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Pro Stocker Johnson Wants To Exit With A Bang

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, October 27 2017

Pro Stock driver Allen Johnson, whose cars are powered by engines built by his father, Roy, left, won’t get a second career championship but he would like just one more victory before retiring after the 2017 season.

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

NHRA’s quarter-mile timers quickly are counting down Allen Johnson’s all-in-the family Pro Stock career.

Only two events remain on Johnson’s 2017 “Factory Hot Rod” itinerary. And while a second world championship has eluded the veteran Mopar loyalist, a late-season victory would serve as a worthy consolation prize.

Johnson, who announced his retirement on Sept. 1 before the start of the 63rd annual Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals, is particularly amped about his chances at this weekend’s 17th annual NHRA Toyota Nationals. Johnson is a three-time winner at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and a fourth victory at the Speedway Motorsports Inc., facility admittedly would make for a near-perfect sendoff.

“We won the last race with carburetors (in 2014) and I would love to go out and kick some butt these last two races and give my dad (Roy) one last victory,” said Johnson, who has 27 career national event wins. “In Reading (Pa.) we were right there, running with the front cars and we lost that the last couple races in St. Louis and Dallas. We think we know why and hopefully we can jump right back up there.”

Steve Torrence (Top Fuel), John Force (Funny Car), Shane Gray (Pro Stock) and Jerry Savoie (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were last year’s winners of an event that will be televised on FOX Sports 1 (FS1) beginning with one hour of qualifying coverage at 6 p.m. (EDT) Friday. FS1 also will air three hours of live final eliminations coverage starting at 4 p.m. (EDT) on Sunday. The race is the 23rd of 24 on the Mello Yello Drag Racing Series schedule and the penultimate round of the Countdown to the Championship playoffs.

Johnson, winless this season in his Marathon Petroleum/J&J Racing Dodge Dart, is seventh in the point standings led by four-time world champion Greg Anderson and his Summit Racing Equipment Chevrolet Camaro.

Johnson entered his first Pro Stock event in 1996, forming the J&J Racing team along with

Allen Johnson owns his share of Wallys, including one for winning an NHRA championship. (File photo courtesy of the NHRA)

engine-builder/father Roy, who worked as a technician at a Dodge dealership in the 1960s. Father and son competed in Mopar-powered NHRA Sportsman competition prior to their move into the professional ranks.

The team started humbly, entering 18 events that first year and only qualifying for one _ the Mopar Mile-High Nationals at Bandimere Speedway in Morrison, Colo. The Johnsons first tasted NHRA Pro Stock victory three years later at Richmond in 1999, as well as their first of 14 top-10 finishes in the final standings later that year.

With his career now winding down, Johnson has been taken aback by the outpouring of respect and support from fans, allowing him to reflect on the incredible journey he has enjoyed with his family _ most notably his dad. Their 22-year ride was topped by winning the Pro Stock world championship in 2012, a season that featured a career-best seven wins, 10 pole positions and a 55-16 round won/loss record.

Visiting with fans during the Countdown has allowed Johnson to relive many of his greatest passes. “It’s been very humbling actually,” said Johnson, a 57-year-old native and resident of Greeneville, Tenn. “My family has been very blessed with the way people, fans, competitors and even sponsors received the news. It makes me proud that we’ve been able to have such a great career with all these fans, especially the Mopar fans. It’s going to be a life-changing experience. We’ve done this for so long as a family.”

Johnson’s wife, Pam, and mother, Revonda, have been integral members of the journey as well. Johnson’s Dart, tuned by Adam Hornberger, has shown potential late in the season, qualifying third in Brainerd, Minn., and then fourth in Reading during the Countdown, where he advanced to the semifinals.

Bagging one last final-round appearance _ or victory _would be the ultimate salute to Johnson’s career. To do so, Johnson will have to drive around championship leader Anderson, who leads Ken Black Racing customer/teammate Bo Butner by 15 points. Anderson leads three-time/reigning world champ Jason Line, also of KB Racing, by 30 points.

