Pro Stock Protagonists Revitalized For Vegas
The good-natured championship rivalry between NHRA Pro Stock protagonists Allen Johnson and Jason Line extends from the racetrack to the dynamometer to the teleconference.
That was evident during a recent Full Throttle Countdown to the Championship session with national media previewing this weekend’s 12th annual Big O Tires NHRA Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. As the call wound down, point-leader Johnson, runnerup Line and third-place Erica Enders were asked about their plans for the 17-day break before the race in Vegas, the fifth of sixth Countdown events.
“My plan is as soon as I get off the phone I’m going to make another dyno pull – and it’s got A.J.’s name written all over it,” said Line, the two-time/reigning world champion. “We’re going to go testing. We’ve got new stuff we’re working on, and we’re going to go test over at Rockingham (N.C.) and pretty much I’ll be working the whole time. I hope Erica and A.J. take plenty of time off so that they’re good and rested up. I’m going to work like crazy and hope we can find something that helps us beat both of them.”
Johnson, who has fashioned an 82-point lead over Line with only eight rounds of racing remaining, said he was heading for a weekend of R&R – and maybe a sunburn – in Sanibel, an island located on the Gulf Coast of Florida.
“Jason, just so you know, my people that make the horsepower are making dyno pulls during this phone call,” said Johnson, referring to father/engine-builder Roy Johnson. “He’s got an eye on it. The work never quits around the race shop.”
“I figured that,” Line joked. “I actually texted your dad it was his idea for me to be on this (call) so he’d pull me
away from the dyno a little bit. I know how that works.”
Rim-shots aside, Johnson’s career year encountered a blip during the schedule’s most recent event, the rain-delayed Auto-Plus NHRA Nationals at Maple Grove Raceway in Reading, Pa., on Oct. 8. Johnson uncharacteristically red-lighted during his second-round match against Dave Connolly. Line, meanwhile, qualified No. 1 via the first 214-mph quarter-mile pass in Pro Stock history and reset the national speed record at 214.35 mph. Line, with two wins and seven poles this season, advanced to the semifinals where he was trailered by eventual event-winner V. Gaines and his Kendall Dodge Avenger.
Clearly, all eyes have been focused on Johnson and his Team Mopar/J&J Racing Dodge Avenger in 2012. Johnson has posted a career-best five wins and an impressive 10 No. 1 qualifying positions this season, his 17th on the national tour. And every one of those campaigns has been contested in a Mopar product.
“That’s all we’ve ever competed in professionally,” said Johnson, 52, whose family shop is situated well off the beaten path in Greeneville, Tenn. “(The shop is) probably about 10 percent of what the Summit shop (of Line and four-time world champion teammate Greg Anderson) is. It’s just my dad had an automotive business right beside his house and we added to it and built on our shop behind it, so the truck and trailer are right in the middle of a residential neighborhood. We can barely get the truck and trailer off the main road into it.”
Johnson said working with and realizing this level of success with his father, a former Super Stock racer, has been the gift of a lifetime.
“You know, it’s been our dream for a long time – my dad’s dream when I was just a little kid to race Pro Stock,” said Johnson, who did not record his first tour victory until 1999 during his fourth full season. “He never could really put the funding together. He was a very successful Sportsman racer, but I got fortunate in business and we got to talking about it again after taking about 10 years off and just decided to go for it. I can’t believe it’s been 17 years. But ever since then we have gone out there and dug tooth-and-nail with our Mopar stuff, and hopefully this year it’s going to pay off.”
Roy Johnson, incidentally, recently turned 71 and still believes in punching-in for a full day’s work at the shop. “He’s there before anybody,” Allen Johnson said. “Of course he walks to work, you know, and he’s down there at night. I’ll go by sometimes at 8 or 9 at night coming home. I just live about a half-mile from the shop, and I’ll swing in there and he’ll be messing with something. He’s always thinking; it’s keeping him young. “
Hence Line’s joking yet genuine concern about Roy and his next dyno pull. “Yeah. Obviously with the Countdown format, the playoff-style format, it’s all about peaking at the right time,” said Line, driver of the Summit Racing Equipment Chevrolet Camaro. “We still haven’t quite hit our peak yet, but I don’t think it’s too late. We’re definitely getting faster each week and right now we’ve got a pretty bad-fast Camaro. Definitely it’s not over yet. We’re definitely going to give Allen a tough time the next couple weeks.
“Obviously, we do have to win some serious rounds. Basically, we have to win both those two races. (Maple Grove) was a little bit of a blown opportunity. I felt like we certainly had the car to beat, and if we could have just made any kind of clean run we’d have set the record easily. It just didn’t happen, so we stubbed our toe a little bit. Just one of those things. But it’s definitely not over yet. If Allen makes one little mistake, hopefully we can be there to capitalize on that.”
