Feature: Todd Paton

By Jim Luikens

The Paton Family of Paris, Ontario are some of Canada’s most accomplished drag racers. Barry Paton, the family patriarch, was a well-known and successful funny car pilot before trading his driving suit for a set of wrenches. His son Todd has also achieved success earning, among other things, the 1993 and 1995 IHRA Funny Car Championships. The 2003 racing season however, finds the family campaigning a Top Fuel Dragster rather than their more familiar funny cars. This is the story of why the Patons have turned their backs on the “Coupes de Flops” in favor of racing a dragster.

Our story begins, like all racing stories, with money. Money may not be the root of all evil, but it is definitely the root of all racing. For the 2003 season the Patons had planned on running in NHRA’s Powerade Series with a Fuel Funny Car. Shortly after they opened their season at the Gatornationals however, they received a surprise. The originally anticipated sponsorship backing for the remainder of the 2003 season didn’t pan out. A new plan would have to be devised if the Patons were going to race this year.

While the Patons were surveying their alternatives, Ron Biekx (pronounced Bix), the general manager of Grand Bend Dragway, suggested that the Patons consider competing on the IHRA circuit. There was however, a small problem. IHRA does not have a Fuel Funny Car eliminator. Like most racers that have been bitten by the nitro bug, the idea of running anything other than nitromethane was not appealing. If they were going to compete on the IHRA trail they would have to do so in a Top Fuel Dragster.

Even though the Patons had already missed the first event of the 2003 IHRA season, a decision was made to pursue the IHRA Top Fuel Championship. Moving quickly they were able to locate and purchase a like-new 2002 McKinney chassis. A full-scale assault was then undertaken to install their funny car components, where applicable, into the Top Fuel chassis.

At this point Todd Paton remembered a conversation that he had more than 10 years ago with John Hoey. In his younger days, John had been a Top Gas competitor and he still retained an affinity for dragsters. Now however, he was the owner of 22 Tim Horton donut franchises in the Toronto area. (As an interesting aside, the Tim Horton Corporate Headquarters are also in the Toronto metropolitan area.)

Ten years ago John had patiently listened to Todd’s presentation concerning sponsoring a funny car. Although he liked the presentation he wasn’t really a funny car guy. He told Todd, “Let me know if you ever go Top Fuel racing.” With this year’s developments Todd called up and said, “Guess what, we’re going Top Fuel racing.” Well, John replied, “A promise is a promise so I guess I’ll have to live up to it.” After starting out with only a limited commitment John has expanded his involvement with the Paton team for which they are very grateful.

This has basically been a learning year for the Paton team as they get a handle on what a top fueler likes for a tuning combination. To date the dragster has only been run using the funny car tune-up and timers. They have already identified that a dragster wants more fuel volume. Moving slowly and cautiously they have steadily advanced and recorded a best result of 4.85 seconds at only 283 miles per hour.

Much better performance is expected in the future as they continue to refine their Top Fuel combination. As Todd puts it, “This car has not made it past 1,000 feet under its own power.” When asked if that was by his choice or his parts’ choice, he only smiled. Despite starting late and running one less race than the other top competitors Todd enters the home stretch of his first top fuel season in the third position in the IHRA points chase, trailing only the big two in Top Fuel eliminator, Clay Millican and Bruce Litton.

As the year winds down Todd is finding that he has really enjoyed his inaugural dragster season. In fact he is quick to compliment both Clay and Bruce for being so helpful during his rookie season. Eighty percent of the time a dragster is less taxing to drive than a funny car according to him. He is also appreciative of the positive welcome he has received from the IHRA. He says it’s almost as if he had never left.

With this season in its closing stages, planning has already begun for next year. Naturally the Patons would like a solid backer for the entire 2004 season and they feel that they have a lot to offer a potential sponsor. They are talking with several companies and hope to have some good news to announce. Recent developments by the IHRA have only cemented the fact that IHRA “owns” Canada as far as championship drag racing is concerned.

In addition to John Hoey, another supporter of the Paton team is Alex Crosbie of Crosbie Industrial. For the past 15 years his cleaning, maintenance and oil-drilling firm has been bannered on a succession of Paton race cars. Naturally the Patons would like to build on their existing sponsorship relationships as well as identify new entities that could benefit from the positive exposure that they are able to generate.

Although it is too early to tell how this season will turn out or what the future holds for the Paton team there are two things you can be sure of. First, it appears that they have found a new home in Top Fuel Dragster. And second, they still own two up-to-date funny cars, a Camaro and a Firebird so they can always return to their roots if the need arises.