“I love Vegas, and it’s always been real fun and special,” said Johnson, who is competing in the playoffs for the 11th time after finishing eighth in 2016. “The thing that’s been the most satisfying to me is all 22 years we’ve done it as a family. It’s kept my dad young and that’s the most important thing to me. I’m proud of that and what we’ve been able to accomplish together. That’s the way I’ve tried to think about it and we’re determined to finish up on a good note.”

Defending Top Fuel event-winner Torrence continues to pursue his first world championship after crashing out of the 32nd annual AAA Texas NHRA FallNationals at Texas Motorplex in Ennis on Oct.15. The eight-time 2017 winner in his Capco Contractors dragster from Kilgore, in East Texas, leads Motorplex winner Brittany Force of John Force Racing and Doug Kalitta of Kalitta Motorsports by 57 and 76 points, respectively.

Ron Capps, trying to track down a second straight Funny Car world title in his NAPA Auto Parts Dodge Charger R/T, holds a 24-point/two-rounds of racing lead over Robert Hight. The 2009 world champion from John Force Racing, Hight won the most recent event at The Plex.

Pro Stock Motorcycle point-leader Eddie Krawiec will try to inch closer to a fourth world title aboard his Screamin’ Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson Street Rod in Vegas. Krawiec, who also won at The Plex, currently leads 2010 world champ LE Tonglet by 107 points.

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Australian Pro Stock standout Shane Tucker has struck a deal to wheel a Gray Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro during this weekend’s NHRA Toyota Nationals in Las Vegas.

“This deal started when I had an engine issue in Dallas in the second session,” said Tucker, referring to the 32nd annual AAA Texas NHRA FallNationals at Texas Motorplex in Ennis. “We fixed it for the third session but hurt it again and Shane (Gray) came over and gave us a motor to run for Q4 (final qualifying session). We didn’t get it in in time but were able to run in the first round.

“After Dallas, Shane and I talked and kind of discussed where we were at with our program and I wanted to test before Las Vegas. But since we don’t have the chance to test, Shane offered to let me drive one of his cars until we sort our program out. That’s pretty much it in a nutshell.”

The Shane Gray-owned Camaro was last run at the 63rd annual Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals with grandfather Johnny Gray qualifying the car in the top half of the field.

“We brought his (Tucker’s) car back to our shop and we realized there was some stuff that needed to be fixed on the car and we didn’t have time to go out and test it before Las Vegas,” Shane Gray said. “We decided that I have a car I know goes up and down the racetrack already and I’ve won Vegas in it twice. It’s a pretty good sure-fire way so we made a deal with Shane (Tucker) to run our Gray Motorsports Camaro. He’ll race Vegas and I think if he has a good time, he’ll run Pomona, too. I’m looking forward to him running with us.”

The 2017 season will end with the 53rd annual Auto Club NHRA Finals at Pomona (Calif.) Raceway Nov. 9-12.

Tucker’s current plan is to enter the Gray Motorsports Chevy in Las Vegas and test his own Hot Wheels™ Car Care Products Camaro on Monday following the event. “If it tests really well, we’ll run my car in Pomona,” said Tucker, a 32-year-old native of Gold Coast Australia. “If there’s still some things that need to be figured out, we’ll run Shane’s car again.”

Tucker, who qualified for four NHRA events in 2016 and picked up a round-win last year at The Plex, claimed the Australian Jr. Drag Racing championship at age 16. Tucker qualified for nine of the 10 NHRA Pro Stock events he entered in 2014 as a rookie.

“Collectively as a team, we decided that this was our best option for our race program,” Tucker said. “We just need to test before we come back out with our car. I’ve got family and friends coming over from Australia for this race and we already committed to be there. Shane gave us an opportunity to drive his car and hopefully it’s an opportunity we can take advantage of.”

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Seven rookie representing NHRA’s Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle categories have been announced by officials from NHRA and the Automobile Club of Southern California as eligible candidates for the 2017 Automobile Club of Southern California Road to the Future Award.

