Pomona: Tommy Johnson eager to start season

Skoal Racing Report: Slimmer Tommy Johnson Jr. Wants to be in NHRA Funny Car Title hunt all Season POMONA, Calif., Feb. 1, 2002 - A runner of marathons doesn't develop the stamina and endurance to compete in the grueling 26-milers in the first...

Skoal Racing Report:
Slimmer Tommy Johnson Jr. Wants to be in NHRA Funny Car Title hunt all Season

POMONA, Calif., Feb. 1, 2002 - A runner of marathons doesn't develop the stamina and endurance to compete in the grueling 26-milers in the first month of training. It takes time.

Tommy Johnson Jr. can correlate that to his profession, which is exactly opposite to that of a distance runner. As a drag racer, Johnson's concentration is on the 440-yard dash, where he hopes to cover the distance in less than 4.7 seconds at speeds in excess of 320 mph.

Johnson joined Don "The Snake" Prudhomme's two-car Skoal Racing team last year, running the full 24-race NHRA schedule for the first time since 1996, when he drove a Top Fuel dragster.

"I learned a lot about endurance," he said as he prepared for the 2002 Powerade Drag Racing Series opener, the K&N Filters Winternationals, Feb. 7-10, at Pomona Raceway. "And I learned how to race for the full season instead of the partial seasons like I'd done (while driving Funny Cars for two different teams) in 1999 and 2000.

"I've raced full seasons before, but none with such a high-caliber team. I'm much smarter now about how we need to go about things in 2002."

Johnson's not only altered his mental attitude he's changed his physique, losing 20 pounds to weigh in at a svelte 158 pounds. He wasn't asked to downsize, but he wanted to streamline his body and get closer to teammate Ron Capps' 159 pounds.

"I wanted to do the best I could to help make our car go down the track better," said Johnson. "I liked working for Don Prudhomme so much after one year that I'll do anything I can to make sure I can stay here."

That is just part of his new approach. "I have a whole different outlook now than I had last year, when I was just thankful to be out there on the tour," he added. "Now I'm on tour and I want to win. We have restructured my Blue Skoal Racing Camaro crew and we did a lot of testing to get ready for the Winternationals. As a team, we learned what we needed to do to make our Blue Camaro and Ron's Green Camaro better overall.

Johnson, who moved from his Ottumwa, Iowa, hometown to Indianapolis last month, believes he'll be a title contender and hopes to prove it with a solid Winternationals performance.

"We want to be consistent and go rounds at every race so that as it gets later in the season we'll be there in the points chase," he said. "We struggled on race day last year but I think race day will be a strong point for us this year. We want to be sure we are competitive in qualifying and a tough car to beat on race day. Funny Car definitely will be a tough class again this year.

Johnson won at Las Vegas (in April), was runner-up (at St. Louis) and wound up 10th, just 22 points out of seventh.

"When you take a realistic look at how competitive Funny Car was last year, you realize we had a good year. It can't be too bad because we finished 10th and were really only a few points out of seventh," said Johnson. "When you want to win the championship you have to learn how to crawl before you can walk. We were crawling along . . . now we're ready to run."

And this year's 23-race marathon is about to begin.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

New Tire Flat in Performance?
A new drag racing tire caused the Skoal Racing team's crew chiefs, Ed "Ace" McCulloch (Green) and Mike Green (Blue), some consternation during preseason testing at Phoenix.

"When the conditions are good, the tire isn't that big a factor," said McCulloch. "But when conditions are anything but good, the tire will be a factor. (Using them) is going to a real challenge. The only good thing is that all the teams will be having the same problems."

Johnson predicted it's "going to be different with the new tires. You may not see the stellar numbers (elapsed times) at Pomona if conditions aren't good," he added. "I think the tires may bring the driver back into the race because he may have to pedal (the throttle) at least once during Sunday's eliminations if he's going to win the race. The cars have been having trouble getting down the tracks in the heat.

"I like the idea of trying to out-drive the other guy, to do what we're getting paid to do. Even though I like the big elapsed times and speeds, I welcome the opportunity to try and out-drive the other guy."

-sr-

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About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers Tommy Johnson , Don Prudhomme , Tommy Johnson Jr.