Johnson, who first posted multiple-event victories with two in 2009, has remained humbly pragmatic about his lofty point position. “You know, I’m looking at it as there’s no lead at all, the way Jason and Erica both are running,” Johnson said. Enders, who scored the historic first of her four victories in the stealth-black GK Motorsports Chevy Cobalt at Route 66 Raceway in Joliet, Ill., on July 1, is 125 points behind Johnson.
“I’m taking it one round at a time qualifying and racing, just trying to get every single point I can get, as they are, I’m sure,” said Johnson, who has been atop the standings since the start of the Western Swing near Denver in late July. “You go out there and stub your toe first-round and them guys can leave Vegas ahead of you. I’m looking at it as I’ve got to go to the semis at least to win this thing, both races.”
The season will conclude with the 48th annual Auto Club NHRA Finals at Pomona, Calif., Nov. 8-11. “You know, everything we can do ‘hot’ right now is good,” said Johnson, who has a 47-16 won/loss record. “We’ve been to three finals in the Countdown, and that was our plan, and that’s huge. Didn’t do so well at Reading. But getting on the hot streaks, any time you can do it in Pro Stock is a good thing.”
Mike Edwards, the 2009 Pro Stock world champion and driver of the Penhall Company Pontiac GXP, won this event last year. He was joined by Del Worsham (Top Fuel), Ron Capps (Funny Car) and Eddie Krawiec (Pro Stock Motorcycle). Two rounds of qualifying are scheduled for Friday and Saturday, with the finals on Sunday. ESPN2 and ESPN2HD will televise one hour of qualifying coverage at 4 p.m. (EDT) on Sunday, preceded by one hour of coverage at 1:30 a.m. (EDT). ESPN2 and ESPN2HD will televise three hours of eliminations coverage at 8 p.m. (EDT), also on Sunday.
– John Sturbin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
NHRA NATIONAL RECORDS
Top Fuel: 3.701-seconds by Antron Brown, Oct. 2012, Reading, Pa.; 332.18 mph by Spencer Massey, April ’12, Charlotte, N.C.
Funny Car: 3.986-seconds by Jack Beckman, Oct. 2012, Reading, Pa.; 320.58 mph by Beckman, Oct. ‘12, Reading, Pa.
Pro Stock: 6.477-seconds by Jason Line, Oct. 2011, Reading, Pa.; 214.35 mph by Line, Oct. ’12, Reading, Pa.
Pro Stock Motorcycle: 6.728-seconds by Andrew Hines, Oct. 2012, Reading, Pa.; 199.26 mph by Eddie Krawiec, March ’11, Gainesville, Fla.
COUNTDOWN POINT STANDINGS
Top Fuel: 1. Antron Brown, 2,491; 2. Spencer Massey, 2,387; 3. Tony Schumacher, 2,355; 4. Shawn Langdon, 2,351; 5. Brandon Bernstein, 2,314; 6. Morgan Lucas, 2,267; 7. Doug Kalitta, 2,228; 8. Steve Torrence, 2,212; 9. David Grubnic, 2,193; 10. Bob Vandergriff Jr., 2,149.
Funny Car: 1. Jack Beckman, 2,437; 2. Ron Capps, 2,414; 3. Mike Neff, 2,383; 4. Johnny Gray, 2,246; 5. Cruz Pedregon, 2,244; 6. John Force, 2,217; 7. Courtney Force, 2,216; 8. Robert Hight, 2,211; 9. Tim Wilkerson, 2,207; 10. Jeff Arend, 2,180.
Pro Stock: 1. Allen Johnson, 2,502; 2. Jason Line, 2,420; 3. Erica Enders, 2,377; 4. Vincent Nobile, 2,325; 5. Greg Anderson, 2,272; 6. V. Gaines, 2,235; 7. Mike Edwards, 2,214; 8. Jeg Coughlin Jr., 2,187; 9. Ron Krisher, 2,161; 10. Larry Morgan, 2,157.
Pro Stock Motorcycle: 1. Eddie Krawiec, 2,523; 2. Andrew Hines, 2,506; 3. Hector Arana Jr., 2,384; 4. Hector Arana, 2,326; 5. Karen Stoffer, 2,282; 6. Michael Ray, 2,251; 7. Scotty Pollacheck, 2,209; 8. Matt Smith, 2,192; 9. LE Tonglet, 2,182; 10. Shawn Gann, 2,177.No Comment