The award recognizes the top rookie competitor in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series and offers a $20,000 prize and traditional trophy to the winner. The recipient will be honored during NHRA’s annual championship awards ceremony on Monday, Nov. 13, at the Ray Dolby Ballroom at Hollywood & Highland in Hollywood, Calif.

A panel of the nation’s leading auto racing journalists will select the winner via a voting system based upon the following criteria: number of events competed in, performance on and off the racetrack, participation in NHRA promotions and relationships with fans, sponsors and media.

The candidates in alphabetical order: Troy Coughlin Jr. (Top Fuel), Joey Gladstone (Pro Stock Motorcycle), Tanner Gray (Pro Stock), Jonnie Lindberg (Funny Car), Andie Rawlings (Pro Stock Motorcycle), Shawn Reed (Top Fuel) and Mike Salinas (Top Fuel).

“Since 1900, the Automobile Club of Southern California has been an integral part of the communities we serve, helping to improve traffic safety and provide service with integrity, commitment and professionalism,” said John Boyle, president/CEO of the Automobile Club of Southern California. “The Road to the Future Award, honoring up-and-coming racers in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series, has come to represent these same attributes in motorsports.

“The nominees this season have demonstrated competitiveness on the track and a commitment to the racing community off the track. They show exceptional potential for the future. On behalf of the Auto Club’s employees and members, I congratulate all of the candidates for this year’s award and look forward to see how they achieve great things in the future.” 

Coughlin Jr. raced at 17 events this season with Kalitta Motorsports as the SealMaster dragster pilot. With four quarterfinal finishes, Coughlin was 10th in points following his final Top Fuel race of the season in Brainerd, Minn. Early in the season, Coughlin raced to his career-best 1,000-foot time, 3.696-seconds, and speed, 328.86 mph, at the NHRA Arizona Nationals and NHRA Gatornationals, respectively.

Gladstone, in his first full season aboard the San Marino Excavating Inc. Suzuki, made one semifinal appearance at the Pro Stock Motorcycle season-opener in Gainesville, Fla., and has five quarterfinal finishes. He qualified for the Countdown to the Championship and entered the six-race playoff eighth in points. Gladstone raced to his career-best quarter-mile time, 6.793-seconds, and speed, 198.35 mph, at the Gatornationals. Following the AAA Texas NHRA FallNationals, Gladstone is 10th in points.

Gray, son of Pro Stock veteran Shane Gray, became the NHRA’s youngest national event winner when he earned a Wally trophy at the spring Las Vegas event. Racing a full schedule, Gray has a category-best five event wins through the AAA Texas NHRA FallNationals. He qualified for the Countdown tied for the No. 2 spot in points and raced to a career-best quarter-mile time, 6.501-seconds, in Epping, N.H., and speed, 213.37 mph, at the Gatornationals. Gray currently is fourth following 22 of 24 races.

Lindberg, a native of Sweden racing the Head Racing Toyota Camry Funny Car, participated in all but four events through 22 of 24 races. He had three runner-up appearances, including back-to-back second-place results at his first two starts of the season, the Gatornationals in Gainesville, Fla., and the Denso Spark Plugs NHRA Nationals in Las Vegas. Lindberg’s career-best 1,000-foot time, 3.865-seconds, was recorded at the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals, while he earned his career-best speed, 331.53 mph, at the Dodge NHRA Nationals.

Rawlings, rider of the Fast Andie Racing Suzuki, qualified for her first Pro Stock Motorcycle eliminations at the Dodge NHRA Nationals in Reading, Pa., after seven previous attempts. She raced to her career-best quarter-mile time of 7.611-seconds at the event in Joliet, Ill., and her career-best speed of 174.14 mph at the race in St. Louis.

Reed, who races the Hughes Oilfield Transportation dragster, posted a semifinal finish at the second race of the season in Phoenix, defeating Doug Kalitta and Steve Torrence before falling to Leah Pritchett. He has a handful of first-round defeats and raced a career-best 1,000-foot time of 3.815-seconds at the Winternationals, and earned his career-best speed of 320.43 mph at the event in Baytown, Texas. After a first-round loss to three-time/reigning world champion Antron Brown at the most recent event in Ennis, Texas, Reed is 15th in points.

