Las Vegas II: Tommy Johnson Jr. preview

Tommy Johnson Jr. Driver Of Don "The Snake" Prudhomme's Skoal Racing Blue Camaro Funny Car The Race: Inaugural ACDelco Nationals, Oct. 26-28, at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Standing: Ninth place, 1039 points after 22 of 24 NHRA ...

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

The Race:
Inaugural ACDelco Nationals, Oct. 26-28, at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Standing:
Ninth place, 1039 points after 22 of 24 NHRA Winston Series events.

Johnson Wants to Be Winner Again in Las Vegas -- at The Strip

Johnson was all smiles when he left Las Vegas in April.  He was a winner without visiting the casinos.  In the fourth NHRA event of the year, Johnson defeated Whit Bazemore in the Summit Racing.com Nationals final round.

It was his first victory for Skoal Racing and team owner Don Prudhomme and came two days after he and Prudhomme celebrated their April 6 birthdays.

Now, as Johnson prepares for the inaugural ACDelco Nationals at The Strip, he's looking to make it two in a row in Las Vegas.  He has been to only one other final since his initial win - finishing second at Madison, Ill.  And his ninth-place standing is several positions lower than where he'd like to be.

"We need to get another win before the end of the season," Johnson said.  "That would be a good way to cap the season on a positive note. My Blue Skoal Racing Camaro crew has had more gremlins and problems this year than we expected. I hope we have all that stuff ironed out because we've had more than our fair share of bad luck.  

"Parts breakage, everything like that, seems to come at the wrong time.  But if you keep at it long enough, persistence pays off."

And Johnson knows a thing or two about persistence. Had he not doggedly pursued a Top Fuel or Funny Car job in the last few years, he wouldn't be where he is today.  

Without a regular ride since 1995, Johnson never gave up hope.  His desire and driving reputation eventually led to half-season stints with Joe Gibbs (1999) and Helen Hofmann (2000).  And that brings Johnson and his desire to win to this weekend.

"At least we have some momentum going into Vegas," Johnson commented.  "We feel real confidant and hope things work like they did in April.  I've been there once and had a win.  Now I don't want to go back and tarnish that record. I just want to make it better."

A Positive Performance

Johnson and the Blue Skoal Racing crew were enthused by the car's performance last weekend at Ennis, Texas.  He qualified sixth with a 4.820-second run at 314.54 mph even though crew chief Ed "The Ace" McCulloch was testing various parts and pieces to get a jump on the 2002 campaign.

Johnson won the first round despite one big wheel stand - three tires were off the track - that helped slow him to a 5.595 at 236.84.  Jim Epler, meanwhile, suffered traction problems against Johnson.

In the quarterfinals, Johnson was pulling away from Johnny Gray when his engine expired with about 300 feet to go.  His car slowed to a 4.927 at 269.05 mph.  Gray, his engine running all the way, nosed ahead at the finish line and won by five-thousandths of a second.  

"I thought I won the race but he had 40 mph on me and came by me in a real hurry," said Johnson. "I was just coasting and I could hear him coming.  It was unfortunate the engine didn't hang in there a little bit longer or we would've won.

"The car was on a mid-to-low 4.8 (second) run. There was no warning.  It was trucking along and all of the sudden it just blew up.  We had a car capable of running with (John) Force and (Whit) Bazemore (first and second in points, respectively), so hopefully we'll be able to do that this weekend."

Although the broken engine stymied his Texas title aspirations, Johnson considered it a great weekend "as far as making progress on our initial plan of testing different parts and trying different tune-ups to see if we could get a head start on next year.

"We'll keep at it and then we'll be heading in the right direction."

-DPSR-

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About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers Whit Bazemore , Don Prudhomme , Johnny Gray , Tommy Johnson Jr.