Todd Payne put on an electrifying performance at the International Hot Rod Association Summit SuperSeries World Finals October 16 at Memphis International Raceway.
Racing his Electric Vehicle, the North Carolina racer made it all the way to the semifinals of the Sportsman class. The 45-year-old, who has worked 26 years for a pool company, certainly has jumped in the deep end with the electric vehicle.
He purchased a 2014 Tesla a couple of years ago and went to watch a friend drag race. A racing veteran, he wasn’t able to stay a spectator for long and was soon fully immersed in competing against the fuel-powered cars. That meant, even when he didn’t have his own car.
“I went to go watch someone else drag race, but I couldn’t just watch,” he said. “I entered the Sportsman category and dang, if I didn’t win the race. I did 10 or 11 races and ended up with three or four wins and the championship.
“The crazy thing is the second or third race, I had taken my car in for service. I ended up racing a loaner car and won a double-points race with the loaner. I dropped the car off Friday, started racing Saturday and stayed up way late, like 12:30 racing. The next morning, we raced again and I finished second. With the money I won that weekend with the loaner car, I paid Tesla in cash to get my car out of service.”
Payne, who buys and sells cars on the side, bought his dream machine, a 2011 Corvette Z06 from a salvage recovery. But it was the Tesla, which sparked interest in a new challenge.
He was already a champion at Farmington Dragway, riding a Suzuki Bandit to the 2019 Motorcycle track title. He was anxious to return there in 2021 with his 5,000-pound electric machine.
“I had my eyes set on my home track, Farmington Dragway. My plan was to get very serious with this car,” he said. “But, I couldn’t get on the tree 100 percent. Long story short, it was me, the way I would stage the car that made the biggest difference. Every track I go to, I try to learn and take something from that track.”
One of the challenges was having power for the later rounds. He went through three different chargers to make the round calls. He later contacted the folks at Generac generators, who were able to help him get the car’s power back up where he needed it.
With that problem solved, he made five finals in the Footbrake class.
“That’s extremely difficult with the caliber of racers at Farmington,” he said. “You have guys like Ernie Humes, an incredible racer. We have Jeff Flood, the Dudleys. There are several big names who come from this area.”
Payne was incredible as well with a triple zip reaction time at the IHRA Summit Team Finals and a quad perfect in testing. He had another .000 light at Farmington and a quad perfect again at Memphis. Part of the success was learning he couldn’t set the car up like a standard No Box car.
“They’re two different animals,” he said. “People will say, ‘Jack the tire pressure up.’ That’s the opposite with these four-wheel drive cars. You drop or raise the tire pressure, you will either spin off the line or it will take off faster because you turn the tires like they’re slicks then.”
He shares what he learns with other racers with a goal of growing the category. He feels confident enough in his own abilities, although he found out just how good the competition was at the IHRA Summit SuperSeries World Finals.
“Pretty much all the guys these days are dead-on with their number,” Payne said. “It was like the guy I raced in the third round (at Memphis), he was dead-on three passes in a row.”
Over the past eight years, Payne often raced a 1982 Mustang with a 351 Windsor motor, which ran in the mid-sevens. So far, the Tesla has outperformed the Mustang with its consistency.
“The Mustang would run pretty good and then it would pick up a tenth or lose a tenth for no rhyme or reason,” he said. “I ran it a long time. I had a new Buck Racing motor in it and it was on-point. In 2021, I double-entered the Footbrake car and the Tesla in the same race. The Tesla went five rounds and the Mustang went three rounds.
“The third round in the Mustang, the starter is hanging out underneath the car. There was always a race when the car breaks over little stuff. Those are points you can’t lose when trying to win a championship. Knock on wood, the Tesla is yet to mess up.”
Still, there were adjustments he had to make at Memphis. The car was getting too close to red-lighting so he had to change both the set-up on the car and the way he was staging.
“I had to throw the set-up out the door. I’m proud of myself of not sticking with what I knew,” he said. “There’s a difference between deep staging and not of one-tenth. I figured the math and said, ‘We’re going to go one-tenth.’ So I dialed the numbers from a 64 to 60. I ran a 59 with a nine on the first pass because the guy red-lit against me.
“I was in the 40s the first round. The second round, I was in the 30s. The third round, I didn’t turn the deep stage on, but I hit it as hard as I could.”
With the race broadcast on MotorMania, he received plenty of texts and Facebook messages from the racers back at Farmington offering their support. Beyond the competition, Payne enjoyed the camaraderie of the IHRA Division 9 Summit Team Finals at Darlington and the IHRA Summit SuperSeries World Finals.
“Everybody always treats us well at the Team Finals. There’s no politics with drag racing,” he said. “We’re all friends and I’m the first to offer tools in the back of my car to help you out. I’ll burn my arm on a starter trying to get that last bolt in for you so we can have a good fair race.
“The World Finals, they treat us more like kings than racers. Like Mr. (Jim) Greenleaf and Al Noe from Summit and Keith Howard from NEDRA, it’s great meeting those people. I’d highly advise a trip to the World Finals to anyone in the drag racing community.”
Other EV drivers also participated at the IHRA Summit SuperSeries World Finals.