Well, four “Countdown to the Championship” races down and two to go starting this weekend at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Let’s start things off with a piece of really good news: Roy is back at the track this weekend!
To bring you up to speed, my dad (and engine tuner) had spinal surgery right after the first playoff event in Charlotte. Just like a racecar, Roy got a mechanical tune up and a few new parts. It was major surgery to fuse his L4 and L5 vertebrae (lumbar spine's lowest two spinal segments) then put a cage around them with four big ole screws holding everything in place. Surgery went really well and he was even standing up on his own within just a few hours. But then after going home, he had a rough few days with a lot of pain.
While we were racing in St. Louis, my mom Revonda took him back to the hospital where they found he had a big hematoma or blood clot pressing on his spinal cord causing him a lot of discomfort in his legs and hips. They opened him back up, cleaned it all out, and then came back strong, walking at least once every hour without any pain.
It’s been weird not having him with us at the last three NHRA events, but I’d call him up every day I was at the track to update him. And he’s now back at it and with us for the last two NHRA “Countdown to the Championship” playoff events.
We’ve had our challenges this year, but if we look on the bright side of things, the Mopar team has taken the Magneti Marelli Dodge Dart to three semi-final appearances in that span and we’re fourth in the playoff standings. On the flip side the points leader keeps increasing her lead and the championship chances are fading fast for everyone else. We’re going to go at it with everything we’ve got, but we have to put all our chips on the track at Vegas.
You’ll also notice for the final two races of the 2015 season that the “Magneti Marelli Offered by Mopar” Dodge Dart will have a different look to it with a new graphics wrap that celebrates the 20 years Roy and I have competed in the Pro Stock class aboard HEMI-powered Mopar vehicles. It’s been quite a ride and full of blessings and challenges.
With two race days left, our sole focus is on finishing our 20th season as strongly as we can. It’s nice to look back at all that my dad and I have accomplished together and have it commemorated in this way. Taking our Mopar to the winner’s circle and bringing home two Wally trophies to close out our 20th season together would be the icing on the cake. The guys have been working hard at the shop and I think we’re ready to go.
While our focus is on this last stretch of races, it’s also good to get away from it all to get a new perspective. It’s been a beautiful fall and I’ve been enjoying spending time with my grandsons at football games and also getting in some flying time over the beautiful Tennessee landscape.
I’m actually working on both my multi-engine and instrument ratings. For my instrument rating, I spend a lot of time flying “under the hood.” That’s where I fly while under a sheet so I can’t see outside to imitate flying in clouds. I have to learn to fly only by looking at the instrumentation. It’s a lot of fun and a big challenge and I usually spend one or two hours a week on that. Whenever we go to our home in Sanibel, Florida, I’ll work on my multi-engine rating on a little twin engine plane I have down there. I’m hoping to complete both courses by the spring.
In the meantime, it’s hard to believe we’re in Las Vegas again and there are only two race weekends left. It’s a scary thought! (Especially on Halloween) We’re looking to do our best to put some “fear” into the competition on this spook-tacular weekend but we’re hoping for a treat (rather than a trick) on Sunday night. Happy Halloween!
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!