Bristol: Tommy Johnson preview

Skoal Racing: Johnson, Blue Skoal Racing crew focus on continuing final-round appearance streak at Bristol. BRISTOL, Tenn., April 19, 2002 - There's a spring in his step and a smile on his face. Tommy Johnson Jr. is enjoying climbing the Funny...

Skoal Racing:
Johnson, Blue Skoal Racing crew focus on continuing final-round appearance streak at Bristol.

BRISTOL, Tenn., April 19, 2002 - There's a spring in his step and a smile on his face. Tommy Johnson Jr. is enjoying climbing the Funny Car standings.

In his last two outings at Las Vegas and Houston, Johnson drove Don "The Snake" Prudhomme's Blue Skoal Racing Funny Car into the final round. He came away with runner-up finishes, but the performances have been the most consistent since he joined the team last year. And he's back among the leaders in a crowded field challenging for the NHRA Powerade championship.

"I have something to talk about for a change," Johnson said after he chased John Force across the finish line at Houston (April 14). It was Force's 100th career victory but it was Johnson's second title round in as many weeks and matched his entire 2001 output.

Now another pair of back-to-back events loom on the schedule: the Mac Tools Thunder Valley Nationals, April 26-28, at Bristol Dragway and the Southern Nationals at Commerce, Ga., May 2-5.

"Things have gone really well lately," he added, and rightfully so. He was in ninth place after the season's third event, but he jumped to sixth after his first runner-up, to Gary Densham, at Las Vegas. Now he's fourth with 321 points, one behind Densham and 19 behind runner-up Del Worsham.

"If anyone had told me in Pomona (Calif., at the season-opening Winternationals) that I'd be that high in the standings by now I would've told them there was no chance. We weren't even close to the top 10. We qualified 16th and lost in the first round.

"I remember thinking that this could be a long year if we were going to continue that pace, but Don Prudhomme isn't known for being satisfied with poor performances. He made some changes (Larry Meyer taking over as crew chief one of them), and away we went. It's amazing how things can turn around in such a hurry.

While Johnson has two first-round setbacks on his 2002 ledger, he embellished them with the two seconds and one semifinal-round finish.

"I'm happy this is a 23-race schedule because we have 18 more to go and I think we are getting better and better at every race. Getting to the finals of the last two races has been a real needed morale boost to the Blue crew. This really helped."

Johnson won the spring race at Las Vegas and was runner-up at St. Louis last year in his only other final rounds with the Skoal Racing team. Overall, he has five victories in 13 final rounds, eight in Funny Car, five in Top Fuel.

Q - What's caused this climb up the standings?

A - The success we're having has come from hard work. It didn't just happen by accident. The crew has worked very hard. We tested the Monday after the Houston race and I think we've now made 77 runs this year. We've only made 33 runs at the national events, counting qualifying, so that means we've made 44 test runs. The guys have never complained. They just keep working. A lot of work goes into servicing the car 77 times.

I'd be lying to you if I said we were beating them with performance. We've discovered there is a fine line between getting down the track and not smoking the tires or dropping cylinders when the racetracks are hot and the sun is out. We've managed to get down the tracks the last two races in a row. The engine dropped cylinders but we were still quick enough to get down the track and get the round wins. We lost both finals by not getting down the track good enough. We smoked the tires against Densham and hazed the tires against Force. Obviously, the key is to get to the finish line without smoking the tires.

Q - Do tricky race day conditions put undue pressure on the drivers?

A - From the driver's standpoint, it kind of puts the pressure on your shoulders. I like that pressure of being able to out-drive the other guy and being able to pedal the throttle when necessary. I'd like to run the low elapsed times and the big speeds, too, but, at the same time, I enjoy out-driving the other guy.

Q - What are your goals for the Bristol and Atlanta races?

A - The main focus is to keep our car qualifying at all the races. That's a big factor for every team. We've been down to our last qualifying run and not been in the program a couple of times this year and that's no fun. We want to make sure we get in the show, hopefully qualifying it early. One DNQ like we had at Atlanta last year can really hurt you and that's something we want to avoid. A number of good cars - including Worsham - have had a non-qualifying race this year. You can't be immune to it.

Q - How does it feel to be the answer to the trivia question, "What driver was in the other lane when John Force won his 100th career race?

A - I thought about that a lot. Initially, I didn't like it. But he was bound to win No. 100, so I decided I might as well be the one who will be remembered for making the final round with him.

-sr-

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About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers John Force , Tommy Johnson , Gary Densham , Don Prudhomme , Tommy Johnson Jr.