NorCal Racing

Funny Car driver J.R. Todd looking for more ‘sweet’ success in Sonoma

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SAN FRANCISCO >> Funny cars in the National Hot Rod Association are known to sometimes spin out, but J.R. Todd had a different type of donut on his mind Thursday.

As a way of promoting the Toyota NHRA Sonoma Nationals through Sunday at Sonoma Raceway, Todd got behind the counter at Trish’s Mini Donuts at Pier 39 in San Francisco. While there he raced the restaurant employees to see who could fill orders of the donuts the quickest coming off the conveyer belt.

“Hopefully my personal trainer back in Indy doesn’t catch me doing this, but who doesn’t love donuts?” Todd said, with a big laugh. “Hopefully I can make more than what I eat in there.”

On Todd’s first chance filling his bucket, he finished at the exact same time as a Trish’s Mini Donut employee. The second time, Todd lost by a few seconds, but that didn’t stop his competitive spirit.

“Uh … tie!” said a few people in Todd’s racing crew to the tune of some good laughter of numerous fans who had stopped by the establishment to see racer.

“The goal is always to win,” said Sonoma Raceways Director of Media and Community Relations’ Jennifer Imbimbo. “He’s an athlete and he wants to win no matter what the challenge. When drivers come here we like to take them to iconic locations in San Francisco. So coming to Pier 39 we thought Trish’s Mini Donuts was the perfect way to give (Todd) a taste of San Francisco before he heads up to Sonoma later this week.”

Although Todd clearly played catch-up with the employees serving donuts, it’s been the other way around with his competitors on the racetrack at Sonoma the last few years. Todd has won the event the last two times, once with Top Fuel in 2016 and then last year with the DHL Toyota Camry Funny Car for Kalitta Motorsports. He also won his rookie year in 2006 for Top Fuel and is one of just two people to have won the race at least twice, with the other being Don Prudhomme.

“That’s pretty awesome to be compared to guys like that (Prudhomme),” Todd said. “He’s one of my heros and he’s been texting and calling me up to just check up with me, offering pointers and just busting my chops here and there. But it’s cool to be in the same category with guys like that.”

Although Todd is currently in sixth place in the Funny Car standings, a third straight win at Sonoma would be sweeter than anything glazed near Fisherman’s Wharf.

“It’s not that I necessarily drive better at one track over another, it’s just that for whatever reason, with whatever team I’ve been with, I’ve had a lot of success here at Sonoma,” Todd said. “Last year we kind of struggled at the start of the year but by the time we got here we had really hit the ground running. We ran well all weekend long and we’re hoping to be able to duplicate that success this year. We’re not showing up this year to lose. We have a lot of big-wig executives from Toyota there this weekend and we don’t want to let them down.”


Todd’s Public Relations Representative, Cody Poor, said that Todd comes into this race with a little more momentum than in past years.

“He’s coming off his first back-to-back wins, having won in Las Vegas and Houston,” Poor said. “This is a very important race as there is a lot of people from Toyota that will be there. But J.R. is a great driver and I think he’ll do well. Sonoma always does such a great job with this race and it’s an important one for J.R. because he has a lot of friends from around here that will be there.”

Todd’s win last year at Sonoma was an emotional one, as he won for his longtime friend Eric Medlen, an NHRA Funny Car driver who passed away in 2007 due to a severe head injury caused in a race.

“He had a picture of Eric in his shirt pocket when he raced,” Imbimbo said. “So that weekend he had a little extra pep in his step and had a little bit of a happy, heavy heart by being able to pull out a win for him.”

Todd is also the first African American driver to win in the Funny Car class in series history when he took first at Somoma last year. Although he quickly added that Antron Brown was the first to win a major auto racing title as the NHRA Top Fuel champion, Todd is proud of his accomplishment.

“I want what Antron has, a major championship. I’d like to chalk that off the list and that’s been my goal from day one,” Todd said. “But to be able to say what does becoming the first African American driver to win in the Funny Car class, well it means that our sport doesn’t have an adversity problem and it tells you how open it is. There are no barriers to cross.”

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