Phoenix: Johnson Jr. excited about return to Firebird Raceway

Johnson made a memorable debut with his new race team by capturing the No. 1 qualifying position at the NHRA Winternationals (Feb. 4, Pomona, Calif.) with a career best 4.838-second elapsed time. He was defeated in the quarterfinals and comes to...

Johnson made a memorable debut with his new race team by capturing the No. 1 qualifying position at the NHRA Winternationals (Feb. 4, Pomona, Calif.) with a career best 4.838-second elapsed time. He was defeated in the quarterfinals and comes to Firebird in fifth place in points with 58.

Johnson had not competed in the season's first races since 1996, which is also when he last appeared at Firebird Raceway in NHRA Winston Series competition. He drove Funny Cars in the last 13 races of the 1999 season and 11 of the final 12 in 2000.

"By starting the season with everyone else, this means that by the time we get to Columbus (Ohio, June 14-17), I'll be worn out," Johnson said rather facetiously. "If we continue having the success we are now, the season won't seem to last long enough. I know that when you're struggling it seems like it lasts forever."

Track History at Firebird Raceway:

Top Alcohol Funny Car runner-up, 1988.
Best elapsed time: 4.869 seconds during 2001 preseason testing
Top speed: 312.64 mph during 2001 preseason testing

Looking Ahead:

"I'm excited to be going to Phoenix. It will be our second time around at the that track and we'll have double the knowledge (with data gained from Johnson's Camaro and from his Skoal Racing teammate Ron Capps' Green Camaro). My Skoal Racing Blue Camaro ran the 4.86 and a 4.89 during testing (in January). I think our performance at the Winternationals shows that we're ready to go. We didn't have optimum track conditions (at Pomona) and we've already run a 4.83. I think if weather conditions go our way we could run in the 4.70s at Firebird. Capps has the quickest run with the new (nitromethane) fuel rule (which was begun last year) at 4.811 (seconds).

"We can't just worry about beating (10-time Funny Car champion) John Force, there are a lot of other good drivers out there. I think what will play out this year is consistency . . . who can maintain that championship-level consistency every week?"

Comments on Prudhomme's Two-car Team:

"I think it's going to be better than I ever imagined, as far as learning and helping myself and Capps. One race into the season and we've already used a lot of knowledge we gained from one car on the other one. Getting Capps qualified on his last try had a lot to do with what I ran on my first run Saturday so I can see the added value of the second car is a lot more than I expected.

"We have a saying: It may be blue or it may be green, but we are one team."

Looking Back at the Winternationals:

Johnson and crew chief Ed "The Ace" McCulloch surprised the Funny Car field with the 4.838-second run (at 310.98 mph) on the Skoal Racing Blue car's second qualifying run. Frank Pedregon's 4.875 was the closest anyone came to the event's top time. Johnson's crew had been assembled after Dec. 4, the day he signed with Prudhomme. About five weeks later he sat in his new racecar at the Phoenix test session and, by the Winternationals, his crew had completed its new hauler.

The No. 1 spot was a "nice reward" for his crew, Johnson commented, because all 16 crewmembers worked hard to get his car ready to race.

Johnson added a 4.907 elapsed time Saturday that, as things turned out, helped Capps qualify fourth. McCulloch softened the blue car's tune-up "to see if we could get the car down the track with that kind of power," said Johnson. "It ran the 4.90 so they put that tune-up in Ron's car and he went out and ran the 4.88."

Johnson defeated Tony Bartone in the first round but lost to Chuck Etchells in the quarterfinals.

Also Notable:

In a remarkable reaction-time performance, Johnson improved his starting line response on every Winternationals run. He opened with a .590 (.400 is perfect) and dropped it to .492 against Etchells. That reaction time was second quickest of race day.

Tommy Johnson Jr. Facts:

Birthdate: 4/6/68
Career wins: 4 (2 Funny Car, Memphis and Reading, Pa., 1999; 2 Top Fuel,
Seattle, 1993, and Memphis, 1994).
Final rounds: 9 (5 Top Fuel, 4 Funny Car)
Last win: 10/19/99 at Memphis
Last final round: 10/22/99 at Dallas
Best Funny Car elapsed time: 4.838 seconds ('01 Pomona, Calif.)
Best Funny Car speed: 320.05 mph ('99 Dallas)

- Snake Racing

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About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers Frank Pedregon , Tony Bartone , Ron Capps , John Force , Tommy Johnson Jr.