Brainerd: Tommy Johnson Jr. preview

Johnson would like to start Blue Skoal Racing performance turn around at Brainerd BRAINERD, Minn., Aug. 12, 2002 - There once was a time when Tommy Johnson Jr. called Brainerd International Raceway his home track, even though he lived in...

Johnson would like to start Blue Skoal Racing performance turn around at Brainerd

BRAINERD, Minn., Aug. 12, 2002 - There once was a time when Tommy Johnson Jr. called Brainerd International Raceway his home track, even though he lived in Ottumwa, Iowa.

"It was an eight-hour drive from our place to Brainerd, but that was the closest NHRA Division 5 track to home," Johnson recalled.

That was a few years ago, however. When Johnson returns to the Brainerd Lakes area again - for the 21st annual Rugged Liners Nationals, Aug. 15-18, at BIR - he won't be going via the interstate.

"I'll be flying this time," said Johnson, who now calls Indianapolis home. "It's about an 8-to-10 hour drive from Indianapolis, and that's a little too far to drive." Johnson opted to leave Ottumwa for Indy after he signed a multi-year contract in 2001 to drive

Don "The Snake" Prudhomme's Blue Skoal Racing Funny Car and Prudhomme built a new race shop in Brownsburg, just a few miles from Indianapolis Raceway Park, site of the NHRA's U.S. Nationals.

"Brainerd was a good track for me when I drove a Top Fuel dragster," Johnson said. "I won my first race in Seattle in 1993 and the next race was at Brainerd, and I finished second."

Since joining the Funny Car ranks, Johnson hasn't made it to the title round at this scenic facility, but he was a semifinalist in 1999. He qualified fourth last year but dropped out in the first round after the engine's blower expired.

Johnson and his Blue crew come to town determined to turn around the car's performance. He's 10th in the NHRA POWERade Series standings (632 points) and wants to flex his competitive muscles. Their goal is simple: Qualify well and win rounds in Sunday's eliminations. But that's something Johnson and the Blue crew haven't been able to do in the last four races.

Johnson's last round wins came almost two months ago at Columbus, Ohio (June 16), where he lost to Green Skoal Racing teammate Ron Capps in the semifinals. He qualified at the three Western swing events at Denver, Seattle, and Sonoma, Calif., but that was as far as he went.

"Our car really wanted to run at Sonoma (Aug. 4) but we had trouble smoking the tires at a point on the track where there was the transition from concrete to asphalt," Johnson said. "We ran our quickest 60 and 330-foot times of the year there. If it hadn't been for our trouble at the transition and a problem with manifolds breaking . . . well, who knows how well we might've done.

"Rob (Flynn, crew chief) and Larry (Meyer, assistant crew chief) had our car running extremely well in the first part of the track and hopefully we can come out at Brainerd and take up where we left off in California. I know we'll be out there plugging away, trying to get this thing turned around."

Johnson and his crew would like to build a little momentum heading into Indianapolis for the prestigious U.S. Nationals, Aug. 30-Sept. 2.

"If we do well at Indy, it could turn our whole season around and we may be able do well the rest of the way," Johnson commented.

He knows a little something about second-half charges. When Johnson drove Joe Gibbs' Funny Car in 1999, he only competed in the last 13 events. But he won twice, was second twice and climbed all the way into 10th place by the end of the season.

This time Johnson begins his quest for improvement in 10th, so he already has a head start on '99. Now it's a matter of performance and perseverance over the final eight 2002 events to see how far up the ladder he can go.

-sr-

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About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers Ron Capps , Tommy Johnson Jr.