STEVE JOHNSON NEEDS SOME MORE INDY MAGIC TO MAKE COUNTDOWN CHARGE AT MAC TOOLS U.S. NATIONALS CLERMONT, Ind. - On two occasions Steve Johnson has literally come out of nowhere to win the Pro Stock Motorcycle trophy at the Mac Tools...
STEVE JOHNSON NEEDS SOME MORE INDY MAGIC TO MAKE COUNTDOWN CHARGE AT MAC TOOLS U.S. NATIONALS
CLERMONT, Ind. - On two occasions Steve Johnson has literally come out of nowhere to win the Pro Stock Motorcycle trophy at the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals, the world's most prestigious drag race.
In 2005, he won amid some controversy after a television replay was needed to verify that his bike actually crossed the finish line first in his final round meeting with Matt Smith. Last year no such technology was needed as he sped to the upset victory on his Snap-on Tools / Wyotech Suzuki over heavy pre-race favorite Andrew Hines.
The often zany and colorfully-candid Johnson just seems to find a way to rise to the occasion on the biggest stage. He'll need to tap into that power this year at the 55th annual Mac Tools U.S. Nationals presented by Lucas Oil, Sept. 2-7 at O'Reilly Raceway Park at Indianapolis. The tradition-rich race will be showcased during more than 10 hours of coverage on ESPN2 HD and it is the final regular season race in the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series before the top 10 fields in each pro category are set for NHRA's six-race championship playoff, the Countdown to 1.
Johnson enters the race sitting just outside the top 10 in the point standings, two points behind Karen Stoffer. A trio of first round losses to rookie Doug Horne during the last three events has kicked Johnson from a comfortable eighth-place position in the standings and put him on the hot seat as he enters the final race of the regular season.
With three spots available for five riders, Reading runner-up Michael Phillips, Shawn Gann and Brainerd runner-up Junior Pippin also will be trying to secure berths in the championship playoffs at Indy. However, Johnson says his primary focus during the weekend will be trying to earn more points than GEICO Powersports Suzuki rider Stoffer.
"It's between me and Karen really," Johnson said. "We don't have the steam to keep up with her in qualifying. We'll need some luck in the first round."
For Johnson, it is all about the challenge. He is up for it. Especially at this event, the Super Bowl of drag racing.
Johnson says the week is like no other: "Indy is an event where you get five hours of sleep a night, give your seat up on the plane to a soldier, find a hotel with a treadmill, eat plain oatmeal and turkey sandwiches all week, take the sponsors out for dinner at St. Elmo's Steak House, find a couple of spare Vance & Hines engines, make sure your sponsors are happy even if you are struggling and hopefully find a friend or two that will do anything to help you out during that crazy week."
He is very proud to call himself a two-time Mac Tools U.S. Nationals champion.
"It's a time in a racer's life that he or she just has to do it," Johnson said. "It's something that when it happens - the win - your stock rises. For some, just a little, but for others, a ton. But in either case the magic is when you have to flip a coin on a jetting call (in the tune-up) and it's the right one and you win the race."
And the other magic of Indy is taking the time to catch up with old friends.
"The last year (NHRA founder) Wally Parks went to the U.S. Nationals he and (board members) Dick Wells and Dallas (Gardner) and three golf carts full of people came to the motorcycle side of the track," Johnson said. "I didn't have a lounge or a big rig, but I had a card table, chairs and an ice chest. Wally sat with me and talked about bikes and where I thought the bikes would go. We talked about the salt flats and my school programs. When he left that day, I was so proud that he knew me, but it showed all the motorcycle teams how diverse this man was. He always listened...even to Steve Johnson."
Johnson says another successful week at Indy would be a cure for his season to date, which has featured only one semifinal finish and two quarterfinal efforts.
"This season has been a huge struggle for sure," Johnson said. "We have all of the ingredients that we need to be successful, but for some reason right now they aren't mixing right. But we have a reputation of being a second-half team. We'll see what happens."
While his personal season hasn't been going as planned, as president of PRO2, an organization that promotes motorcycle drag racing on the professional level, Johnson is on cloud nine.
"Our class is really great right now," Johnson said. "Seeing Junior (Pippin) and so many Buells doing so well says a lot for our class. It shows the guys and girls at home as well as the fans and corporate America that anyone can win these races."
Johnson is also qualified to participate in the Ringers Gloves Pro Bike Battle, a special bonus event that will be held Sept. 5 for the eight best riders from the last 17 Pro Stock Motorcycle races. He will face Hines in the first round. A winner's share of $25,000 will be on the line in the special event that current series points leader and defending world champion Eddie Kraweic won last year on his Screamin' Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson.
SCHEDULE: The first of five pro qualifying sessions is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 4. Qualifying continues at noon and 5:45 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 5 and concludes at 11:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 6. Ringers Gloves Pro Bike Battle eliminations are at 1:15 p.m., 5:30 p.m. and 7:40 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 5. Final eliminations begin at 11 a.m. on Monday, Sept. 7.
TICKETS: Tickets are available for the 55th annual Mac Tools U.S. Nationals presented by Lucas Oil by calling (800) 884-NHRA, or via the Web at www.ticketmaster.com.
ON TV: ESPN2 and ESPN2 HD will televise more than 10 hours of coverage of the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals presented by Lucas Oil beginning on Sunday, Sept. 6 with NHRA Race Day, a 30-minute magazine show at 11 a.m., and followed by a two hour and 30 minute qualifying show at 11:30 a.m. (ET). A two-hour qualifying show will air later that day on ESPN2 HD at 5 p.m. (ET). On Monday, Sept. 7, ESPN2 HD will televise a one-hour NHRA Race Day from the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals preview show at noon (ET), followed by a five-hour eliminations show starting at 1 p.m. (ET).