Dallas: Tommy Johnson Jr. preview

Skoal Racing Report Tommy Johnson Jr. Driver Of Don "The Snake" Prudhomme's Skoal Racing Blue Camaro Funny Car The Race: 16th annual O'Reilly Fall Nationals, Oct. 19-21, Texas Motorplex, Ennis, Texas Standing: Eighth place, 985 points after 21...

Skoal Racing Report
Tommy Johnson Jr.
Driver Of Don "The Snake" Prudhomme's Skoal Racing Blue Camaro Funny Car

The Race:
16th annual O'Reilly Fall Nationals, Oct. 19-21, Texas Motorplex, Ennis, Texas

Standing:
Eighth place, 985 points after 21 of 24 NHRA Winston Series events.

It's Time to Begin Experimenting, But Emphasis Still on Winning Race

From the time his Blue Skoal Racing Camaro was unloaded at January's first test session, Tommy Johnson knew this was going to be a much different year.

First, of course, was his multi-year contract with Don Prudhomme. Then came the fact he'd be in a competitive car and would run the entire 24-race schedule.

Now that sun is setting on the season, Johnson is entering a new phase.  "Ace (crew chief Ed 'The Ace' McCulloch) told me we were going to be experimenting at the Motorplex," he said.  "Basically, we'll be trying to win the race yet figure out what our future is (in terms of working new parts into the tune-up) for next year.  We'll be trying some different things.

"We're not in contention for the championship now and obviously we need to make sure we are for next year.  We want to try and better ourselves."

Johnson has one victory and one runner-up thus far and he'd certainly enjoy tacking on another win before drag racing's annual winter break.  

"This really isn't a test, but we're going to approach qualifying differently, try different things and vary the combination," Johnson continued.  "Hopefully that will bring us some success.  It doesn't do any good to keep doing what you're doing if it doesn't work."

A First for Johnson

He's all for McCulloch's approach, and it will be something new for him.

"It's great," Johnson says, "because I've never had the opportunity to do that before."

His family-owned Top Fuel team didn't do early experimenting and neither did the Joe Gibbs Funny Car team he drove for in 1999. The primary reason Gibbs didn't is because he disbanded the team after that season.

"It was two years ago in Dallas that I found out I was out of a job," said Johnson, who went on to a runner-up finish at that event.  Gibbs hired him to drive the last 13 races.  He won twice, finished second twice and was 10th overall.

"Just showing up now and knowing I have a deal for another two years is great," Johnson added.  

A Different Kind of Track

The Motorplex racing surface is all concrete, no asphalt, to provide optimum traction.  Many speed and elapsed time records have been set there, including Eddie Hill's first sub-five second run (4.990) in 1988.

"It has always been a favorite track of mine and I've had decent success there," said Johnson, who has raced there just once since 1997.  "I didn't get a chance to race there last year due to the rainout."  After rain washed out all qualifying over two weekends, the 16-car field was determined by point standings and, because he'd begun driving again in the middle of the season, he didn't have enough points.

"Racing on the all-concrete track is great as long as you stay in the groove," he continued.  "But it you get one tire out of the groove just a touch, the other tire will drive you out of the groove. When you're in the groove, you don't have to think much about traction.  It will be there."

Busy All Season

When the Auto Club Finals ring down the curtain on the current season, Johnson will have been to all 24 races.  In the last two years, he entered 24 races - 13 in 1999.

"I've learned a bunch this year just by being able to race all the races," he said.  "I've basically had twice as many runs as I had in the last two, three, or four years.

"I'm just enjoy racing. It doesn't matter to me. I'm ready to keep going.  I don't even want a break (Nov. 12 to Feb. 7)."

What has he learned after 21 races?

"Well, there is ample opportunity to make up for mistakes on down the road, but there are times you get to make twice as many mistakes. I'm ready to wipe the slate clean and start over."

-DPSR-

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About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers Tommy Johnson , Don Prudhomme , Tommy Johnson Jr.