JOLIET, Ill. (July 9, 2017) – Tommy Johnson Jr. has competed in 411 NHRA national events, raced in 41 championship rounds and left with the trophy 16 times.
But the one he wanted most evaded him Sunday in the final round of the NHRA Route 66 Nationals near Chicago.
The woman he called “Aunt Terry” and funded the Make-A-Wish Funny Car team for which he drove at Don Schumacher Racing lost her valiant three-month battle with brain cancer on the Fourth of July and was laid to rest Saturday at her home in New Mexico.
Johnson was disheartened because his team didn’t beat DSR teammate Ron Capps in the final round.
But it seemed less about losing a race, then being able to carry on a hope that getting the Wally trophy would make everything alright or at least better. Nothing will make the loss of Terry alright, and he knows that.
Johnson and Terry’s Make-A-Wish team worked throughout the hot, muggy weekend to make their Dodge Charger R/T as good as it could be if not better despite their heartache. They always found time to accept condolences from hundreds of fans, racers and friends.
It was amazing that the team led by crew chief John Collins and Rip Reynolds won the first round let alone the second and third.
Johnson found ways to make Make-A-Wish kids smile on Saturday, just like Terry did for more than two years. He listened to those who wanted to share a “Terry story.” Just as she would do, he always smiled back.
“It was a tough weekend for everybody with the loss of Terry, just a tough weekend,” he said while sitting alone in his race team office. “I’m proud of the guys for sticking together and wanting to go out here and win this thing for Terry. To have to put the (memorial) stickers on the car in memory of her was tough and we wanted nothing more than to win this race for her. No matter what, I know she was proud of us. But we wanted to win this one awful bad for her.
“It’s been a hard weekend all weekend, but to do that was really emotional, not just for ourselves but for everybody. It just recapped what all she had done for this sport and for our teams and for everybody out here. I think everybody in the pits had a tough time with that today.”
Perhaps more than the trophy, he needed heartfelt words from Aunt Terry at one of the lowest points of his career.
“She would’ve had something funny to say to me. She always had a way of picking you up and she loved you no matter that. We’ve always got to remember that. She would’ve rode me in a fun way. But she was a great lady and can’t wait to get her another win.”
DSR FUNNY CARS
Event winner: Ron Capps (Don Schumacher Racing)
No. 1 qualifier: Robert Hight (3.851 sec., 334.73 mph-track records)
TOMMY JOHNSON JR., Terry Chandler’s Make-A-Wish 2017 Dodge Charger R/T
Crew chief: John Collins; Assistant: Rip Reynolds
SUNDAY’S CHAMPIONSHIP ELIMINATIONS
First round: JOHNSON (4.026 sec., 319.07 mph) def. John Force (4.982, 157.39)
Second round: JOHNSON (4.026, 317.72) def. J.R. Todd (4.260, 248.75)
Semifinals: JOHNSON (4.015, 317.87) def. Tim Wilkerson (7.734, 117.15)
Final: Ron Capps (4.026, 319.67) def. JOHNSON (4.047, 319.90)
Qualified: No. 6
FRIDAY: 4.274 sec., 216.69 mph, (Session 1); 3.913, 326.00, (Session 2)
SATURDAY: 4.214, 226.16, (Session 3); 4.083, 248.43, (Session 4)
CHICAGO BY THE NUMBERS
Last event (June 15), Norwalk, Ohio: Qualified No. 5, lost in semifinals to Jack Beckman
A year ago at Chicago: Qualified No. 8, lost in second round to Matt Hagan
Career at Chicago: Wins 1 (2015); Runner-ups 2 (2014, 2003); Poles 2 (2014, 2006)
2017 NHRA MELLO YELLO DRAG RACING SERIES FUNNY CAR STANDINGS
(Unofficial after Joliet, Ill.; 13th of 24 events; wins in parenthesis; DSR drivers in CAPS)
1 RON CAPPS (6) 1,208 —–
2 MATT HAGAN (3) 1,022 -186
3 JACK BECKMAN (2) 914 -294
4 Robert Hight 853 -355
5 TOMMY JOHNSON JR. (1) 833 -375
6 Courtney Force 749 -459
7 John Force (1) 718 -490
8 Tim Wilkerson 599 -609
9 J.R. Todd 559 -649
10 Cruz Pedregon 463 -745