"It's Time For History To Repeat Itself" -- Steve Johnson On The Eve Of Drag Racing's Most Prestigious Event CLAREMONT, IN 8/25/07 The year was 2005. Snap-on Tools Suzuki Pro Stock Motorcycle racer Steve Johnson of Irondale, Ala., had just...
"It's Time For History To Repeat Itself" -- Steve Johnson On The Eve Of Drag Racing's Most Prestigious Event
CLAREMONT, IN 8/25/07 The year was 2005. Snap-on Tools Suzuki Pro Stock Motorcycle racer Steve Johnson of Irondale, Ala., had just made the turn off at the finish line of what was then called Indianapolis Raceway Park and is now known as O'Reilly Raceway Park at Indianapolis. It was the final round of the NHRA U.S. Nationals, the most prestigious event on the NHRA POWERade Series tour, and Johnson was sure he'd won what was admittedly a very close race against Matt Smith.
But, as his motorcycle rolled to a stop and he lifted the visor on his helmet, his worst nightmare was coming true -- the photographers and television reporters were heading towards his opponent.
"I lost?," he asked incredulously. "This can't be happening," but it was. Smith grinned and happily thanked his team in the foreground, while in the background Johnson sat astride his motorcycle, head down, dejected.
The race was so close the ESPN broadcasters replayed the entire race, concentrating on the finish line, and then a not-so-funny thought began to enter every viewer's mind -- Johnson's Suzuki appeared to be the clear winner. Not by much, but in drag racing any margin at all is enough.
And while the debate raged among the NHRA officials as to what they'd actually seen on their screens, Matt Smith received the accolades of the fans and media.
Less than 24 hours later the National Hot Rod Association made one of the toughest, yet fairest decisions, in their history. They declared Steve Johnson the winner of the 2005 NHRA U.S. Nationals.
Alas, by then the fans, the photographers and everyone else had long since deserted the race track, and there was no one with whom Johnson could celebrate, so his "official" winner's circle appearance was put off until the following weekend's POWERade Series race.
"That was a lot of fun," Johnson said, "but it wasn't like getting to celebrate with my teammates and friends in Indy. This time around I'm hoping we can make that celebration the real thing, on Labor Day Monday afternoon, with the fans, with the media, and with our sponsors. It's time for history to repeat itself -- without all the controversy!
"And, if things really go the way we hope they will, it'll be a double celebration because we're going to go all out to win the Ringers Gloves Pro Bike Battle on Saturday afternoon."
Following a year's worth of qualifying efforts Johnson has once again qualified for the Battle, a special race in which he's competed nine times in its 16-year history. He's tied with the late Dave Schultz with those nine qualifications, with only Angelle Sampey having competed in more Battles, 10. Ironically enough, they'll pair off in the first round of eliminations on Saturday, September 1st.
"When I look at my history in the Battle I kind of feel like NFL Hall of Famer Dan Marino. He took his team to the Super Bowl in almost his first year in the league, but they lost. He thought getting back to the big game would be easy, but it never happened for him.
"I made it to the finale of the first one of these special races in 1991, but I haven't been in a final round since then. Now's the time to make up for that and go all the way to the winner's circle.
"Angelle is a tough competitor, but I have confidence in my crew chief, Mark Peiser, and in our mechanics, Tim Kulungian and Richie Wiley, as well, and I think we can get the job done," Johnson said.
Although Johnson just missed the cut for this year's Countdown to the Championship, he's determined to make the remainder of the season memorable.
"We can still have a major impact on the championship," he correctly notes. "If we have our Snap-on Tools Suzuki properly prepared, and if everyone on the team, including me, does his job perfectly, we can win the Pro Bike Battle and the U.S. Nationals.
"We have the will," he added. "Now we just have to find the way!"