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JOHNSON RETURNING TO SITE OF SPECIAL FINAL ROUND READING, Pa. -- Three years ago at Maple Grove Raceway Steve Johnson pulled to the starting line for a final round battle with good friend John Myers. It was Johnson's second career final...

JOHNSON RETURNING TO SITE OF SPECIAL FINAL ROUND READING, Pa. -- Three years ago at Maple Grove Raceway Steve Johnson pulled to the starting line for a final round battle with good friend John Myers. It was Johnson's second career final round appearance, and one he'll never forget. Johnson and Myers were teammates then. It was a working relationship that led the two Pro Stock Motorcycle riders to become the best of friends. Tragically, Myers died from internal injures suffered in a non-racing motorcycle accident just over one month ago near his Birmingham, Ala. home. Johnson, and a few other friends, were riding with Myers on that fateful day. While Johnson has been strong emotionally in returning to NHRA competition without his good friend at events in Brainerd, Minn. and Indianapolis, and leading the charge in organizing a variety of fund raisers for the John Myers Memorial Fund, he might be tempted to get somewhat misty-eyed as he reflects at the 14th annual Pioneer Electronics Keystone Nationals, Sept. 17-20 at Maple Grove Raceway. The $1.6 million race is the 17th of 22 events in the NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series. The event was one of Myers' favorite stops on the circuit. And Johnson says that 1995 final will always be one that he cherishes most. "That is my most memorable final round, not only because I was racing against John, but because both of us really worked hard that weekend to get there," Johnson said. "That weekend John and I weren't cutting good lights in qualifying and George (Bryce, then team owner) was mad because we weren't performing on the tree. But for some reason we were really struggling. The evening before eliminations, the team left the track without us and we had dinner alone. As it turned out, we got to talk about our problem on the starting line and figured out we were only human. The next day we both ran really well and made it to the final, where John whipped me. It was a special final because we had a problem mentally and fixed it mentally, and it had nothing to do with horsepower." Johnson has only been to one final since that day, and it was also against Myers, later that year in the Winston Finals. Myers won that battle too. Since Myers' death, Johnson has taken on a new task. As President of Pro2, the professional motorcycle racers organization, Johnson is leading efforts to help raise money for Myers' family. All of a sudden, everything has been put into perspective. Winning is important, but life is what really matters. "Right now it's way more important to my team to help Kerry and Christina (Myers' wife and daughter), because we were such good friends with John," Johnson said. "We can do so much out here with NHRA's help and we want to do everything we can to help them." Johnson, of Chastworth, Calif., says coming to the track every weekend and not being able to spend time with is friend has been tough. However, he's found strength in developing ideas that can raise money for Myers' family. "I'm primarily a real outgoing guy and John was the same way," Johnson said. "But even a month after his accident and I can just look at his picture and get emotional. John wasn't the Donald Trump of the motorcycle industry. What's most important to me now is to help his family. Right now we can lean on our family, and that's what NHRA has taught us. This is a family sport and this was John's family." While some might expect Johnson's performance on the track to take a back seat while he works tirelessly to help his late friend's family, it has been exactly the opposite. Johnson posted back-to-back sixth place qualifying efforts at the VisionAire NorthStar Nationals and the U.S. Nationals. At Indy, Johnson had his best race of the year, making a semi-final round appearance. "I've always felt like we do a pretty good job mentally on the starting line even before I got into NHRA Winston Drag Racing," Johnson said. "I've been No. 1 the last two years in the reaction time average and that gives you a lot of confidence. Now, I've got a lot better with the 60-foot times and we've worked hard with our engine program. But the real key for me this year is having the experience to go out to the track and make adjustments as conditions permit. "I feel like I'm riding good and if I had a Vance & Hines engine, I could really step up the program. That's my next step, putting together a sponsorship program so I can afford a Vance & Hines engine. I think everything else is in place and if I had the right horsepower I could become a bigger contender each weekend." Until he gets some sponsorship, he'll have to rely on his quick reflexes at the starting line, a little luck and maybe even some help from above. "Right now I want to win more than ever," Johnson said. "I've been out here for 10 years racing with these guys who have tasted wins. That's something I want to do. I've won races in other motorcycle organizations and other countries, but this is my home. I want to win an NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series event. I think if I can win, John will win again, too." With his recent success at Indy, Johnson is hopeful that he can make a second final round appearance at the Pennsylvania quarter-mile. This time, he hopes to get a victory. "Maple Grove is going to be very cool for me," Johnson said. "That track is a lot like Indy, at least the starting line. If you get off the line real good and hit all your shift points you're going to have a good chance at winning rounds. The first eighth-mile is so important. I'm really excited to take my tune-up from Indy there and see what happens."

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Series NHRA
Drivers Steve Johnson