JOHNSON JR. ANXIOUS TO GAIN ELUSIVE U.S. NATIONALS VICTORY CLERMONT, Ind. (Aug. 28, 2006) & ...
JOHNSON JR. ANXIOUS TO GAIN ELUSIVE U.S. NATIONALS VICTORY
CLERMONT, Ind. (Aug. 28, 2006) For one reason or another, certain phrases or sayings outlast the test of time. One of those commonly heard idioms is "so close, but yet so far." No expression better applies to Tommy Johnson, Jr. and his Skoal RacingSM Funny Car team's U.S. Nationals showing just four years earlier when the eight-ti! me NHRA winner drove his Chevy to a runner-up finish on drag racing's biggest stage.
In the high-speed sport of NHRA drag racing, the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals is the pinnacle event on the 23-race schedule. The Big Go, Indy or the U.S. Nationals applies to the marquee event in drag racing. A win at the storied quarter mile near Indianapolis can make a career. Some racers like Don "the Snake" Prudhomme, Bob Glidden and "Big Daddy" Don Garlits have dominated at Indy winning multiple event titles, while others such as Steve Carbone, Marvin Graham and Johnny Abbott will go down in NHRA history for accomplishing one goal, claiming the crown at the U.S. Nationals.
Johnson, one of 13 drivers in NHRA history to capture victories in both nitro-powered categories, has scored two victories this season (Phoenix and Brainerd), along with clocking the third quickest Funny Car elapsed time (4.672 seconds) in NHRA history. To date, he declares his biggest accomplishments as being a member of both the Cragar 4-Second Club and Slick 50 300-mph Club, but a win at the U.S. Nationals will instantly put those achievements on the backburner.
"Everybody wants to win Indy, and at that point I didn't really think about winning," Johnson said. "When you have time to look back and realize you're a runner-up at that race, you want to win it even more. Especially when you were so close. It makes you realize how close you were to getting there, so now you want to get back to the final round and get that victory and Indy trophy in your possession."
Having reached the winner's circle just two races ago in Brainerd, Minn., the Iowa native and his Skoal Racing crew have proven to have one of the strongest race cars in the flopper category. Thus, the seasoned nitro pilot enters the 52nd running of the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals, Aug. 30-Sept. 4, as one of the frontrunners to earn the victory at O'Reilly Raceway Park on Monday, September 4, when four win lights can make a career.
"With the way our car has been running, this is our best chance in a long time to get the Indy win," Johnson said. "The year we made the final, our car wasn't running that well, but we got there. I'd like to get the Indy win and do it in a dominating style like we did a Brainerd. However, I won't complain if we get the win in any fashion, as long as we can win at Indy.
"I think our team's performance is peaking at the right time. Mike (Green) is doing a great job of tuning the car. Plus, the group of guys I have working on the car is the best I've ever been around. It's such a strong team, and I feel we have a realistic change of doubling up with the Skoal Showdown on Sunday and U.S. Nationals on Monday."
Winning the Skoal Showdown and its $100,000 bonus purse on Sunday afternoon would be the perfect appetizer to a strong U.S. Nationals performance. If that's the case, another common phrase will soon be heard at drag strips across the country, "Tommy Johnson, Jr., U.S. Nationals winner."