Pro Stock Motorcycle racer Steve Johnson of Irondale, Al. may very well be one of the most colorful competitors on the very difficult NHRA Full Throttle Series tour, but behind that often outrageous exterior beats the heart of a realist. A first round loss at the Toyo Tires Nationals at Maple Grove Raceway near Reading in the Keystone State on Sunday has resulted in Johnson accepting drag racing reality – he will not win this year’s championship aboard his Suzuki.
“When the Countdown to 1 began at the U.S. Nationals over Labor Day weekend we had high hopes,” Johnson said. “We’ve managed to compete all season long with wonderful sponsors, but championships are expensive. I’m not making excuses or anything like that, and I don’t want anyone to misunderstand me. It’s been tough with our budget, but we managed to get through it.
“Tim Kulungian, Anthony Lum and Rick Elmore have worked their tails off this year, and I couldn’t possibly be prouder of how our whole team has performed. But, you can’t live in a dream world. Since we’re not going to win the title, all we can do is keep trying as hard as we can. At this point the goal is to win those last two races and have an impact on exactly who does win the championship.”
As we all know, when you’re in the position of having to have everything working perfectly in order to win, that’s exactly when you can count on just about everything going wrong. Such was the case for Steve Johnson Racing this weekend. A major mechanical failure negated the team’s first qualifying attempt, and they were never able to fully recover, ultimately being forced to settle for a best effort of 7.002 seconds. That was only good enough for the 12th position on the list of 16 qualifiers, and with the quicker machines running well into the six second zone, Johnson knew he’d have his hands full in the first round of eliminations.
“I thought about trying to ‘push’ the ‘Tree against Jim Underdahl, but the last time I tried that I redlighted. I didn’t want to lose that way, but it really didn’t matter. Just look at the elapsed times and you can plainly see Jim had the better motorcycle today,” Johnson admitted. His elapsed time of 7.115 seconds badly trailed Underdahl’s winning 6.972 second run.
“We have two races left this season,” Johnson continued. “One is in Las Vegas at the end of the month, and the other is in California in mid-November. Believe me, we’re not going into testing mode like those guys do in NASCAR who don’t make the Chase. We’re going all out to win those races. We’ve got nothing to lose, and everything to gain. We want ‘em to know we were there!”
Johnson’s next outing is the Las Vegas Nationals at the fabulous Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on the weekend of October 28-31. Two weeks later he’ll make his last appearance of the season at the Auto Club Finals in Pomona, California, November 11-14. Both events will receive extensive television coverage, including live action from the final rounds, on ESPN HD. Check local listings for exact times.