Atlanta: Tommy Johnson Jr preview

Johnson searching for a few good memories in Southern Nationals at Atlanta Dragway. COMMERCE, Ga., May 1, 2002 - When Tommy Johnson Jr. thinks about his races at Atlanta Dragway, the recollections aren't the warm and fuzzy ones associated with,...

Johnson searching for a few good memories in Southern Nationals at Atlanta Dragway.

COMMERCE, Ga., May 1, 2002 - When Tommy Johnson Jr. thinks about his races at Atlanta Dragway, the recollections aren't the warm and fuzzy ones associated with, say, Christmas. Several are more like one-car demolition derbies.

"I have the worst memories from that track," says Johnson, whose next scheduled visit begins Friday with qualifying for Sunday's Summit Racing Equipment Southern Nationals. "It hasn't been a good track for me the last few times I've raced there.

"More than anything, I want to leave there knowing I qualified for the race. Anything after that is a bonus. We didn't qualify there last year so our main goal is to qualify this time."

To put things in perspective, Johnson attended seven Southern Nationals in the 1990s, qualified for six and won three rounds of Top Fuel racing in that decade. After a three-year absence, he returned to Atlanta Dragway last year, driving Don "The Snake" Prudhomme's Blue Skoal Racing Funny Car, but he wound up doing race day commentary because he didn't make the 16-car field.

"On top of that, I've been upside down there; I've blown off the back end of a car there . . . just lots of bad memories," he recalled. "I rolled my alcohol Funny Car there; that's how I got upside down. And in 1994 I blew a tire at the starting line and a piece of the tire came off and took the whole back half of the car off. It's time to make some good memories there."

The opportunity to stay in contention for the NHRA Powerade Funny Car championship is another reason Johnson wants to do well at this stop, the seventh of 23 series races. He's fourth with 372 points, 21 out of third and 77 behind pacesetting John Force in a spirited title chase.

Johnson has been to two finals rounds already this season, finishing second at both Las Vegas and Houston. He won at Las Vegas and was runner-up at St. Louis last year.

Q - How significant was your first-round win (5.058 seconds to 12.760) over Force last week at Bristol, Tenn.?

A - That was sweet revenge because my memory was still fresh from him beating us at Houston for his 100th win.

Q - Is it true that qualifying position really doesn't mean that much any more because you went to two straight final rounds from the 11th and 14th spots and you were 14th last week in Bristol, Tenn., and advanced to the quarterfinals?

A - I guess is doesn't matter where you qualify, as long as you make it in. We'd like to continue to qualify better, but on race day it doesn't mean anything. Even if you race Force, who is as bad as they come, you can still beat him.

Q - What have been the key things that have enabled you to climb from ninth to fourth in points?

A - We are gaining consistency in the area of the car's performance. The engine isn't dropping cylinders and the car is going down the racetrack. That's what we've been attempting to do. We did everything we could at Bristol (where he lost to eventual race winner Whit Bazemore in the quarterfinals), but we were about a tenth of a second off where we needed to be. We tested Monday and made some progress. I'm looking forward to getting to Atlanta for a change.

-sr-

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Series NHRA
Drivers Whit Bazemore , John Force , Tommy Johnson , Tommy Johnson Jr.