Category Archives: NHRA news

Confidence soaring, Tommy Johnson Jr. rides the wave after Chicago win

Category : NHRA news

Tommy Johnson Jr. ended a long winless drought last weekend at Route 66 Raceway. Now he knows the challenge is to keep that momentum going throughout the summer.

“It’s tough out here. Winning is hard; even one race much less two in a row,” said Johnson, who now has 19 wins in his career. “It’s been frustrating because we’ve known for a long time that we had a car that should win, but for one reason or another we weren’t getting it done. There wasn’t any specific reason why we weren’t winning. It was just bad luck. We’d make a good run and get beat by low e.t. of eliminations. We just weren’t getting any breaks.”

Johnson does feel that his John Collins-tuned Make-A-Wish Dodge has an edge in warm weather so he’s more than happy to see the thermometer rise in Richmond, Chicago, and this weekend’s race in Topeka.

“At the start of the season, Robert [Hight] was abusing us,” said Johnson. “Their car runs good everywhere but they’re really good when it’s cool so it helps even things up when it’s warm. We think the next few races is our prime time.”

One added bonus that goes with just about any race win is a boost in confidence and Johnson and his entire team are feeling it after their final round win over Hight last Sunday in Chicago. It was Johnson’s first win since the end of the 2017 season and it did wonders for his state of mind heading to Topeka.

“The whole team can feel it; you can see it in their faces, and you can tell by their attitudes,” Johnson said. “We needed this. You try to tell yourself not to get discouraged but sometimes it’s hard. At the same time, a win can cure a lot of things. Even though we didn’t exactly crush them, we got the win and everyone feels good. You can’t wait to get to the next race and go do it again. Thankfully, we only have to wait a week for the next race, but I would have been just as happy if the next race started on Monday.

“In this sport, you learn how to win and sometimes it comes in steps,” said Johnson. “From first round, second round, semifinals, and final, it takes a little different strategy and you have to adjust. We went through a period where we had no problems making it to the semifinals but struggled to get to a final. Then, we had a hard time winning final round. I think I was a runner-up seven times in 2017 and 2018. That gets old.”

Johnson also noted that the engine explosion that he suffered in the final round was little more than a sneeze and didn’t in any way affect the team’s preparation for this week’s Topeka event.

“That didn’t even make my top ten list,” said Johnson. “I’ve had a few this year that were much worse. We did leave that body back at our shop where it’s being repaired for the next race. Otherwise, it wasn’t that big of a deal. I mean we did throw a rod and break an engine but it could have been much worse. Heck, the body stayed on the car. That hasn’t always been the case with me.”

07 Jun 2019 Kevin McKenna, NHRA National Dragster Senior Editor

Tommy Johnson Jr. drives Make-a-Wish Funny Car back to winner’s circle at Route 66 NHRA Nationals

Category : NHRA news

Tommy Johnson Jr. earned his first win since 2017 in fiery fashion, defeating Robert Hight at the Route 66 NHRA Nationals.

Tommy Johnson scored his first win since the last race of the 2017 season in fiery fashion at the Route 66 NHRA Nationals. He defeated Robert Hight, who he also beat to capture his last Wally, taking his Make-a-Wish Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat to the winner’s circle at Route 66 Raceway.

It took more than 4 seconds for Johnson to get to the finish line, but he got there quicker than Hight, who smoked the tires just past half track. Johnson reached four final rounds in 2018 and didn’t get the Wally in any of them — now, that dry spell is over for the Iowa native.

Jacob Sundstrom, NHRA National Dragster Associate Editor

Tommy Johnson Jr.’s Make-A-Wish Funny Car team recovering from wild NHRA Arizona Nationals

Category : NHRA news

A couple of big explosions won’t keep crew chief John Collins and the Make-A-Wish Funny Car team from going for the Wally at the 50th running of the Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals.

Tommy Johnson Jr. endured a Magic Dry Organic Absorbent NHRA Arizona Nationals he probably wants to forget. His Make-A-Wish Dodge Charger//SRT Hellcat Funny Car blew up twice during eliminations (although once resulting in a round win) and that means a lot of work for the Brownsburg, Ind.-based crew.

Thankfully, the work comes with a little extra cushion because the 50th running of the Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals is scheduled for two weeks after the Arizona Nationals. Granted, there are few events on the schedule more prestigious than the Gators. Johnson is looking for his first-ever win in Gainesville and enters the weekend as the second-ranked Funny Car driver in Power Rankings.

