter at @rgeneraljr. 

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