From The Snake Pit TOMMY JOHNSON JR. 2006 NHRA Q&A VISTA, Calif. (Jan. 30, 2006) -- The 2005 NHRA season was a rebirth of sorts for Tommy Johnson Jr. and the Skoal RacingSM Funny Car team. The veteran driver broke an 89-r! ace winless drought...
From The Snake Pit
TOMMY JOHNSON JR. 2006 NHRA Q&A
VISTA, Calif. (Jan. 30, 2006) -- The 2005 NHRA season was a rebirth of sorts for Tommy Johnson Jr. and the Skoal RacingSM Funny Car team. The veteran driver broke an 89-r! ace winless drought at the season-opening Winternationals to collect his sixth career victory. He also posted a career-best finish (sixth) and performance numbers (4.698 seconds at 331.45 mph), along with leading the Funny Car category in average reaction time. His reward for his solid 2005 effort, a hectic offseason that took him to three different countries along various trips back and forth across the states. With high expectations in mind as the 2006 season nears, T.J. talks about his busy winter months, successful '05 campaign, being one of the few drivers that wears prescription eye glasses, and what it's like being half of 'the world's fastest couple.'
Q: You've traveled to both Germany and New Zealand this offseason. Have you had any time to relax?
JOHNSON JR.: Very little. This was the busiest offseason I've ever had. I wasn't looking forward to last season ending because it was a good year for us, but at the same time I was kind of looking forward to spending a little time at home. I think I spent maybe three weekends at home all offseason, but I'm ready to go racing. I'm tired of traveling and tired of going and doing things other than racing. I'm ready to get back to the track and get into my routine.
Q: The Skoal RacingSM team experienced a rebound of sorts in 2005 as you won the Winternationals, set a career-best elapsed time and speed and posted a career-best finish in the Funny Car standings. How enjoyable was it to be a player in the Funny Car wars?
JOHNSON: I can't describe how much more enjoyable last season was compared to the previous year. It was nice to be a contender and go into the race track not only knowing that you're going to qualify, but you've got a shot at winning each weekend. It was a lot of fun and kind of addicting. You get used to running well. Winning becomes a habit and once you've done it you want to make it a habit. It really is addicting and I'm looking forward to keeping that success going.
Q: Why did the team improve last season?
JOHNSON: I think it was the continuity of everybody just being together. This team has been together now for three or four years and that has a lot to do with it. Having the right people and letting them work through things; 2004 maybe was an experimental year for us. We had a bad year, but it was try this and try that. At the end of 2004, the car was running good and we just continued that in 2005. Mike (Green) and all the guys did a great job and you can't substitute experience and I think that made the difference and will make our team that much better this season.
Q: Can the team sustain the performance from 2005 and compete for the 2006 NHRA Funny Car championship?
JOHNSON: Absolutely, I think so. I wouldn't be here at testing if I didn't think we had a shot to win the championship. We went from 11th to sixth place last season, and there's no reason why we can't improve six more positions. As tight as Funny Car was, we were really close to first place even finishing sixth. The better we get as a team, and the whole team stayed together with very few changes, that's exciting and I think that we can maintain what we had going at the end of the year and I think we can be better. We've learned a lot over the winter, so there's no reason we shouldn't be better.
Q: Where you proud to be the only single-car team to finish in the top 10 last season?
JOHNSON: As a matter of fact, it was. About midway through last season, I noticed that we're the only single-car team in the top 10. That was really cool to show how good our car was without any other resources other than our team. It was more rewarding than if you have multi-cars and can gain information off of them. It just shows what a one-car team can do with a lot of focus, attention and hard work. You don't need two cars. I was very proud to be the only single-car team in the top 10.
Q: What's different for the Skoal Racing team in 2006?
JOHNSON: There are just some small changes. As good as we were doing, we didn't want to rock the boat, so we're just making some small changes. We have a new chassis and we'll have a new Monte Carlo body sometime mid-season, and we're just basically refining our tune-up. There aren't a lot of changes to our major tune-up, but just some minor changes. We've only got one new crew person. There wasn't any reason to make big changes. If we can keep it going and improve it just a little bit, then we should be really competitive.
Q: You and crew chief Mike Green received contract extensions with Don Prudhomme Racing last fall. How important was it to retain Green?
JOHNSON: It was really important to me and the guys. Mike (Green) is a special individual. He's so even tempered and never shows stress or emotion. He's able to get his guys to work hard without ever yelling at them. He's just a great guy and everybody wants to do the best they can for him. The relationship that he and I have built over the past three or four seasons is key to me. I can't describe how hard it is to communicate with a crew chief when you have turnover. To have that consistency and for him to look at me and me to look at him and we both know what each other is thinking, you just can't replace that. So, it was really critical for both of us to stay together. I made sure that happened and I want to make sure it happens for a long time.
Q: Last season, you led the Funny Car class in average reaction time. How have your driving skills improved?
JOHNSON: I think it had more to do with being confident in my team. When you're not worried about the car running well or if it's going to blow up, you can concentrate on driving and be more relaxed behind the wheel. The more comfortable you are, the better you are going to drive. I was trying to make up for the car in previous season and last year I just focused on my job. I've got a lot of experience driving a nitro car and I think that helps a lot. I think I've matured as a driver in the past couple of years and do a lot of things better in the car including, leaving the starting line. There's just no substitute for experience.
Q: You're one of the few drivers and maybe the only Top Fuel or Funny Car driver that wears prescription eye glasses. Do they affect your driving?
JOHNSON: You just have to go about things a little differently than the other guys. Some drivers maybe worry about their shield fogging up, well I'm worried about the shield and the glasses. I was able to work with Impact! Racing and they built a different air system in my helmet. It actually blows air on my glasses and the shield to keep them from fogging up. For me, I have to have them. I've had glasses since I was about six years old, so I feel naked without them. I look at it as an advantage. There's no hindrance value to the glasses.
Q: Have you ever considered Lasik surgery?
JOHNSON: Considered, yes. Thought about really hard, no. I'm just concerned with any kind of side-effects of the surgery. This is how I make my living and right now there's no drawback to what I'm doing. I don't have a desire to not wear glasses. They're almost second nature for me. It's a thought maybe sometime down the road. The only problems I've heard that people have is trouble seeing at night. Well, we race at night, so I don't want to take that chance right now.
Q: You're entering your sixth season as a member of Don Prudhomme Racing. How has your relationship with Snake progressed over the past five years?
JOHNSON: It's totally different than when I started with the team in 2001. When I came to the team, we were basically business partners. I was his hired driver and I knew what he expected of me, but as time has grown we've become friends. The phone calls aren't just about racing or business anymore, it's to see how you're doing. It's nice to have that comfort level with your boss. You're not just an employee any more, you're one of the family.
Q: Is it challenging or a benefit being married to someone that also races professionally?
JOHNSON: Probably both. I'd say more of a benefit. There are challenges on time issues as far as she's going one place and I'm going another. We have sponsor commitments and we're both going different directions, but at the same time we're at the races together. We have a good understanding of what's required of everybody and the time constraints on us. A lot of women don't understand how much time the sport can take on a person and she understands it. Mel (Troxel) not only understands it, but can relate because she has her own time issues. That's the only time it's challenging, but for the most part, it's a benefit.
Q: Do you enjoy the attention that you and Melanie (Troxel) receive from the being 'The World's Fastest Couple?'
JOHNSON: It's a nice bonus. We both agree that we like to get attention and accolades because of what we do on the track with our performance, but you can't hardly replace the fact that it's a great marketing tool and it is kind of neat to have somebody that you're married to that has the same occupation. It's definitely a marketing advantage and the media really likes the story.