Hoping his luck changes at Topeka's Heartland Park.
Tommy Johnson Jr. has put together a solid start to his 2015 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series regular season and currently sits fifth in points. In fact, Johnson is the only driver in the class to not have a first-round loss through seven events, a nod to his consistency in his 10,000-horsepower Make-A-Wish Dodge Charger R/T.
But Johnson also does not have a final round appearance this year, something he is ready to change immediately heading into this weekend’s 27th annual NHRA Kansas Nationals at Heartland Park Topeka.
His team, led by crew John Collins, is ready for peak performances heading into a crucial stretch of the season and Johnson, who has 10 career victories, is certainly ready to break through in Topeka.
“We've been very consistent over the beginning of the season but it's time that we start putting that together with final rounds and wins,” said Johnson, a two-time finalist at Topeka. “After Atlanta, I feel like our season just began and hopefully within the next few races we can put our car back in the winner's circle and secure a spot for the Traxxas Shootout.”
Spencer Massey (Top Fuel), Courtney Force (Funny Car) and Allen Johnson (Pro Stock) were last year’s winners of the event that will be televised nationally on ESPN2. It is the eighth of 24 races in 2015 and the first back-to-back race weekend of the year.
The event also signifies the halfway mark of the regular season, meaning a busy summer awaits competitors before the start of the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship. Johnson and his team has the consistency figured out, posting two semifinal finishes and five trips to the quarterfinals, but the team used the break before Atlanta to focus on what lies ahead.
“We recently had two weeks off, and during that time you really put it in your mind that you need to rest up because the summer tour is ready to begin,” Johnson said. “I'm well ready for it. We're at a 'make or break' point of the season, so you have to really focus on climbing in the points and not falling backwards.”
Johnson fell in the second round at Atlanta to Don Schumacher Racing teammate Matt Hagan but also qualified fifth and suffered no major damage on the car, leading him to feel that the team took a step forward heading to Kansas.
“We've had a good season but we've had a lot of parts damage, but we came out of (Atlanta) with basically zero damage, and our team is energized,” Johnson said. “We've been showing positive performance and we're looking forward to the race next weekend in Topeka. We're beginning to find our groove."
Johnson knows a hot streak is almost necessary in the loaded Funny Car field that saw its fifth different winner of 2015 when Tim Wilkerson grabbed the victory last weekend, his first since Seattle in 2011. The 16-time Funny Car world champion, John Force, has nine wins in Topeka, and his daughter Courtney raced to the 100th victory by a female in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series history a year ago.
John Force Racing teammate Robert Hight has two career victories and Cruz Pedregon has four career wins at Heartland Park Topeka. Class stars also include points leader Ron Capps, this season’s winner at Gainesville and Houston, Charlotte winner Jack Beckman, defending world champ Hagan, Atlanta winner Wilkerson, Alexis DeJoria, Del Worsham, two-time world champ Tony Pedregon and Chad Head. But despite the loaded class, Johnson feels like his time to shine is coming.
“I enjoy racing in Topeka because it isn't far from where I was raised,” said Johnson, who hails from Ottumwa, Iowa. “I get to see a lot of old friends and people I grew up with, and it's always been sort of a home race for me. It has a very comfortable feel to it, and I'd like to win that race.
“I've been to the final there before, but I'd like to put it all together and get the victory. It looks like we'll have great conditions this weekend, which is somewhat different. A lot of times we have a hot racetrack there, but this time if you're going to win it looks like it will take being able to put together the big power. Record conditions could favor some really big runs.”
Massey wants a repeat
In Top Fuel, Massey scored his second win at Topeka a year ago, defeating 2013 world champ Shawn Langdon. Three-time Top Fuel world champ Larry Dixon has two wins at the facility, while others to watch in the Top Fuel field include 2013 Topeka winner Langdon, 2012 world champ Antron Brown, who won last weekend in Atlanta to move into the points lead, defending and eight-time world champion Tony Schumacher, 2006 Topeka winner Doug Kalitta, Las Vegas winner Richie Crampton, 2014 Topeka No. 1 qualifier Brittany Force, Steve Torrence, Dave Connolly and J.R. Todd.
Defending Pro Stock winner Allen Johnson will be looking for a fourth career Topeka win, while Greg Anderson also has a successful pedigree in Topeka with four victories. Las Vegas and Houston winner Erica Enders is looking for her 14th career victory and first at the NHRA Kansas Nationals. Jason Line, who won the most recent event in Atlanta to take over the points lead, Vincent Nobile, Shane Gray, Larry Morgan, Jonathan Gray, V Gaines and Chris McGaha also figure to be major factors in the 200-mph factory hot rod category.
As always, fans will have the opportunity to interact with their favorite drivers as they’re granted an exclusive pit pass to the most powerful and sensory-filled motorsports attraction on the planet. This unique opportunity in motorsports gives fans direct access to the teams, allowing them to see firsthand the highly-skilled mechanics service their hot rods between rounds, and enjoy some cherished face time and get autographs from their favorite NHRA drivers.
Mello Yello Series qualifying begins Friday, May 22, with sessions at 4:30 and 7 p.m. The final two qualifying sessions will take place Saturday, May 23, at 1:30 and 4 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sunday, May 24.
To purchase general-admission or reserved seats, log on to www.NHRA.com/tickets or call (800) 884-NHRA (6472). Children 12 and younger are admitted free to general admission areas with a paying adult. For more information about the NHRA visit www.NHRA.com.