The final stretch of the season is here and the NHRA six-event “Countdown to the Championship” playoff series is underway!
To get ready for the playoffs we tested in both in St. Louis and Charlotte in the past few weeks to and I’m feeling pretty good about the improvements our Mopar team has made to the “Magneti Marelli Offered by Mopar” Dodge Dart and our chances to battle for a second championship.
Our tests went well and we developed our engine program and gained some power even if we weren’t exactly showing that on the hot track at the first Countdown event in Charlotte. We have a really good package to start the playoffs.
The track in Charlotte was pretty slick, and we didn’t qualify as well as we would have liked (10th), but we made some good gains on race day and moved from fifth place to fourth in the standings by going to the semifinals and finding ourselves just 109 points behind Erica Enders.
All things considered, it really was an awesome start to the Countdown. We really need to make an effort to qualify better for the last few races to be in a place to fight and win a championship. That’s hurting us. I told my guys in Charlotte “If you can’t tell, I really want to win this damn thing. Let’s get better in St. Louis.”
That was the goal this weekend at Gateway Motorsports Park. We made really good runs in qualifying but seems like we’re just not running down the back and speeds like we should be. We’ll tune on it a little bit for race day, but we’re consistent and made two really good runs on Saturday. We just need to get another hundredth of a second and half a mile an hour out of it and we’ll be in the top two or three cars.
We’ve got lane choice for first round and while it’s not exactly where we’d like to be but we’ll go digging on Sunday as best we can. The testing we did here helped, but they ground the track before this weekend’s event and it changed a bunch. We’re not quite as good as we were in testing but we’re not far. We need to make a really good first run tomorrow against Shane Gray in the opening round and then build on it because it doesn’t get any easier in the second with the possibility of facing Greg Anderson.
We need to give ourselves the best shot we have on every run and in every session. No one should count us out. We’re in the mix and we’ve got a lot of fight left.
While we know what we have to do, there is one very important thing that is missing this weekend.
You may have heard by now that my dad and engine tuner, Roy Johnson, had spinal surgery this week. It’s been a problem for some time, and it couldn’t wait anymore. Just like a race car, Roy needed a mechanical tune up and a few new parts. Surgery went really well and he was even standing up on his own within just a few hours. He and Revonda won’t be with us for a while. Roy has a long road to recovery but if you know him at all, you know it shouldn’t take him that long to get there.
Not only is this the first time in a really long time that we haven’t had Roy at the racetrack, but Saturday was also his birthday, so we made sure to let him know he was in our thoughts by sending him a message on the rear window of our Mopar and we sent him a shout out via ESPN, too. If you are so inclined, friends and fans alike are welcome to add their own well wishes on our Facebook page at Facebook.com/AllenJohnsonRacing.
Before we hit the track for eliminations at the NHRA U.S. Nationals, I wanted to take a few minutes to catch you all up on what the Johnson & Johnson Racing team has been up to after the Western swing and leading up to this weekend at the NHRA U.S. Nationals.
Brainerd is one of my favorite races and I especially love going to the Black Bear restaurant for some great prime rib. We had a great car in Brainerd and the “Magneti Marelli Offered by Mopar” Dodge Dart was quick in two out of three runs, but come Sunday we absolutely stepped on our own foot. We made a very big mistake with the clutch and it bit us. To be honest I was lucky to even win first round.
Since then, we figured out what we did wrong and along the way actually picked up some power in the motor department over the break. We then headed to St. Louis earlier this week to validate it and ended up as the fastest car at the test between two red cars and Chris McGaha.
We went straight from St. Louis to Indy and I feel like we’re ready for the Big Go. The goal is to get the Magneti Marelli Mopar Dodge Dart in the winner’s circle and get a good start on the countdown. We’ve had some help with the addition Aaron Stanfield, Greg’s son, to the team at the wheel of Richie Stevens’ Dodge Dart.
After a difficult start to the season, our team overcame a lot of challenges and has been making consistent runs of late building on a win at Chicago’s Route 66 Nationals and a runner-up finish at Denver’s Mopar Mile-High Nationals in July. We’re looking to end the regular season on a strong note and make a run for the Pro Stock championship. It is within reach.