He’s also fourth in the points, just behind teammates Jack Beckman and Matt Hagan. Robert Hight is the early-season leader. Johnson wrapped up 2018 with a great car, but failed to get to the winner’s circle after winning twice in 2017. His last win came at the 2017 Auto Club NHRA Finals in Pomona, the season-ending race.

Indy Bureau Chief John Kernan caught up with crew chief John Collins to discuss what the rebuild process looks like after a very busy weekend in the desert.

06 Mar 2019 Jacob Sundstrom, NHRA National Dragster Associate Editor

Tommy Johnson Jr. to celebrate 30 years of Nitro racing in Phoenix

Category : NHRA news

Tommy Johnson Jr.’s first trip to Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park, the site of this weekend’s 35th annual Magic Dry Organic Absorbent NHRA Arizona Nationals, as a nitro driver came in 1989.

20 Feb 2019 Posted by staff

Tommy Johnson Jr.’s first trip to Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park, the site of this weekend’s 35th annual Magic Dry Organic Absorbent NHRA Arizona Nationals, as a nitro driver came in 1989. With the race marking the 30th anniversary of his Top Fuel debut, the now Funny Car championship contender reflected on what three decades of nitro racing has taught him.

“You can definitely see where being a veteran and having experience pays off,” said Johnson, who has 17 career wins. “I want to use that now. I think it’s all about maintaining focus throughout the year. It’s a long season and you can’t let the lows get you down or let the highs distract you. That comes from years of experience. When you’ve been there and done that, it helps keep you on track. Being a veteran, it gives you a whole different mindset on racing.”

With that in mind, the track just outside of Phoenix holds a special place in Johnson’s heart and he will look to grab his second career win at the early-season NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series race. The Don Schumacher Racing standout lost in the final round of the race a year ago, but is off to a strong start in his 10,000-horsepower Make-A-Wish Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat.

Johnson advanced to the semifinals at the 2019 opener in Pomona as he tries to take it a step further in Phoenix. Steve Torrence (Top Fuel), Courtney Force (Funny Car) and Chris McGaha (Pro Stock) were last year’s winners of a race that will once again be televised nationally on Fox Sports 1 (FS1), including live finals coverage starting at 6 p.m. ET on Sunday, Feb. 24. It is the second of 24 races during a 2019 season where Johnson may already be ahead of schedule.

Despite missing out on a win in 2018, Johnson was impressively consistent and finished third in points, finishing off the year with a final round appearance in Pomona. The team left well enough alone, made very little changes in the off-season and picked up where they left off last November. Johnson feels the team is ready for a breakthrough.

“It speaks well to the consistency of our tune-up and we’re racing better earlier in the year than we ever have,” said Johnson, who is looking for his first win since the 2017 finale heading into Phoenix. “We made minimal changes as far as what we did in the off-season and came out and ran well. For our confidence level, that’s tremendous. We ended the season on a really high note and to continue that after a long break, that’s pretty important.”

Johnson qualified third with a 3.904 at 327.03 mph in Pomona and then went as quick as 3.876 in eliminations en route to the semifinal finish. For a team that is admittedly a slow-starting one, it was a good way to begin 2019. Of course, Johnson wants a victory in Phoenix and to do that, he’ll have to get past Pomona winner and 2017 world champ Robert Hight, defending world champ J.R. Todd, 2016 champ and DSR teammate Ron Capps, Shawn Langdon and Jack Beckman.

“History shows it’s hard to keep your performance all season, but it’s definitely easier if you have it right away than it is to try and find it,” Johnson said. “I’m sure there will be a point in the season where we have to get back on track, but our focus is trying to maintain this. To get into a flow right off the bat is big, and to have a car that runs well no matter the conditions is super encouraging.”

Top Fuel defending world champ Steve Torrence will look for a second straight win in Phoenix after finishing as runner-up to Doug Kalitta in Pomona. Others to watch include Clay Millican, Terry McMillen, Leah Pritchett, Antron Brown and 2017 world champ Brittany Force.

Mello Yello Drag Racing Series qualifying will feature two rounds at 1:30 and 4:30 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 22 and the final two rounds of qualifying on Saturday, Feb. 23, also at 1:30 and 4:30 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sunday, Feb. 24.

