LAS VEGAS – Already a fan of four-wide racing and running at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Funny Car’s Tommy Johnson Jr. will see what happens when those aspects are combined for the first time next month.
It all happens during the upcoming 19th annual DENSO Spark Plugs NHRA Four-Wide Nationals, April 6-8 in Las Vegas. The event will mark the debut of NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series four-wide racing on the West Coast.
Johnson, the defending winner of the Las Vegas spring race, is one of many who can’t wait for the highly-anticipated event.
When you add in the fact that he has five career final round appearances at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Johnson believes something special could take place in his 10,000-horsepower Make-A-Wish Dodge Charger R/T Funny Car.
“It’s neat to be part of a first event like this and it’s going to be really cool,” Johnson said. “This will be a unique one. I’ve heard from a lot of fans on the West Coast at the first two races who are excited to see four-wide racing for the first time.”
“It really opens everybody’s eyes when they see it. But there’s tracks on tour that just seem to fit you, and Vegas is that track for me. It’s a fun race, fun town and a great facility.”
Las Vegas marks the fourth of 24 races during the 2018 NHRA season, providing fans out West the chance to see four 10,000-horsepower nitro machines go down the track simultaneously.
Johnson has always enjoyed the intricacies of the unique style of action that comes with racing four-wide, something that also takes place in Charlotte at zMAX Dragway.
With double the amount of cars, it presents new challenges and difficulties, but Johnson likes the extra elements of facing off with three other cars.
“It definitely takes a lot more thinking as a driver because there’s a lot more going on,” said Johnson, who has 17 career wins and enters Las Vegas sixth in Funny Car points. “You have to have your act together and be aware of what’s going on.”
“Me, personally, I like it. It adds a new level of difficulty, but if you can overcome that and excel at it, it gives you an advantage. There’s certain things you have to add to your routine just because of this event. It’s just another level of having to remind yourself. You can easily fall back into habits that can really bite you.”
It’s been a solid start to 2018 even as the team, led by crew chief John Collins, started using a new six-disc clutch set-up this season.
But Johnson also knows what an early-season win can do for a team, especially in a loaded Funny Car class that features Don Schumacher Racing teammates Matt Hagan, the current points leader; Ron Capps and Gainesville winner Jack Beckman; as well as Phoenix winner Courtney Force, defending champion Robert Hight, Shawn Langdon and Del Worsham.
“Winning an event early really takes the pressure off,” said Johnson. “It allows you to do different things. We’re still learning the six-disc, but we’re making big progress.”
“At Gainesville, we learned something very huge. We came into this season knowing we’re going to be learning the first part of the season, but right now we’re on a good track. I’m happy with the progress we’ve made and I think we’re running better than maybe we would have expected.”