Tommy Johnson Jr. could be the new Ron Capps
Funny Car racer Tommy Johnson Jr. missed out on winning the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series by 52 points, and while The Make-A-Wish driver was disappointed in coming up short, he doesn't hesitate to give his team a passing grade on the season.
“I guess you’d have to give it about an A-,” Johnson said “If you’re going to finish second and have your career year, you couldn’t probably go any lower than an A-, but at the same time you still missed it just a little bit. We were 52 points away from a great season, and we had a good season.”
Johnson has a strong average finish of 2.6 over the last three seasons, with a runner-up and two third place finishes.
The 2016 runner-up finish is the closest he's come to an NHRA title since he started nitro racing in the early 1990s.
“A lot of people were talking about how Capps had been so close so many times, and I’d never been that close,” Johnson said. “So now I have one of those [close finishes] under my belt and understand what it takes to get the job done. Hopefully, we can do the same as he has and learn from all that and make it one step better next year.”
Johnson now earns the dubious honor of being the only Don Schumacher Racing Funny Car driver without a series title to his credit.
“Certainly our team is capable of winning the championship. I’d love to do that,” Johnson said. “That is what the goal is every year. When you’re racing, you’re the guy that wants to win the championship. If that day never comes, I’m not going to dwell on it. I’ve had a lot of fun and been able to do what I love to do for so many years. And just to have the opportunity to compete every year.
“After sitting out for five years, you don’t take it for granted as much. You cherish those moments. So to be able to come back and have three years in a row be a third, third, and a second, that’s not a championship, but it’s pretty darn good and makes you hold your head high.”
While the big picture for Johnson certainly includes achieving the success his team is capable of, its also focused around being the best ambassador he can be for the Make A Wish program. The Funny Car Johnson drives is funded by philanthropist Terry Chandler with donated space to the charity, which helps make the dreams of terminally ill children a reality.
“I think you have to look at the big picture with our team, for what Terry does for not only for all the team members and myself but what she’s doing for so many others,” Johnson explained. “You know, and to be able to represent an organization that does so many good things for kids that are a lot less fortunate than we are, it’s a much bigger picture than racing for a championship. And I think it puts a lot of things in perspective. I’m just proud to be a part of it, and it’s nice to really be proud of who you represent.”
And while Johnson might wish for a better-than-second-place finish in 2017, he's fine with replicating the 2016 start. Johnson ran a 3.874 at the Phoenix Nitro Warm-up, which held into the season as the quickest Funny Car run in drag racing history.
“I think we knew right away in Phoenix testing that 2016 was going to be another spectacular year for us, as far as performance-wise, when we were able to go out and run the quickest run ever in the preseason,” Johnson admitted. “I would see that happening again this season when we go to Phoenix to test before Pomona. You know, a lot of people predicted a 3.70 by a Funny Car this past season, but we’re picking away at it. There’s been a couple .82’s and .83’s and I’ve run .84, so I would definitely see a .79 or .78 in the future in Funny Car next season.”
Bobby Bennett is the Publisher/Editor of CompetitionPlus.com, a leading independent online drag racing magazine, since 1999. For the latest in dragster news worldwide, visit www.competitionplus.com or follow on Twitter @competitionplus