To purchase general-admission or reserved seats for the Magic Dry Organic Absorbent NHRA Arizona Nationals, call 877-840-0457 or visit Kids 12 and under are free in general admission areas with a paid adult. To honor the Salute to First Responders, military and first responders can save 20 percent on general admission tickets at the gate.


Steve Torrence, Tommy Johnson Jr., Erica Enders top first Power Rankings update of 2019

Category : NHRA news

Strength of 2018 Countdown to the Championship runs combined with solid Lucas Oil NHRA Winternationals keep racers at top of table.

12 Feb 2019 Jacob Sundstrom, NHRA National Dragster Associate Editor

I know – they didn’t win the Lucas Oil NHRA Winternationals. We already have a stat for winning a race. It’s called wins. Now that we have that out of the way, let’s take a quick look at the first Power Rankings update of the season. You can see the full table here, but I’m going to focus on the three leaders and how they ended up there.

The current game plan is to use the “last six race rating” to sort racers until we hit the Arby’s NHRA Southern Nationals in Atlanta. That’s race No. 7 – so, once that sample size exceeds the six-race mark. It just doesn’t make any sense to order Power Rankings based on one race. If you’ve already checked out our first Power Ranking update, you know you can see how racers fared based on their Winternationals performance.

That means rankings are currently based on races starting at the AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals (St. Louis) through the Lucas Oil NHRA Winternationals (Pomona). As such, it shouldn’t come as a surprise Torrence ended up on top of the heap. We’re only displaying active racers, so Courtney Force, Tanner Gray and Del Worsham are not displayed despite having scores good enough to get ‘em there.

Same goes for Blake Alexander, who moved to Funny Car this year. This is just because, well, you only care about how active racers compare to active racers. No disrespect meant to this fine group of competitors, who certainly earned the marks they got.

Apologies for the long preamble. Let’s get into Top Fuel.

Steve Torrence
Video – Steve Torrence

No, he didn’t win the race, and yes, his reaction times were poor in Pomona (save for a .060 in the semi’s) but … he’s been to six finals in the six races we’re counting and won five of them. No, we don’t take wins into account in this rating (that’s a good thing) but his average elapsed time is 3.732 and his average reaction time is a .067.

Antron Brown and Doug Kalitta claim better reaction time averages over that span, but nobody boasts a quicker dragster. Torrence also gets down the track 87.5 percent of the time, a factor in Power Rankings.
That’s ridiculously consistent in any category, let alone a Nitro-burning class. Torrence didn’t get down under power in the final against Kalitta, and his light was poor. That hasn’t happened much since the U.S. Nationals … and it probably won’t happen much the rest of this year.

Tommy Johnson Jr.
Video – Tommy Johnson Jr.

Johnson can make an argument for being the least lucky racer in NHRA Drag Racing. He averages a .069 light; a 3.931 elapsed time and his car gets down the track 90 percent of the time. But when the Make-A-Wish car stumbles he never catches a break. That happened again against Jack Beckman in the semifinals, as Johnson whooped his teammate at the starting line (a three-hundredths advantage) but smoked the tires shortly thereafter.

Johnson hasn’t won for more than a year, but it certainly feels like a product of bad luck more than anything else. He’s my dark horse candidate for a championship in 2019, and the team’s performance in Pomona did nothing to dissuade me from that stance. A little bit of luck will go a long way towards a win, and ultimately a title.

Erica Enders
Video – Erica Enders

If Enders posts another .070 reaction time this year, I’ll buy the opponent who benefits a Budweiser. Bo Butner knows he got away with one in the semifinals in Pomona, especially after Enders tattooed the tree in the first two rounds. She didn’t have much luck during the Countdown to the Championship, but she’s got a great car right now and despite the hiccup in Pomona, she’s the best driver in the category.

That being said, it’s tight at the top. Rodger Brogdon showed what good power can do during qualifying. A mechanical malfunction took him out of commission in the first round, and I don’t think that will happen again this season. He might not leave like Jeg Coughlin Jr. and Enders, but it might not matter much if that Camaro runs like it did in Pomona.

The next Power Rankings will come February 26 (Tuesday morning) after the Magic Dry Organic Absorbent NHRA Arizona Nationals in Phoenix. [Tickets]