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Johnson Jr. And Team Have Become A Serious Funny Car Threat

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, September 19 2015
Tommy Johnson Jr. is making big noises in the NHRA's Funny Car division.

Tommy Johnson Jr. is making big noises in the NHRA’s Funny Car division.

CONCORD, N.C. – Tommy Johnson Jr.’s NHRA career looked pretty grim about three years ago, but the Indiana resident revitalized it and this weekend entered the Countdown to the Championship at zMAX Dragway with one of the most consistent Funny Cars this season.

“We’re not running the record numbers,” Johnson Jr. said. “We’re racing what we’ve got to work with and doing a very good job. The guys have eliminated some of the mistakes we had early in the season. It shows me the team has grown and matured.”   

In the regular season’s last nine races, Johnson Jr. advanced to five final rounds and obtained two victories. He also moved from seventh to third in points in the 11 races before the NHRA Carolina Nationals. Some began calling him Beckman’s Kryptonite, as he defeated Don Schumacher Racing teammate Jack Beckman head-to-head in three of the final six races in the NHRA’s regular season.

By the time qualifying for the NHRA Carolina Nationals concluded Saturday, Johnson Jr. had acquired the track record with an E.T. of 3.971 seconds and secured the No. 1 position in preparation for Sunday’s elimination round. Beckman, who won six races in the regular season and was riding a four-race No. 1 qualifying streak where he set the national record twice, qualified eighth.

However, it was a much different story for Johnson Jr. just three years ago. In 2012, Johnson Jr. competed in only two Funny Car events and failed to qualify in both. The following year he raced in four Top Fuel events for Rapisarda Motorsports, but posted only one quarterfinal finish. Two years ago at the NHRA Carolina Nationals Johnson Jr. was a TV commentator for ESPN.

“I was interviewing people that I wanted to be doing their job,” Johnson Jr. recalled. “It was a break that I didn’t want to have. I didn’t have any money to race, I didn’t have a driving job and I didn’t have any sponsor money to bring to the table. You do whatever it takes to get back to where you want to be.”

Johnson Jr. admitted it was “really gratifying” to enter the Countdown seeded third after not being involved in it two years ago.

“It’s a reality check sometimes. You don’t take things for granted,” Johnson Jr. continued. “You cherish them when you have them. That’s why when the opportunity is here you make the most of it. You do everything you can to make it the best opportunity it can be.”

Johnson Jr. admitted it’s “pretty scary” when reality hits that you could be at the end of your driving career due to a sponsor not returning or a team closing.

“It’s a wake-up call to know how much do you love this sport? How bad do you want to do it and what are you willing to do to get there?” Johnson Jr. said. “You have to assess your goals, what you want to do, what you want from life, how bad do you want to do this and is it worth it to you? There are a lot of sacrifices. There’s a lot of hardship and there’s a lot of hard work. I tell everybody I was either really dumb or I wanted to do it really bad, and it probably was a little bit of both, but I made it back.”   

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, September 19 2015
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