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J.R. Todd takes over NHRA Top Fuel ride for team owner Connie Kalitta

Apr 3, 2014, 3:06 PM EDT

J.R. Todd has been named to replace David Grubnic in the Connie Kalitta-owned Top Fuel dragster, effective immediately. (Photo courtesy NHRA) J.R. Todd has been named to replace David Grubnic in the Connie Kalitta-owned Top Fuel dragster, effective immediately. (Photo courtesy NHRA)

Legendary former Top Fuel driver and veteran team owner/crew chief Connie Kalitta has always been somewhat of a maverick.

It’s how he’s built a very successful airline and shipping business, and also how he has run his drag racing operation for more than three decades.

But replacing your driver in the middle of a race weekend? That’s something you don’t see every day.

Kalitta, however, did just that this past weekend at Las Vegas, pulling Australian native David Grubnic out of the Optima Batteries Top Fuel dragster after the first two rounds of qualifying and replaced him with J.R. Todd.

Todd eventually lost in the second round of Sunday’s final eliminations, but it must have been enough to impress Kalitta, as the team announced Todd will remain behind the wheel going forward for the rest of this season.

The move appears to be amicable, as Grubnic, 51, will remain with the team as a technical consultant.

“We knew we were eventually going to move Grubnic into a more technical role,” Jim Oberhofer, vice president of operations for Kalitta Motorsports, said in a statement. “It just so happened that the timing was right for Connie and the team to do that now.

“We are very confident that J.R. will represent our team, Optima Batteries, and all of our sponsors to the utmost of his ability. We’re extremely excited to see what he can do driving for Kalitta Motorsports.”

Todd, 32, a resident of suburban Indianapolis, is a six-time career winner and two-time runner-up in the Top Fuel ranks. He joins new teammate Doug Kalitta, who leads the Top Fuel points standings after the first four of 24 national events this season.

Todd became the first African-American driver in NHRA history to earn a win in the Top Fuel class in 2006. His last win was in 2008.

“To say I’m excited to be a part of Kalitta Motorsports is a huge understatement,” Todd said in a press release. “Driving for Connie Kalitta is a great honor.

“Connie’s commitment to success is one of the big reasons he’s considered one of the best owners to work for. He’s been drag racing for over 50 years so I’m sure I will learn a lot from him, and hopefully drive his car to a lot of winner’s circles.”

The next NHRA national event is the fifth annual NHRA Four-Wide Nationals at zMAX Dragway in Charlotte, N.C., April 11-13.

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  1. techmeister1 - Apr 3, 2014 at 10:47 PM

    Unfortunately Connie went about this change in a very unprofessional manner. While it may have been time for Grubby to vacate the seat, it could have been handled FAR better than it was. If the Kalitta camp could every learn to stop beating themselves by over-powering the track, they’d win a lot more races. Grubby’s car has been poorly tuned for years and he’s never pointed any fingers. The best driver in the world can only do so much to compensate for poor tuning. J.R. got beat second round because he was late.

    • moezilla - Apr 4, 2014 at 7:57 AM

      Didn’t Grubnic throw away multiple rounds last season on hole shot losses? I don’t remember the actual numbers, but I think it was 4 or 5 races in a row. And when you start 2 stepping qualifying runs, it’s probably a sign that you should focus your energy on the tuning side and let a younger driver take the reins. Grubnic even admitted that fact to Mike Dunn that he was leaning towards more of a tuning role with the team.

  2. techmeister1 - Apr 4, 2014 at 4:46 PM

    Yes Grubby did get beat on some hole shots and he also did a two-step at the last race in Vegas during qualifying. That however wasn’t my point. It was probably time for Grubby to switch career hats but it’s the way that it went down that was very poor, IMO.

    My point was after all that Grubby has done for Kalitta Motorsports and their sponsors, you’d have thought Connie would have had the class to make the change in a more professionally manner such as moving Grubby to the technical consulting position and bringing J.R. Todd in before the next race, not in the middle of a race. J.R. was late and got beat second round so they didn’t achieve anything other than embarassing Grubby.

    If Connie and the crew could tune the cars better Grubby would have won a lot more races and he’ll probably still be sharp on the three. After awhile he had to get tired of tire smoking 300′ runs and just resign to the reality of the situation. He certainly isn’t going to tell Connie he eeds to learn how to tune the damn car… Even Jim O. was doing a better tuning job on Doug’s car, though they still blow the tires off it way more often then they should.

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