Jack Todd - Crazy Like a Fox

By Jim Luikens

Jack Todd attended his first drag just six years ago when IHRA funny car racer Terry McMillen invited him to tag along to the World Nationals, the biggest event on IHRA’s annual schedule. That experience left Jack overwhelmed and, from that moment on, he was hooked on IHRA drag racing. This is the story of 71-year-old Jack Todd who was bitten by the drag racing bug a little later in life than most enthusiasts and, probably, all participants.

As a youngster Jack used to enjoy going to the Indianapolis 500 time trials with his father. He chose A. J. Foyt as his hero and Jack is proud to have attended every Indy 500 that A. J. competed in until his retirement from driving. That was the extent of Jack’s motorsports involvement, other than watching an occasional race on TV, until the fateful day when he crossed paths with Terry McMillen.

Jack got his first taste of drag racing up close and personal when Terry invited Jack to accompany him to a test session with Terry’s funny car. The sights, sounds and smells of that day piqued Jack’s interest. By the end of the day he was hooked and he knew for sure that he wanted to experience it again. After his inaugural World Nationals, Jack attended five races the following year as an enthusiastic spectator.

Since Jack hails from Elkhart, Indiana it was natural that his business would be RV-related. Elkhart is to the RV industry what Detroit is to the automotive industry. A 40-year veteran of the RV industry, Jack began offering graphics packages to racers for their race cars and haulers as a natural outgrowth of his existing business 14 years ago.

Four years ago his former company, Integraph, began posting contingency money for racer graphics and that led to the next step in the evolution of Jack the racer. As a contingency sponsor Jack was eligible to compete in the 2003 celebrity race that was held in conjunction with the initial IHRA national event to be run at the then newly-refurbished US 131 Motorsports Park near Martin, Michigan.

Driving one of a fleet of identically prepared Camaros that were furnished by the famous Berger Chevrolet of nearby Grand Rapids, Jack received a plaque for recording the best elapsed time. With that experience still fresh in his mind he purchased his first race car, a 1923 Ford T-bucket that was suitable for competition in Quick/Rod or bracket racing.

Jack’s elapsed times in the T-bucket fell consistently as he got used to driving the race car. It is powered by a big block Chevrolet engine that’s coupled with a racing version of the Powerglide automatic transmission. After his initial elapsed times were in the 11 to 12 second range he set a personal goal of notching a 10.90 second run in the quarter-mile. He has since far exceeded that goal and his car now runs in the low nine second range consistently.

Jack is quick to point out that none of his accomplishments would have been possible without the help of Terry and Rhonda McMillen. In addition to serving as his mentor, Terry performs all of the maintenance on the car, which leaves Jack with nothing to do but concentrate on his driving and polish the car.

Jack admits that he likes to go all out on every run and doesn’t like to lift off the throttle before the finish line. He’s quick to point out that he manually shifts the Powerglide himself and that he’s not a daredevil. In fact, with just one season under his belt, he still gets butterflies when he climbs in the car.

2003 was Jack’s inaugural season behind the steering wheel and he competed in eleven IHRA national events, only missing the season-opener in San Antonio. As a newcomer he had only two goals for 2003. He didn’t want to look like a jerk in his first season and he wanted to have a good time. Looking back he feels that he accomplished both goals and that he has no regrets.

With one season under his belt he is also looking ahead to 2004 and has set higher goals for the new year that start with winning an event. He plans to run every IHRA national event (with the possible exception of San Antonio) and haul his own car in a 28-foot trailer behind his motorhome. Last season, Terry was responsible for transporting Jack’s car to the races.

Jack’s plans for 2004 are buoyed by the addition of a major sponsor. Performance Graphics, a firm much larger than his own, has committed to being his first major sponsor.

Jack and Paula, his wife of 50 years, are blessed with four children, 11 grandchildren and nine great grandchildren. Fortunately, most of them still live in the Elkhart area and are enthusiastic supporters of his racing. Having such a large family living nearby makes for a huge crowd, as he calls it, when he competes at the national event at US 131, which is the closest IHRA tour stop to his home area.

Jack can’t say enough good things about the IHRA and the way he has been treated by everyone involved. He absolutely loves racing with the IHRA and thinks that the entire organization, from Bill Bader down, is a wonderful group of folks. Despite living in the very same state Jack has never been to the US Nationals, or any other NHRA event for that matter.

Jack Todd is a man that has been truly blessed. He is a former executive that also had the chance to own his own business and raise a great family along the way. He has enjoyed the love and support of his wife for 50 years and he has found a fulfilling passion late in life that provides much enjoyment. Paula good-naturedly thinks that he’s crazy but if he is, he must be crazy like a fox.