Tommy Johnson Jr. smiled as he talked about his return as a full-time driver of a top fuel funny car.
“I drove part time for about five years as a result of a lack of sponsorship,” the former Littleton-area resident said. “This year, I am excited to be driving full time again”
Johnson was at Bandimere Speedway July 18-20 to drive the “Make A Wish” top fuel funny car at the Mile High National Drag Race, the 14 race on the National Hot Rod Association drag racing schedule.
He said the season is going pretty well with one event win and one runner-up finish. He paused and added that the team has also experienced three engine explosions this year but said that is all part of driving top fuel funny cars.
“We hope to continue to jell as a team here at Bandimere Speedway,” Johnson said about the Mile High Nationals. “Coming to Bandimere is a lot of fun for me. I have raced here often in my career and I have become very good friends with the Bandimere family. I also lived in the area for a while and have a ton of friends in this area. I really liked living here in Colorado but this location doesn't work well with the NHRA tour schedule.”
Johnson drives a top fuel funny car. The car is powered by a 10,000-horsepower engine. The funny cars launch off the starting line and hit speeds of 100 mph in less than a second. A drag race is a quarter-mile long and a top fuel funny car covers the distance is just over four seconds and crosses the finish line at more than 300 mph.
“It took a little time to get back into the groove of driving full time,” the veteran driver said. “Top fuel funny cars are squirrely, don't want to go straight and it's the driver's job to keep the car in the groove in order to make the quickest possible run.”
He said it took a little while to once again develop the ability to keep ahead of the car mentally so his thought process moves faster than the car accelerates.
Johnson noted his team is different because usually the sponsor's name is prominent on the side of the car but the team is independently sponsored and the space on the car is donated to Make A Wish Foundation.
“Our car sponsor is Terry Chandler who wanted to give something back to the community so made this the Make A Wish car to raise awareness of the foundation and all they do,” he said. “We usually have six to 10 Make A Wish kids visit us at the track at each race. It is great to see the kids and their parents have a day to relax and have fun. I have been surprised by the fact that, at every race, I'll have 15 or 20 people stop by the pits and tell me how Make A Wish has touched their lives.”
Johnson, who now lives in Indiana, has been drag racing since the early 1990s. He has wins in sportsman and alcohol funny car before he got his first win a professional in 1993.
He drove top fuel dragsters until the late 1990s. In 1999, he won his first race in a top fuel funny car. He is one of 15 drivers in NHRA history to win races driving a top fuel dragster and a top fuel funny car.
At 46, he said he feels he can continue to race for at least the next 10 years. He said he is encouraged by the fact John Force, a 14-time top fuel funny car champion, is 65 and still winning race.
“Driving a top fuel funny car isn't tremendously demanding physically,” he said. “Because of the fact you are subject to seven times the normal force of gravity off the starting line does beat up a bit in your back and neck. But that shouldn't be a problem is you keep yourself physically fit.”
Johnson said he feels the team is hitting full stride and it is his hope to be with the team for quite a few years.
The Make A Wish team did pretty well in qualifying as they were sixth on the 16-car, single-elimination race bracket for the July 20 race finals. However, apparently there were some difficulties as Johnson lost the first-round race with Jack Beckman.
So, the team will pack up and head for next week's race in Sonoma, Calif., in their bid to win another race and move up in the points standing.