Pomona: GM Racing preview

Tommy Johnson Jr. looks for fast start in Chevy Impala SS Chevrolet brings Impala SS Funny Car to NHRA POWERade Series POMONA, Calif., February 6, 2007 - For the past two years, Funny Car driver Tommy Johnson Jr. has started the NHRA season off...

Tommy Johnson Jr. looks for fast start in Chevy Impala SS
Chevrolet brings Impala SS Funny Car to NHRA POWERade Series

POMONA, Calif., February 6, 2007 - For the past two years, Funny Car driver Tommy Johnson Jr. has started the NHRA season off strong by winning one of the first two races on the schedule, and that eventually led to back-to-back sixth-place finishes in the POWERade points standings. The driver of Don Prudhomme's Skoal Racing Chevy Impala SS looks for that trend to continue as he prepares for the season-opening CARQUEST Auto Parts NHRA Winternationals on Feb. 8-11 at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona in Pomona, California. Johnson won this contest in 2005 by defeating Phil Burkart Jr. in the final, and last year he got off to another fast start by defeating 14-time Funny Car champ John Force in the final of the second race of the season at Phoenix. The 38-year-old Avon, Ind., resident has scored eight career wins, raced in 21 final rounds, earned seven No. 1 qualifying awards and notched nine top-10 finishes in points (six in Funny Car). Johnson's other Pomona successes include a No. 1 qualifying award at the 2001 Winternationals and a runner-up at the 2002 NHRA Finals.

Progress of the new Chevy Impala SS Funny Car.

"There was a lot of excitement during the off-season with what we saw in the GM Aero Lab, and with the numbers it gave us in developing the new Impala SS, we were excited to get it on the track and see what it could actually do. The wind tunnel is one thing, but on-track results are another, and our first few test sessions confirmed just how good this Impala SS is going to be - it's a much better body for downforce. When you get more downforce, you usually get drag with it, but we've managed to get the numbers of downforce up and drag down, and we're seeing that with the speeds the Impala is running."

Did you get a good indication in testing of the potential of the Impala SS?

"We're seeing the benefits of the new body, especially with the MPH. The e.t. is made from horsepower and accelerating the car, but MPH usually comes from a nice, slick body with less drag, and we saw better speeds from the new body right off the bat. I think that's something that will continue throughout the year - it's just easier to push the Impala through the air. I look to see my career top speed of 331.45 go on up this year. Early results from testing indicate that the Impala wants to run a lot faster, and I'm pretty confident this Skoal Racing team will make that happen."

How much work did the Skoal Racing team put into getting the new Impala SS race-ready?

"Mike Green may be one of the most underrated crew chiefs out here on the tour. People don't realize what all he can do and his efforts were very instrumental in helping Chevrolet develop this body. Not only can he tune a racecar, but Mike is also very well-rounded, technically speaking, and helped out quite a bit with the body design. I think the increased performance has a lot to do with the work Mike's done with Chevy Racing, and for that matter, the work of all the guys on the Skoal Racing team. Designing one of these bodies from scratch is not an easy task, and they put in hundreds of hours over the winter putting the car together, getting it mounted, just all the time and effort that they put in. When you develop a new body, there are new things that come along that you have to adjust to that are different from what you've run in the past, and it hasn't been a problem at all for them. They've risen to the task and done a great job. Between Las Vegas and Phoenix, the guys were able to make a new windshield at the shop, and they shipped it out to us. The guys at the track put it in and it was night-and-day difference for me and made me a lot more comfortable in the car. Our team goes above and beyond what's asked of them and they never complain. As a driver, you have to appreciate a crew that goes out of their way to make things happen for you. Everybody on this team wants to win and is ready to do whatever it takes to get there. Everybody here is ready to go that extra mile, and as a driver it gives me a lot of confidence knowing there are a group of guys here that will do anything they can. You want a guy that will give blood for this car and everyone on this team would."

What do you like about the Impala?

"For one thing, it's a good-looking car, I think the best out here. We've had a lot of compliments, not only from fans, but from other racers on how good the Impala looks, and it looks like it's going 300 mph sitting still. One of the unexpected surprises that we discovered is with the larger cockpit. I see less smoke and less clutch dust inside the car. Since it's not concentrated in one area, there's more room for that stuff to escape, so when I'm driving the car, my vision's better from not having all of that dust in my face. That's an unforeseen added benefit we weren't expecting. The car is also very stable, it's extremely balanced aero-wise and it's easy to drive. I can put it anywhere I want on the racetrack. It's a lighter body than what we were running and anytime you can make it lighter, it's going to be quicker. There are a lot of added benefits, but I think the biggest thing is that the Impala SS is a slick piece that slides through air, and anything you can do to make yourself quicker and faster, that's they key to winning in drag racing."

