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Johnson Family’s NHRA Journey Peaks At Pomona

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, November 11 2012

Allen Johnson hoists the championship Wally after earning enough points at Pomona on Saturday to win the Pro Stock title. (Photo courtesy of the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

Allen and Roy Johnson celebrated their first NHRA Pro Stock world championship at opposite ends of Pomona Raceway Saturday afternoon, a father/son team of few words but 17 years-worth of emotion.

“It’s been quite the journey,” said Allen Johnson, who clinched the 2012 Full Throttle Drag Racing Series Pro Stock title by qualifying No. 2 for the 48th annual Automobile Club of Southern California NHRA Finals. “The first year we started (1996), I qualified only one time.

“That’s the part that is the most satisfying. We did the engines on our own, my dad built them, and we climbed the mountain and learned how to run the cars and developed a crew. We started this as a family and built it from there. To finally reach the pinnacle has taken a long time, but it’s been well-worth it.”

Johnson, 52, exited his Team Mopar J&J Racing Dodge Avenger to celebrate with Tom Compton, NHRA president, at the top end of the famed Southern California drag strip. Back at the starting line, Roy Johnson fought back tears during an interview carried on ESPN2.

“I couldn’t help getting a little emotional,” said Roy, 71, “because 44 years ago I started all this and it’s been 17 years getting here with my son, with a lot of fussing and arguing, but we made it. I had my lights go out in 2007 (Roy suffered a near-fatal heart attack at the NHRA Phoenix event), and they shocked me back to life. I’m glad they didn’t leave my lights out, so we could enjoy this moment together.”

Pro Stock biker Eddie Krawiec won his second straight championship Saturday.

Meanwhile, Eddie Krawiec clinched his second consecutive Pro Stock Motorcycle championship, and third in five years, aboard his Screamin’ Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson V-Rod.

Krawiec, 36, of Englishtown, N.J., secured his title by qualifying second to H-D teammate/three-time PSM world champion Andrew Hines. A nine-time winner this season, Krawiec will spend Sunday chasing his next goal. The only rider to win 10 NHRA races in a season is his crew chief, Matt Hines, Andrew’s brother. Krawiec posted quarter-mile qualifying numbers of 6.811-seconds and 196.59 mph.

“I’d love to have the opportunity to tie Matt,” said Krawiec, who won his previous PSM titles in 2008 and 2011. “This is like a dream season. It’s tough to win one race out here, let alone win nine. I’m very grateful for the position I’m in. I’ve got an awesome team with awesome people behind me.”

Johnson stood No. 2 after the first two qualifying sessions with a best quarter-mile pass of 6.537-seconds at 211.56 mph. On Saturday, the Greeneville, Tenn., resident posted runs of 6.534-seconds/211.79 mph and 6.518-seconds/211.99 mph to lock into the field behind two-time/2011 champion Jason Line of the Summit Equipment Racing team.

“For our whole Mopar team and especially my dad, this is a dream come true after 17 long years – a lot of work, a lot of money and a lot of sweat. To finally realize it is indescribable,” Allen Johnson said. “When we were able to go out there and consistently finish in the top two or three cars, I knew we had a legitimate shot at a championship. The Mopar Dodge Avenger was the fastest and most consistent car out there and racking up all those little points midseason made all the difference, and we learned how to win.”

Allen Johnson began racing in the Sportsman Super Stock classes with his father/engine-builder in the late 1970s. Johnson’s championship is the first for a Mopar driver since Darrell Alderman’s in Pro Stock in 1994, and capped the brand’s 75th anniversary.

“This is just an awesome feeling and everyone has worked super-hard for this, and everyone can see that,” said Mark Ingersoll, longtime crew chief for Johnson & Johnson Racing. “I lost my dad this year and would have liked to have shared this with him, like Allen and Roy are able to do. But to do this with my racing family is very special.”

Heading into Sunday’s final elimination rounds, Johnson has earned six wins – tripling his career-best for victories in a season – advanced to a career-best 10 finals, claimed a class-best 10 No. 1 qualifier awards and posted a career-best 51-16 won/loss record. Johnson will attempt to claim his 16th career win and first at Pomona on Sunday.

“Roy and Allen have put together such a great program here, surrounding themselves with good people who have an unquestionable work ethic. We made some big gains in the past two years,” said Jim Yates, J&J Racing team engineer and Pro Stock world champion in 1996-97.

Johnson qualified for the six-race Countdown to the Championship for the sixth time in as many seasons in 2012, with his previous best finish fourth in 2007 and 2011.

“Mopar salutes the new NHRA Pro Stock world champion and we offer our heartfelt congratulations to AJ, Roy and the whole team on their efforts and well-earned honor,” said Pietro Gorlier, president and CEO of Mopar, Chrysler Group LLC’s service, parts and customer-care brand. “Allen’s tenacity and competitive spirit is a true testimony to the Mopar DNA. We look forward to watching them finish-out this championship season by contending for one last win on Sunday.”

Greg Anderson, a four-time Pro Stock world champion, recalled Johnson’s lean years. In 1996 Johnson qualified for 1-of-18 races. The next year he made 7-of-22, but in 1998 started only 2-of-22. Johnson’s first three victories came three years apart, and he didn’t score multiple wins (two) until 2009.

“He’s the champion and it’s well-deserved,” said Anderson, who is Line’s Summit Racing Chevrolet Camaro teammate. “It’s not an easy chore. Most people don’t understand what he went through to get where he’s at. I absolutely remember like it was yesterday him going to every race the entire season long and not qualifying for three or four years straight, and he would stay after every Monday and test and test and test.

“He had more stick-to-it-tiveness, or whatever you want to call it, than anybody I’ve ever met and here he is. I feel good for him.”

– John Sturbin can be reached at jsturbin@racintoday.com

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, November 11 2012
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