Salinas, driver of the Scrappers Racing dragster, has racked-up quarterfinal finishes at the NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals, where he defeated Kebin Kinsley, and NHRA Northwest Nationals, where he bettered 2013 world champion Shawn Langdon. Salinas recorded his career-best 1,000-foot time, 3.779-seconds, and speed, 324.67 mph, at the Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway event.

In 2002 the Automobile Club of Southern California Road to the Future Award and the NHRA Rookie of the Year Award were combined to create one award recognizing future stars of the sport.

Past winners of the award have developed into some of NHRA’s biggest stars, including Tony Pedregon (1996, Funny Car), Ron Capps (1997, Funny Car), Doug Kalitta (1998, Top Fuel), Antron Brown (1999, Pro Stock Motorcycle), Melanie Troxel (2000, Top Fuel), GT Tonglet (2001, Pro Stock Motorcycle), Gene Wilson (2002, Pro Stock); Brandon Bernstein (2003, Top Fuel);

Jason Line (2004, Pro Stock); Robert Hight (2005, Funny Car); J.R. Todd (2006, Top Fuel); Ashley Force Hood (2007, Funny Car); Mike Neff (2008, Funny Car); Spencer Massey (2009, Top Fuel); LE Tonglet (2010, Pro Stock Motorcycle); Hector Arana Jr. (2011, Pro Stock Motorcycle); Courtney Force (2012, Funny Car); Brittany Force (2013, Top Fuel); Richie Crampton (2014, Top Fuel); Drew Skillman (2015, Pro Stock) and Cory Reed (2016, Pro Stock Motorcycle).

NHRA Rookie of the Year winners prior to the merger of the two awards included the late Darrell Russell (2001, Top Fuel), Don Lampus (2000, Top Fuel), Scotty Cannon (1999, Funny Car), Jeg Coughlin Jr. (1998, Pro Stock), Gary Scelzi (1997, Top Fuel) and co-winners in 1996, Mike Edwards (Pro Stock) and Matt Hines (Pro Stock Motorcycle).

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Point standings (top-10) following the 32nd annual AAA Texas NHRA FallNationals at Texas Motorplex in Ennis, Round 4 of the six-race Countdown to the Championship playoffs: 

Top Fuel _1. Steve Torrence, 2,465; 2. Brittany Force, 2,408; 3. Doug Kalitta, 2,389; 4. Antron Brown, 2,360; 5. Leah Pritchett, 2,285; 6. Tony Schumacher, 2,273; 7. Clay Millican, 2,268; 8. Shawn Langdon, 2,193; 9. Terry McMillen, 2,147; 10. Scott Palmer, 2,137.

Funny Car _1. Ron Capps, 2,495; 2. Robert Hight, 2,471; 3. Courtney Force, 2,324; 4. Jack Beckman, 2,309; 5. Matt Hagan, 2,269; 6. John Force, 2,252; 7. Tommy Johnson Jr., 2,224; 8. Tim Wilkerson, 2,206; 9. J.R. Todd, 2,199; 10. Cruz Pedregon, 2,128.

 Pro Stock _1. Greg Anderson, 2,471; 2. Bo Butner, 2,456; 3. Jason Line, 2,441; 4. Tanner Gray, 2,360; 5. Drew Skillman, 2,301; 6. Erica Enders, 2,252; 7. Allen Johnson, 2,183; 8. Jeg Coughlin Jr., 2,180; 9. Chris McGaha, 2,154; 10. Vincent Nobile, 2,052.

Pro Stock Motorcycle _1. Eddie Krawiec, 2,506; 2. LE Tonglet, 2,399; 3. Andrew Hines, 2,364; 4. Jerry Savoie, 2,360; 5. Scotty Pollacheck, 2,330; 6. Matt Smith, 2,313; 7. Hector Arana Jr., 2,297; 8. Karen Stoffer, 2,200; 9. Angie Smith, 2,174; 10. Joey Gladstone, 2,169.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, October 27 2017
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