Gainesville Steve Johnson Hungry for First 1999 Win

JOHNSON HUNGRY TO GET FIRST PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE WIN IN 1999 GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- There's nothing like a little side bet between friends to add extra motivation toward the pursuit of a goal. No one doubts NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle ...

JOHNSON HUNGRY TO GET FIRST PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE WIN IN 1999 GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- There's nothing like a little side bet between friends to add extra motivation toward the pursuit of a goal. No one doubts NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle competitor Steve Johnson's motivation. But a friendly challenge from good pal Kenny Wallace, a competitor in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series, has fueled the fire for Johnson to achieve a goal that he's been after for some time. A nine-year veteran of drag racing's two-wheel category, Johnson is still searching for that elusive first victory. While he's won in other circuits, the Chatsworth, Calif. driver is 0 for 3 in final rounds in the big leagues of NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series competition.

As Pro Stock Motorcycle competitors prepare for the 30th annual Mac Tools Gatornationals March 18-21 at historic Gainesville Raceway, Johnson is absolutely ready to look into the TV camera and say victory is sweet. The $2.1 million race is the first of 14 events for Pro Stock Motorcycle competitors in the $40 million NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series.

"I'm pretty good friends with Kenny and we've got a little personal race going on between us to see who's going to be the first to get the opportunity to get in the winner's circle and say, 'At this moment, right now, I am the man,'" Johnson said with his patented wide grin streaking across his face. "I would love to be able to do that at Gainesville."

Johnson, 38, has long been one of the biggest spokespersons for Pro Stock Motorcycle, no matter his absence from the winner's circle. His candid attitude and free-flowing personality makes him one of the most popular bike competitors. Still, the desire to get a win burns deep.

"When I do win I'm going to hang my trophy around my neck on a chain for everyone to see," Johnson said. "Some guys carry it around with them for a while after they win. I'm going to hang that trophy on my neck and wear it all the way home. When I get on the plane the next day people are going to know that I won. If we win it would be a huge thing. Then I would finally have something to promote. I've done a good job so far promoting my team and representing the class, but when I win, everybody better look out."

For the first time since he finished third in the Winston point standings in 1995 while riding a second bike for Star Racing, Johnson feels like all the ingredients are in place to mount a serious challenge for a victory, and who knows, maybe even a championship.

While the primary sponsor search continues, Johnson is excited about a new engine program and a new bike that he hopes to debut at Gainesville.

"You know, I've been racing for a long time and have always used everyone's leftovers," Johnson said. "This is the first time in my career that I'll have a new bike for the season. It's also the first time in my career that I'll be the 'A' rider for the team."

With his partnership with Rick Ward and Ward Performance, Johnson will be one of a few riders who aren't utilizing a mass-produced engine combination. Johnson hopes taking the road less traveled will produce positive results.

"With so many of the other teams running Vance & Hines engines, I'm going to stick out like a sore thumb," Johnson said. "I'm either going to be at the back of the pack, or have a chance to win some races. It was just too good of an opportunity to pass up because all of the ingredients were there. Terry Vance used to tell me that the best way to have a great program is to have your own engine program. Finally, we have that."

Ward, the 1995 U.S. Nationals winner and former mechanic at Vance & Hines Racing, will also serve as crew chief for the team, while Johnson devotes more time to signing autographs and working business deals with potential sponsors.

Johnson says the new situation will be a lot better than last season, where he says by the end of a race weekend he was totally spent, both emotionally and physically.

"Last year was a very trying season, but a rewarding one," said Johnson, who spent most of his time leading a campaign to raise money for the family of fallen friend John Myers, who was killed in a non-racing motorcycle accident in early August. "After the fifth race we were about 19th in points and struggling. Finally we got our act together and made some semifinal appearances. We worked our way back into the Winston top 10. I think by the end of the season we were competitive. At the same time we were very busy raising money for the John Myers Memorial Fund. It was a struggle at times, but we were able to draw strength from the memory of John."

Johnson expects each team to be much improved and each event to be more competitive as a result of the engine program offered by Vance & Hines.

"This is the first year that every rider in the top 10 has the potential to win a race," Johnson said. "Thanks to Byron Hines building about 25 engines for most of the competitors out here it's going to be more competitive this year. I think there'll be some new faces in the winner's circle. It's going to be great year for Pro Stock Motorcycle."

Defending champion Matt Hines is still the man to beat according to Johnson.

"Everybody is talking about Matt," Johnson said. "But that's understandable because he's dominated the last few years. Between he and his dad, they don't make many mistakes. That's a tough combination to beat. If you're going to beat Matt you have to outrun him because you sure can't rely on him making a mistake. And to outrun him, you might have better odds waiting for him to make a mistake. That's a tough team."

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Series NHRA
Drivers Matt Hines , Kenny Wallace , Steve Johnson