Dallas: Tommy Johnson looks toward win

HOUSTON (October 19, 2000) - How many times has it been said that good things happen to good people? We've all heard it at one time or another, when good fortune enters someone's life, who because of their integrity, and the way they...

HOUSTON (October 19, 2000) - How many times has it been said that good things happen to good people? We've all heard it at one time or another, when good fortune enters someone's life, who because of their integrity, and the way they carry themselves in their day-to-day activities, Lady Luck kindly smiles upon them. But in reality, it's not fate that determines the final outcome of an event but rather the perseverance and persistence of the individuals involved -- character determines success. Enter Tommy Johnson Jr. After taking the reins as driver of the Interstate Batteries Pontiac Firebird Funny Car in June of 1999, the Ottumwa, Iowa, racer charged to a pair of victories in a late-season surge that included four final-round appearances and a 10th-place finish in the Winston Funny Car standings. When the team folded at the end of the year, Johnson was without a ride or a sponsor and turned his focus to his Super Comp car. But in a matter of days in late June of this year, Johnson went from not driving at all to being one of the busiest competitors in the sport when he was named driver of Helen Hofmann's Pontiac Firebird Funny Car prior to the running of the Sears Craftsman Nationals in St. Louis. "This year has definitely been up and down," Johnson said. "I went from being on top of the world at the end of last season, to being out of a job, trying to find something, and going crazy this season. I didn't have a full-time driving position, and that was really hard on me so I got a Super Comp car so I could compete. Just as soon as I started racing that car after one or two races, next thing I know I've got a job again driving for Helen (Hofmann) and since then I've been keeping pretty busy. "Everybody gives me a rough time about driving the Super Comp car. The two classes are so different from each other that you never get confused on which one you're in. But it's fun and it kept my skills sharp. That is one of the reasons I got the car - to work on my skills. It's such a difficult class that you can't be off at all. If you are, you're going home. But it's fun because I'm competing with some of the guys I grew up with and it helps me remember where I came from." With the 2000 NHRA Winston Championship tour entering its final two events of the year, a reflection on the past four months shows a team that has struggled but with its share of bright moments. At Seattle, Johnson's nitro-powered Firebird qualified in the No. 16 position and pulled an upset over pole-sitter Whit Bazemore. At Indy, the Hofmann Funny Car grabbed the No. 1 qualifying position before Bazemore returned the gratuity, sending Johnson home early in round one. And at Reading, Johnson once again pulled the upset, qualifying in the No. 16 spot and taking out top-seeded John Force. "We struggled through the first couple of races just trying to get a feel for what was going on," Johnson said. "I was trying to get re-acclimated with the Funny Car and trying to feel what the car was doing. As time has gone on, we've fixed one little problem at a time, have gotten the performance to come around, and it's been running a lot better now. Our goal is to see if we can go some rounds with this Firebird and maybe pick up a win before the year is over." As the NHRA schedule begins to wind down, Johnson's talent as a driver, his ability to interact with sponsors and his media friendly demeanor is once again being recognized. In September he was named driver of the Chuck Etchells Kendall Camaro for 2001, and following the AutoZone Nationals in Memphis, he was asked by Don Schumacher to fill in for Tony Schumacher in the U.S. Army Top Fuel dragster after Tony's crash there in the final round of qualifying. "The Schumacher deal was a very tough decision and I appreciate the fact that they even considered me," Johnson said. "I was a nervous basket case for two or three days trying to decide what I was going to do. I would go back and forth and I asked a lot of people for advice. The racer in me kept saying 'Man you got to get in that car because you can win every race you drive it in.' But then my loyalty to the team took hold and that helped seal the decision. I also realized that since I was going to race Funny Car next year with Chuck (Etchells), I would need those Big Bud Shootout points. I just had to sit down and weigh it all out. "Once I told Helen what I was going to do, I think it renewed her faith a little bit in people. She was very relieved. I've raced with this team for most of the season, what's a few more races? The only drawback was that I probably could've won any one of the final three races." In return, Helen Hofmann knows it wasn't an easy decision for the 32-year-old Johnson and appreciates the young driver's dedication. "His commitment to our crew just confirmed my impression of him over the past couple of months, especially since I had a gut feeling that it might happen," Hofmann explained. "I know how much he was offered and it was incredible. There are quite a few people out there that would've taken that in a heartbeat. Some people think money can buy everything, but I think Tommy's integrity and character proves that is wrong." If good things really do happen to good people then expect to see Tommy Johnson Jr. in the winner's circle some time soon. "Mentally I am ready," Johnson said. "I have something to prove now. I made my choice, now I want to go out and prove myself. The year is running out and I want to do something before it's over. We've come a long way together on this Hofmann Racing team, and now we want to show that we have what it takes to win." Houston Raceway Park in Baytown, Tex., will host the 4th annual Matco Tools SuperNationals on October 26 - 29. It is the 23rd event on the 24-event NHRA Winston championship tour. NHRA Heat can be seen on ESPN2 on Thursday, October 26, beginning at 6 p.m. Eastern. First-round coverage of final eliminations can be seen on ESPN2 on Sunday, October 29, starting at 2:30 p.m. Eastern with final-round coverage beginning at 7:30 p.m. Eastern.

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Series NHRA
Drivers Whit Bazemore , Tony Schumacher , Tommy Johnson , Don Schumacher , Tommy Johnson Jr.