J.R. Todd always wanted the chance, but the opportunity never presented itself. Then he became a two-time NHRA Funny Car champion, and the door opened.
On Wednesday, Todd, through his Wix Filters sponsorship, was able to slide into the cockpit of fellow Wix Filters racer Sage Karam’s Dreyer & Reinbold entry in the Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s Gasoline Alley.
“That was cool, man,” Todd said, enthusiasm present in his voice. “I’d never sat in one. They asked me the difference between driving a dragster and a funny car and how we sit in them and what have you. I’m like, ‘Well, I’m sure sitting in an Indy car is similar to how we sit in a Top Fuel Dragster.’ But no, it’s way different, man. It’s almost like you’re laying in a recliner in one of those things.”
“I don’t know if I’d have the guts to go around that place at 230 miles an hour in one of those things the way they sit. It’s pretty sketchy.”
This comment, coming from a man who routinely covers a 1000-foot race course in under four seconds at nearly 330 miles per hour, could easily make you scratch your head.
“I got asked that the other day when I was out there, being that I’m from Indiana, the biggest thing in Indiana pretty much, if racing the Indy 500 was something I was interested in,” Todd admitted. “I was well aware of it as a kid, just not something that I was ever really interested in doing.”
Todd wanted to drag race motorcycles just like his dad Mario. The Brickyard wasn’t even on his radar.
However, it was another Mario who introduced him to the Brickyard on Wednesday.
Indianapolis 500 icon Mario Andretti took Todd on a ride around the famed facility in a two-seater.
“That was awesome,” Todd said. “I did not expect a two-seater to go that fast and to have that much grip and downforce around that place. They’re like, ‘You’re going to want to let a few people go in front of you. That way the tires are warmed up, and everything’s broken in. That way, you get the full effect.”
“They weren’t wrong, man. Like getting in that thing with him, he still has it for an older guy. I mean, that’s kind of a bucket list item getting to say that you rode around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway with Mario Andretti wide open, a two-seater Indy car. They said that we were probably going 185 or 190 around there, and it definitely felt like it. That’s the fastest I’ve ever gone turning left by far.”
Running 185 miles per hour in a car that you’re a passenger in, can be frightening for a man who routinely drives one of the most dangerous types of race vehicles in the world.
“I’m pretty sure you can ask any driver, and I’d say that 99 percent of them will tell you that it’s an eerie feeling being in something that fast and you’re not in control,” Todd explained. “I would say that drivers are definitely control freaks and most of us don’t even like riding down the highway with someone else driving, let alone going 190 miles an hour around a speedway when you’re a passenger.
“It’s just a different feeling when you’re not in control of something like that, but as I said before, if I’m not going to be in control of something going that fast, it might as well be Mario Andretti. You know you’re in good hands.”
Todd may have had little interest in driving at the Brickyard as a kid, but after Wednesday’s experience, the story is much different.
“I’m a big fan of those guys and have been as a kid, you know, watching Al Unser Jr. and those guys,” Todd said. “I always thought it was way cool, just never really piqued my interest. But now being around it and sitting in one, as I would definitely like to make some laps in one. I think that would be way cool, especially after getting the ride along with Mario.”
— Competition Plus (@competitionplus) January 4, 2019