Baytown: Steve Johnson preview

Johnson Dines With Alabama Governor Thursday, Races In Texas Friday: Pro Stock Motorcycle Standout Leads A Hectic Existence! BIRMINGHAM, AL 3/28/07 Steve Johnson is an established star on the NHRA POWERade Series circuit with his Snap-on ...

Johnson Dines With Alabama Governor Thursday, Races In Texas Friday:
Pro Stock Motorcycle Standout Leads A Hectic Existence!

BIRMINGHAM, AL 3/28/07 Steve Johnson is an established star on the NHRA POWERade Series circuit with his Snap-on Tools-sponsored Suzuki TL-1000, a machine that carried him to a career-best 6.987 second elapsed in the quarter mile during the season-opening Gatornationals just two weeks ago. But Johnson, nearing his 21st anniversary as a professional drag racer, is much more than a talented racer. He's a multi-faceted individual able to interact with people across a wide spectrum of society, and the next week provides an interesting window into his rather hectic existence.

As a result of Johnson's dealings with the Birmingham Business Development Board he'll dine with Alabama Governor Bob Riley and President of the Jefferson County Commission, Bettye Fine Collins on Thursday evening, during which he'll outline for the state's leader his thoughts on moving his racing business from California to Alabama. "I hope that my reasons for moving my operation to Birmingham, and how that move has enhanced our operation, will give the governor some ammunition in his efforts to convince other businesses to move here," Johnson said. "Governor Riley and his staff know far more about those things than I do, of course, but I hope our 'story' proves helpful to those efforts."

Less than 24 hours after their dinner meeting Johnson will have jumped on a commercial flight for Houston, where he'll compete in the NHRA O'Reilly Spring Nationals at Houston Raceway Park in suburban Baytown. "Going from a formal meeting with our state's leader to the drag strip in Texas is a pretty big transition," Johnson admits. "I've got to change my whole approach to everything. I've got to transition from being a businessman trying to do my part in helping our state's employee base expand into becoming a single-minded racer determined to reach the winners circle. It may sound a little difficult, but I love the challenges that my life is giving me."

Johnson admits to being excited about the season, particularly after a strong semifinal round finish in Florida left him in fourth pace in the NHRA points standings. "It's obviously still very early in the season," he said, "but in order to finish strong, you've got to start strong.

"You could say that we had a positive outing in Florida, but we didn't win the race, and that's what our Snap-on Tools team is all about -- winning races and competing for this year's POWERade championship."

For all of the excitement that drag racing generates, it can also be a sobering experience. Young Eric Medlen, a popular Funny Car driver, succumbed to the injuries he sustained in a testing accident in Florida the day after the Gatornationals. "Eric was among the best of the new drivers on the circuit," Johnson said. "He was a joy to be around, always smiling, always with a good word for the fans. When something like this happens -- and thankfully such incidents are extremely rare -- it puts everything into perspective. Racing may seem important, but what really counts are family and friends, so we'll go on after attending the funeral in an effort to honor Eric's dream of becoming a champion."

During the O'Reilly Spring Nationals Johnson will personally interact with as many fans as possible, something that he's well known for. His non-stop personality made him a fan favorite years ago, with victories at races like the prestigious NHRA U.S. Nationals having made him a feared competitor as well. "I love signing autographs, just as I thoroughly enjoy meeting with the many potential and new WyoTech Technical Schools students who come out to visit with us at the NHRA events," Johnson said. "Every time I meet with a group of them I can't help but think that a year or two from now some of those young men and women will be participating in racing as tuners and mechanics, or they'll be working in technical jobs that will provide their families with a good living."

While the O'Reilly Spring Nationals will formally end late Sunday afternoon, hopefully with Johnson standing in the winners circle, his "weekend" will still be far from over. Early Monday morning he'll make the first of four personal appearances at Houston area schools where he'll continue to carry his important message about careers in and out of motorsports, the importance of an education in today's increasingly high tech world, and how to market one's self in today's job market. Each appearance will include a short video presentation followed by Johnson's outline and question and answer session. "I don't have a 'canned' speech," Johnson admits. "I try to make each appearance as personal as I can, so I tailor my remarks to how the students seem to be reacting. For me, the more personal it is, the better because these kids are smart, and you can't fool 'em. You've got to be honest and sincere in delivering your message, and this is an important 'message.'"

Johnson's first appearance is at Klein Forest High School in Houston at 8:00 AM, with a second stop at Klein High School in Klein at 9:30. He'll then make a stop at Klein Oak High School in Spring at 11:45 and cap off the day at Wunsche Sr. High School in Spring at about 1:00PM.

Johnson admits that the schedule is hectic, but still worth the effort. "What we do on the race track with our Snap-on Tools Suzuki is important," Johnson says, "but what we do away from the track is even more important. The young people I'll meet with at these four high schools, along with the WyoTech students I'll see at the track, are our future. It's critically important to all of us that we help them recognize the importance of an education in our increasingly high tech world."

From meeting with Alabama's governor, to racing in Texas and then to meeting with area high school students, Steve Johnson is going to have a very busy and rather long "weekend," but he wouldn't have it any other way. "I'm living a dream life," he says with a characteristic grin. "The hours may be long, but the emotional rewards are worth every minute of it."

-credit: ja

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Series NHRA
Drivers Eric Medlen , Bob Riley , Steve Johnson