The Indy track is tricky and slick and bald but I feel like we have a good car. Our engine runs really well in this heat and humidity, but the track is famous for getting big long bald spots. We put a lot of bite in the car and the key will be to maintain lane choice. That’ll be big on race day.
On Monday, the first step is working our way to the final elimination round. In 20 years, I never got a chance to run for the title in the final but I came close in 2002. That was the year we had the fastest car and Jeggie (Coughlin Jr.) beat me in the semi-finals. We had identical 6.945 second passes but he beat me with a holeshot by .004 seconds. That was my first water bottle throwing incident that was caught on camera. When I backed up for my burnout that bugger had already lit up both bulbs and I learned a lot that day. He beat me on a holeshot after we had been fastest in nearly every session and that’s probably the maddest I’ve ever been at myself. I’ll never forget that.
The fact is I’d love to win this thing. It would be a feather in our cap. Anytime you can win Indy, or the championship, or the K&N Challenge, all those things everybody wants to do, it’s big. I’d love to do it before the end of my career.
Today we’re making final preparations but tonight we’ll take a deep breathe. We’ll have dinner as a team and enjoy each other’s company and some of best shrimp cocktails you can find at St. Elmo’s. Tomorrow is a new day and we’ll be fighting like never before for that U.S. Nationals title. Just watch.
Our Magneti Marelli Offered by Mopar Dodge Dart team is three races into the 2015 season, and we’re easing into the year and transitioning into a new era with the changing of crew chiefs to Adam Hornberger. I feel like the transition has been positive overall, but fuel issues have bitten us recently. The fuel is significantly different this year and everyone has been fighting it and trying to find a solution. Following the Gatornationals, we’re heading for some testing in Charlotte to try to work things out. I’m not satisfied with the results at the first three events, because I’m not truly satisfied unless we win.
From a personnel standpoint, the team is communicating very well and every team member is adding value. It’s a great team approach, and the J&J Racing team continues to learn and grow. I think our consistency is there — now we just have to move from seventh or eighth in points and go to second or third, and be consistent from that spot. At Gainesville, in round one I felt we were on our best run of the weekend until the fuel issues cropped up. It’s a long season, and we’ll get there.
We also announced at the Gatornationals that Richie Stevens Jr. will be coming on board as a teammate for at least 10 events this season, and hopefully more, behind the wheel of a Mopar Hemi-powered Dodge Dart. Richie’s been part of our J&J Racing team in the past and we look forward to having him join us starting at Houston in April, but we’ll have some company at Charlotte as well. Buddy Perkinson called me up to tell me he wanted to race at the Charlotte Four-Wides, so we’re polishing up our 2012 championship-winning Dodge Avenger for him. We’ll run it a few laps during testing at Charlotte this week.
Away from the strip, it was a harsh winter back home in Greeneville, Tennessee. On the bright side it allowed Pam and me to enjoy some outdoor fun in the snow for the first time. We went tubing and sledding, and the grandkids were out of school a lot, so we had the chance to play in the snow with them as well. We don’t get the white stuff in Tennessee that often, so it was a little unique. As the weather allows I’ve also been getting in some flight time, working on achieving my multi-engine license to add to my private pilot license.
Pam and I are more accustomed to playing in the sand, and we also did that quite a bit so far this year, hitting our home in Sanibel Island as much as possible. When we’re there I always try to throw in some golf to get my game back in shape. Later this week even more palm trees and beaches are on tap — we’re leaving for Hawaii with Richie and Erica to support the MDA Aloha Custom Car Show and Cruise to help in the fight against Muscular Dystrophy. We’ll sign some autographs at the show and help a really good cause, and also make time for some fun in the sun. Then we’re off to Charlotte for the Four-Wide Nationals at the end of March, hoping to bag that first Wally of the season.
Oh, one last thing — Sunday at the Gatornationals was my mom Revonda’s birthday. We had a cake for her in the pits and celebrated with the team, Pam and my dad Roy. Happy birthday, Mom!