What are some of your goals in 2007 and how can you improve on last season?

"The biggest thing I like about our team is that we didn't make a lot of changes. We made changes as far as the new body was concerned and some things to make things go quicker, but the biggest thing is that we didn't change any of the crew. We have one new addition and that's it. That's big as far as continuity and building chemistry with your team. If you look over the past few years, the teams that are really good are the ones that don't make changes. They have a good group of guys and they are able to build on that. Chemistry is something you can't buy - you have to build it over the course of a few race seasons. That's what our team has done over the past few years and that's why we keep getting better and better. We had a great season last year, but we definitely want to improve on that. Being one of the only single car teams in the top 10 the past two years, we've shown that we're strong enough to compete with the multi-car teams. We won two races last year and scored two No. 1 qualifiers, but I think this team is a lot better than that. We can win more races and earn more low-qualifier awards, especially with the performance of the car the way it is. If we don't finish top five this year I will be disappointed, but I have even higher goals. When it comes down to the final two races, I want to be one of the four cars that has a shot at the championship."

Last season it looked like the Skoal Racing Chevrolet was right on the cusp of breaking through to a top five.

"We had a meeting over the winter and decided that we were going to buckle down and try to carry that winning momentum all the way through to the end of the season. The new points system might play to the advantage of a team like ours where we seem to come on strong at the end of the year. Our focus is to get out of the gate early, get into position to be in the top eight in points and lock ourselves into that Countdown to the Championship. When it comes time to race Indy, traditionally this Skoal Racing Chevrolet really starts to shine, and we want to make sure when the time counts, our team is at its peak performance. We've learned what we have to do to make that happen and it's easier to do when you have a great team like we have, an owner like Don Prudhomme a sponsor like Skoal and a racecar like the Chevy Impala SS. When Indy comes it will be a whole new season and we want to be ready."

Do you like the new points system?

"Regardless of what the points system is, you still have to win it. If things go as planned, I think I'm really going to like it. A lot of people don't like change, but I'm not one of them. The system is the same for everybody and you have to go out and win it regardless of what it is. This team is all focused that way. We know what the rules are and we all want to win it."

How important was it to win Phoenix last year?

"When you can start off the season early with a win, it gives you the confidence knowing you can win. Half the battle is having confidence. Two years ago we won the first race of the season and last year we won the second race, and that really helps set the tone when you can get that done right out of the gate. The guys have that little extra kick in their step and then when you come out on Sunday, you're that much more confident in what you can do, knowing that you can beat the rest of these teams out here and that you have a shot. When you struggle at the beginning of the season, it can beat you down in a hole and make it tougher to come out of it. We want to get a win early in the year, and if you can get one early, it takes a little of the pressure off."

What's are the challenges of competing with the multi-car teams?

"I enjoy being a part of a single-car team. It makes it a little tougher, but there are some advantages of being a single-car team with fewer distractions. It all falls on what you have and what you have to work with, but the guys here take pride in being able to compete with the multi-car teams and nobody here complains about working a little bit harder. There's a lot of pride in being a single-car team in the top 10 and outrunning some of these multi-car teams. It's something that makes you dig a little deeper."

The trip to visit American troops in Germany last November.

"The first year we were kind of in awe of the trip, being able to see all the troops and visit with them. I told Melanie all about it and she was able to join us this year. I was able to take more in this time, be more relaxed and take in a lot more of what we were doing, spend a little more time with the troops talking to them. It was such a neat deal, and you can't believe what drag racing fans all the troops are and how excited they were to see us. Little did they know we were as excited to see them. It was an extremely enjoyable experience and something I'd like to do every year if possible - visit those folks who put up so much for our country. The biggest thing I took away was their sense of pride, and a lot of them we talked to made a trip to the drag races. Some were at St. Louis, some were at Sonoma and some others were at Denver. During their leave they came to the races to watch us. What little we could do to go visit them in our off-season was a small price to pay because what little time they get off they come to the drag races. And now I see where American Forces Network is going to carry the NHRA POWERade telecasts - that's great news."

Are you ready for the new season?

"We had a great time in Europe, and Melanie and I got to spend a few extra days visiting Paris, and France and England. We enjoyed our off-season and got together with our families during the holidays. It's a long season, but that two and half months off, you have to use it wisely and relax as much as possible. I'm the kind of person, though, that after a few weeks of off-time I was ready to go again. At the end of the year you're always ready for it to be over, but after a few weeks I'm ready to go again. I've recharged my batteries and I'm ready to run."

-credit: gm racing

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About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers John Force , Don Prudhomme , Phil Burkart , Tommy Johnson Jr.