Gainesville, Florida. — J.R. Todd’s win at the season opener at the Gators ended the NHRA’s longest win streak for a Giant and ruined the much-vaunted return of another.
Todd defeated Robert Hite in the Funny Car feature at Gainesville Raceway, crossing the finish line first after both drivers experienced traction issues on the hot and slippery track. Hite wanted John Force Racing to make a dramatic return to drag racing after the team had to sit out most of last year due to the coronavirus pandemic.
But it was Todd who celebrated with a Wally trophy in one hand and a bottle of champagne in the other. Todd opened a can of beer during his pit stop while reminiscing about one of the biggest wins of his career at the track where his longtime friend Eric Medlen died in 2007. Todd has already won three of the four major NHRA tournaments: U.S. Nationals, Winter Competition and NHRA Finals.
Winning all the remaining major championships on the schedule is pretty unusual, Todd said.
Sunday’s win at the Gatornationals was J.R. Todd’s tenth. A Funny Car victory, making him the 18th person to do so. The driver should reach double figures in this class. Will Lester/Icon Sportswire
By the time Todd and his Kalitta Motorsports team had reached the Funny Car final, Don Schumacher had already started packing up. The strong team has already won 14 Funny Car races in a row, the longest streak in NHRA history.
Schumacher was forced to downsize his four-man team this season and say goodbye to Tommy Johnson Jr. and Jack Beckman, the 2012 champion, because of sponsorship problems. Defending champion Matt Hagan and #1 qualifier Ron Capps have been selected to try and extend the series. Bob Tasca eliminated them both in the elimination rounds on Sunday, clearing the way for Todd.
We’re tired of them beating us last year, but 2021 is a new year, Todd said. It’s a great way to start the season with a win in one of the biggest races of the year.
Last week, Todd raised eyebrows by saying there would be no asterisk if he won this year.
It’s not about eliminating the competition, because DSR came clean last year, he said. But we didn’t have a full program and there were no Force machines.
Things get tough in the Funny Car, but in my opinion Robert Hite is the best driver in this class, and these teams set the bar for the rest. When they compete here and you beat them in the final, you feel like, A, that’s something.
It was Todd’s 10th birthday. A Funny Car victory, making him the 18th to win by double digits in this class. This one looked like his first in 2017, when he won the Spinfest in Sonoma, Calif.
I was sure he was going to leave me, Todd said. I’ve never seen it. I just accelerated again and went down with him and lit the victory light. It’s pretty special here in Gainesville.
Josh Hart, who lives near Ocala, was the surprise winner in Top Fuel. The owner/driver defeated Shawn Langdon to win the first national series. Greg Anderson won on his 60th birthday. Matt Smith won the Pro Stock motorcycle class.
Last year, Hart made his Top Fuel debut with Bob Vandergriff Racing. But after the pandemic, Vandergriff and Hart decided it would be best if Hart owned his team.
Obviously, it won’t always be that easy, Hart said.