TOPEKA, Kan. – If Tommy Johnson Jr. keeps the consistent pace he’s put together for more than a year, he knows that will bode well for the outcome of his NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season.
But the Funny Car standout is more than ready to add a few wins to his resume.
The veteran has advanced to at least the semifinals at nearly half of his races dating back to the start of the 2018 season, but Johnson is still looking for his first win in that span. That’s something he’ll look to change in his 11,000-horespower Make-A-Wish Foundation Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat at the upcoming Menards NHRA Heartland Nationals presented by Minties, June 7-9 at Heartland Motorsports Park. The 17-time event winner hopes to pick up his first career victory at the facility, while also adding another impressive layer to his run of consistent performances.
“One of these days, that tide will turn and we’ll get a win,” said Johnson, who is currently fourth in the Funny Car points standings. “In order to win, you have to be competitive, so maintaining that is key. There are times the guys get bummed because you come so close to getting it done, but it’s still a lot better than losing first round. It’s a great group and they work really hard, and they’ve learned over time the results of being consistent and going rounds.”
Clay Millican (Top Fuel) and Courtney Force (Funny Car) were last year’s winners. It is the 10th of 24 races during the NHRA season and action will be intense with a special Primetime qualifying session at 8 p.m. on June 7. Johnson and his team, led by crew chief John Collins, will have to dial up something big under the lights and then run well during the warmer conditions on raceday, but that hasn’t been a problem over the last few seasons.
Johnson has been impressively consistent to the tune of one final round and three semifinal appearances through the first eight races in 2019, running well in any condition. He firmly believes that it will eventually lead to victories, but a good showing during this stretch of four straight races could pay dividends as Johnson seeks his first world title in the loaded Funny Car class.
“If you want to win a championship, a lot of that groundwork is laid in the summer,” Johnson said. “The more consistent you perform, you’re only going to get better and running well at these summer races is kind of our team’s M.O. We’re excited about the summer months. I sure do like the way our car performs in those conditions and it’s a good stretch to really put yourself in a better position. If you can run well, it doesn’t take long for it to have an impact.”
The races start to come in a hurry as it moves to summer, but Johnson welcomes that, especially with his car running well. He’s also less than two rounds out of second place, meaning Johnson has a great opportunity to make a big move in the class. But to pick up his first win in Topeka, which has shown to be a fast track over the years, Johnson will have to deal with the likes of points leader Robert Hight, defending world champion J.R. Todd, Don Schumacher Racing teammate Ron Capps, who has enjoyed back-to-back wins, John Force and Matt Hagan.
“As a driver, you don’t mind the back-to-back races,” Johnson said. “You can get into a groove and my team is pretty experienced, so they know how to pace themselves. Growing up in Iowa, (Topeka) was close to a home race for me. The track surface has always been good and yielded some big performances, but you also have that heat and humidity, so it throws everything at you. It’s a really tight rope you have to walk, but we’ve learned how to navigate that.”