One is a legendary racer and businessman, a bit world weary and rough around the edges, who was portrayed by Beau Bridges in a movie. The other is an enthusiastic journeyman racer whose career started fast, then sputtered.
Together, Connie Kalitta and J.R. Todd are the Felix and Oscar of drag racing.
Kalitta, the 76-year-old Hall of Famer who won 10 events in his career, hired Todd in April to take over one of Kalitta Motorsports’ Top Fuel cars. Despite missing the first two events of the season, Todd, a 33-year-old who was drag racing’s top rookie in 2006, made a run at the championship, eventually finishing second behind Tony Schumacher.
With Kalitta tuning the car and Todd driving it, the two are expected to contend again for the championship when the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing season opens this weekend with the 55th annual Circle K NHRA Winternationals at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona, Calif.
Theirs is an unlikely story of friendship, rejuvenation and success.
“When I first got the job, everybody on the team was joking about how it was like Connie had a new girlfriend,” Todd told USA TODAY Sports. “They were saying they hadn’t seen him this happy in a long time. He’s definitely enthused about it, and he’s the one calling the shots.”
Todd broke into drag racing in a large way. He won at Denver in 2006, becoming the first African-American to win in Top Fuel. He added wins at Sonoma, Calif., and Reading, Pa., finished eighth in the final standings and was named the top rookie in Top Fuel. After 2009, though, his career stalled. Until Kalitta called in April, that is.
Immediately, things changed for Todd and his new boss. Read More at USA Today