Can you believe the holiday season is already here? It’s been a while since I updated everyone on what I and the J&J Racing Mopar team have been up to. In fact, it’s been since the start of the NHRA Countdown to the Championship so before we say hello to 2015, here’s how 2014 ended and what we’ve been busy with.
It was a roller coaster of a playoff series that didn’t quite go as we had hoped and while I’m disappointed to end the year in sixth place, we had some pretty memorable moments this season. The Mopar team was very proud to debut the new Magneti Marelli Dodge Dart with a win early in the year. There was the all-Mopar final in Denver where we won the Mopar Mile-High Nationals title for a third straight year, and my sixth win at Bandimere Speedway in eight years.
This Pro Stock season was also my ninth consecutive year finishing in the top-10in the standings and the Mopar team worked hard to win four titles and see six final round appearances. But we didn’t get done what we needed to do and we need to do better next year. We have had a decent year with some good highlights, but we have to get rid of the mistakes. The Pro Stock competition was fierce and Erica Enders-Stevens was very deserving and worthy of being called a true champion.
There are going to be a few changes for our team as we prepare for next year. First of all, I’m going to miss having our teammate Jeg Coughlin Jr. around on a full-time basis next season. All of us at Team Mopar wish him and Samantha well with the new addition to the Coughlin clan on its way.
One of the biggest changes will be a new crew chief for the 2015 season. Prior to qualifying in the season finale at Pomona, we announced that we’d parted ways with Mark Ingersoll. He was with us for 13 years, and he’s been a great asset and a great friend, but he was ready to do something different. We support that, wish him the best, and have nothing but good things to say about him. He will be missed.
Two-time NHRA Pro Stock champ Jim Yates was gracious enough on short notice to step for the weekend to take on crew chief responsibilities and help us through this last race.
Looking ahead to next year, I am very happy to share that Adam Hornberger will join the Mopar team as my crew chief for the 2015 season. Adam comes from a long history of racing and spent 16 years with Penske Shocks. He worked with some of the top crew chiefs in the NHRA over the past 10 years after our team and Mopar/Dodge brought Penske shocks into drag racing. Adam worked as crew chief in 2013 for World Champion Mike Edwards prior to his retirement, and then in 2014 worked for Jeg as crew chief along with J&J crew chief Mark Ingersoll.
In 2015, Adam will be assisted by car chief Mike Gott, who has been with us for 14 years, and assistant crew chief Mike Earle who has worked for J&J for the past three years. Adam will also work closely with the engine department, which is headed by my dad Roy, to fine tune the capabilities of our Dodge Dart with the HEMI powerplant. I have the upmost confidence he can do the job and give us a leg up on the competition.
There’s a lot to be excited about and we have already gotten some testing done at the track in Bradenton, Florida, this past week. We’ll be working our butts off at our shop in Greeneville, Tennessee, and get some more testing in over the next few weeks. I can’t wait to battle it out again next year and the first race can’t come fast enough.
Looking back on my year away from the track, one of the things I accomplished was getting my private pilot’s license. I became official after passing my written test, taking my first solo flight, and then passing the check-ride and oral exam with the FAA examiner in October. At the beginning of November, my wife Pam and our dog Sadie were my very first passengers on a beautiful day over the incredible Tennessee landscape and they loved it. Everything about flying is intriguing to me and I think I’ll continue on and work to get my multi-engine and instrument rating licenses as well. Most recently, I did four hours of multi-engine training at Paige Field near Fort Myers, Florida, and it was awesome to cut off a perfectly good engine and still be able to fly!
Time certainly flew by these past few weeks, and while there isn’t much of an “off-season” for the Mopar team before things get busy again, it’s now time to slow things down and trade in our weekend Christmas tree for a more traditional one.
It’s also time to be grateful for all we have, enjoy time with loved ones, be thankful for new and old friends, remember those we have lost this year and look forward to another year of blessings.
Pam, Revonda, Roy and I, along with everyone at Johnson & Johnson Racing would like to wish all of our supporters, friends and family a safe and wonderful holiday season, a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.