Steve Johnson Primed And Ready For "The Big Go"- Drag Racing's Most Prestigious Event IRONDALE, AL. Six days from today -- at just about this precise hour -- qualifying will begin for the largest and most prestigious drag race of this or any...
Steve Johnson Primed And Ready For "The Big Go"- Drag Racing's Most Prestigious Event
IRONDALE, AL. Six days from today -- at just about this precise hour -- qualifying will begin for the largest and most prestigious drag race of this or any other year. A few short days from now dozens of Pro Stock Motorcycle racers will begin their quests for glory at the NHRA U.S. Nationals at O'Reilly Raceway Park in the Indianapolis suburb of Clarement. It's a quest that Steve Johnson of Irondale, Ala. knows all about, for just a few short years ago, after four grueling days of competition he stood atop the heap -- well, almost!
An electronic error first gave the victory to his opponent in a race so close that Johnson himself was stunned at the outcome. As he turned off the track aboard his Snap-on Tools/WyoTech Technical Schools Suzuki, he turned to the assembled media and plaintively asked, "I lost?" It was a bitter pill to swallow, but less than 24 hours later, after careful examination of the race video it was apparent to all that Johnson had won by almost a wheel width.
"Yeah, I was crushed when I thought I lost," Johnson said from his shop in Irondale as his team prepared for the trip to Indiana. "Getting that close to winning the most important race of the year only to come up short is incredibly depressing. I had a real tough night that Labor Day Monday, but the next morning everything changed."
While Johnson may have been forced by circumstances to enjoy his U.S. Nationals winners circle celebration at a race in the Keystone State a week after the fact, he didn't mind. "When all was said and done, our team had won the NHRA U.S. Nationals," he recalls. "No one can ever take that away from us, but right now I'm packing that away in my memory banks. Right now, here in 2008, the object is to win it all again, and believe me, there's a lot at stake here."
Johnson isn't exaggerating. At the conclusion of the U.S. Nationals the Countdown to 1 program begins, with only the Top 10 points earners remaining eligible for this year's NHRA POWERade championship. Going into the race he's in 9th place in the standings, and while it appears unlikely that he'll be knocked out of the Top 10 by the time it's over, he knows that in racing, anything can happen.
"We're pretty confident right now," he says, "but we can't let up, not for a single second. The U.S. Nationals is the only race in which we get five rather than four qualifying attempts. We can't afford to blow a single opportunity. There are two evening sessions -- Friday and Saturday. We need to make good -- no, make that great runs in both of those, and then we've got to make competitive runs during the heat of the day, because that's the kind of conditions we're going to face on race day, which is Labor Day Monday.
"Man, it's still seven days from now, and I'm already feeling the pressure!"
Johnson's crew chief, Mark Peiser, feels the team has shown tremendous promise in the last few weeks, but he knows Indy isn't "just another race." "If we're going to be lucky enough to roll our Snap-on Tools/WyoTech Suzuki into the winners circle on Monday, we darn sure better make good runs Friday, Saturday, Sunday and then again during eliminations on Monday," he said. "This is a real challenge, but I think we're up to it."
Nicknamed "The Big Go" eons ago by drag racing fans, the U.S. Nationals offers competitors the largest purse of the season, but in actuality, for racers like Steve Johnson it's more about the points than it is the money. "If we come out of Indy in the Top 10 and qualify for the Countdown," he said, "we'll consider it a victory, of course.
"But coming out of Indy with another win? That's the stuff dreams are made of!"