Tommy Johnson Ready for Debut in Gibbs' Funny Car

Johnson Gets License; Ready For Debut in Gibbs' Funny Car COLUMBUS, Ohio (June 8, 1999) -- Tommy Johnson Jr. is back in the fast lane, and that's exactly where he wants to be. The new driver of Joe Gibbs' Interstate Batteries Hot Rod...

Johnson Gets License; Ready For Debut in Gibbs' Funny Car

COLUMBUS, Ohio (June 8, 1999) -- Tommy Johnson Jr. is back in the fast lane, and that's exactly where he wants to be.

The new driver of Joe Gibbs' Interstate Batteries Hot Rod Pontiac Funny Car feels a little like he's been going 300 miles per hour himself since Gibbs named him to succeed Cruz Pedregon two weeks ago.

Since then, Johnson's life has undergone some real changes.

.He's back to professional NHRA competition on a regular basis for the first time in two-plus years.

.He's driving for a team capable of not only contending for, but winning races.

.He's made the official transition from Top Fuel to Funny Car, getting his license Monday afternoon (June 7) at Route 66 Raceway near Chicago.

Johnson, 31, from Ottumwa, Iowa, had driven an alcohol-powered Funny Car (1986-89), but had not been at the controls of a nitromethane-fueled machine until Monday when he made four runs.

"I gained a new respect for the Funny Car drivers," Johnson said after his indoctrination. "Driving one of these cars isn't as easy as it looks. I found out you really have to steer these cars. It's not like driving a Top Fuel car. Driving the Funny Car is a lot more fun than driving the dragster."

Johnson has driven family-owned dragsters since 1990, but he makes his Funny Car debut Friday (June 11) when the Pontiac Excitement Nationals begin a three-day run at National Trail Raceway near Columbus.

"I feel a lot better now that I've made the runs," Johnson added. "A lot of pressure is off. I ran the car to the finish line twice and had times of 5.07 (seconds) and 5.04. I got more comfortable in the car on each run I made. Now I'm looking forward to racing a car in the other lane. And the best part is that in a few days I'll be back at it again."

Johnson also had words of praise for Wes Cerny, his new crew chief, and the rest of the Interstate Batteries Hot Rod team. "Wes was very encouraging, even when I made mistakes. His confidence never varied. They are a great group of guys.

"I'm definitely looking forward to racing the car," he continued. "I know I have a contending car."

Prior to receiving a phone call from Gibbs, Johnson was working in his racing collectibles store and working on his Top Fuel dragster. Johnson built the dragster and drove it last weekend at the Route 66 Nationals, but did not qualify. Now that car goes into storage.

Johnson, who has always driven family-backed race cars, won two NHRA national events in Top Fuel (1993 at Seattle, 1994 at Memphis) and one in Alcohol Funny Car. He has four Top Fuel victories in International Hot Rod Association (IHRA) action.

The accomplishment he is most proud of is being one of only five Top Fuel drivers who are members of both the Cragar 4-Second Club and the Slick 50 300-mph Club. The other four are: Joe Amato, Kenny Bernstein, Eddie Hill and Don Prudhomme. "That's four legends and a kid," Johnson said in 1994 after achieving the rare double.

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Series NHRA
Drivers Kenny Bernstein , Joe Amato , Tommy Johnson , Cruz Pedregon , Don Prudhomme , Tommy Johnson Jr.