Atlanta; Steve Johns hopes to ride to winner''s circle

COMMERCE, Ga. -- The last time he raced a Pro Stock truck at Atlanta Dragway, Steve Johns put it in the winners' circle. However, as Crew Chief to driver Larry Kopp, Johns walked to the post-race party. This time, having swapped his tools for a...

COMMERCE, Ga. -- The last time he raced a Pro Stock truck at Atlanta Dragway, Steve Johns put it in the winners' circle. However, as Crew Chief to driver Larry Kopp, Johns walked to the post-race party.

This time, having swapped his tools for a driving helmet, he hopes to ride.

Fourth in the NHRA Winston driver standings after the season's first five truck events, Johns and rookie teammate Rob Slavinski send their potent Castrol Super Clean™ Chevy S-10 trucks back to work this week (May 5-7) in the 20th renewal of the Advance Auto Parts Southern Nationals.

A former World Champion in Competition Eliminator (1992) and a Pro Stock Truck winner for Kessinger Motorsports at last November's AAA of Southern California Finals at Pomona, Calif., Johns hopes his familiarity with the Atlanta track will help him end the monopoly currently enjoyed by Bob Panella Jr. and Randy Daniels, the only drivers to have won truck races thus far this year.

As for Slavinski, he'll concentrate on getting back on track after last week's Moto1.net Nationals at Richmond, Va., in which he posted a career best quarter mile time (7.542 seconds) only to find himself 17th in a 16-truck field.

By a whisker-thin .002 of a second, the Wallingford, Conn., pro failed to qualify for the first time in five career races in the truck class.

Because the Pro Stock trucks compete in only 14 of the 23 races comprising the NHRA Winston Series, both Castrol drivers understand the importance of improvement this week.

"Failing to qualify at Richmond was very frustrating," Slavinski said, "but it has just made us work that much harder to be competitive at Atlanta. The thing is, we've improved our performance every race, but this is such a competitive class that little improvements just don't seem to be getting the job done.

"We were one of 18 trucks that didn't make the show last week even though we ran a number that would have been third quickest at the (season-opening) Winternationals."

The fact that he has yet to win a round of racing this year is exasperating to Slavinski, a 39-year-old veteran of sportsman racing who has won NHRA national events in three different categories -- Super Comp, Super Gas and Competition Eliminator.

Like Johns, he's hoping to turn things around at a track on which he was the Super Comp runner-up at the 1994 Southern Nationals.

Of course, first order of business will be to get both purple-hued Castrol Chevies into the field. First opportunities will come in Friday sessions at 1:45 p.m. and 5:45 p.m. Qualifying will conclude with sessions at 10:45 a.m. and 4 p.m. Saturday.

DID YOU KNOW:

Kessinger Motorsports had a winner the first time it fielded a Pro Stock Truck. Tim Freeman reached the podium at the 1998 Sears Craftsman Nationals at St. Louis in his first race for Jim Kessinger. The team later won with Mark Osborne and, most recently, with current driver Steve Johns ....Rob Slavinski and Steve Johns are among the drivers whose responses to motor racing questions are included in the Drivers Forum section of espn.com....Rich Purdy, Crew Chief on Steve Johns' Castrol Super Clean truck, four times was named Craftsman Crew Chief of the Race while with two-time Winston Pro Stock Champion Jim Yates....only .186 of a second separated the top 33 trucks at Richmond. There was a .398 spread between the top 16 Funny Cars and two Top Fuel dragsters that made the lineup didn't run quick enough to qualify for the truck field.

SCHEDULE: Pro Qualifying at 1:45 p.m. and 5:45 p.m. (ET) on Friday, May 5; 10:45 a.m. and 4 p.m. (ET) on Saturday, May 6. Finals begin at 10:30 a.m. (ET) Sunday, May 7.

TELEVISION:  Same day coverage of final eliminations on The Nashville Network,
4:30 p.m.  (ET) on Sunday, May 7.

TRUCK POINTS: 1. Bob Panella Jr. 488, 2. Randy Daniels 459, 3. Greg Stanfield 353, 4. Steve Johns, Castrol Super Clean Chevy, 252, 5. Rick Jones 246, 6. John Coughlin 244, 7. Jeff Gracia 222, 8. John Lingenfelter and Brian Self, 219 each, 10. Taylor Lastor 205. 16. Rob Slavinski, Castrol Super Clean Chevy, 136.

Be part of something big

Write a comment
Show comments
About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers Bob Panella , Larry Kopp , Jeff Gracia , Randy Daniels , John Lingenfelter , Greg Stanfield , Tim Freeman , Brian Self , Steve J