Pro Stock Motorcycle racer Steve Johnson of Irondale, Alabama is the kind of solid, sober, serious, mature… Wait a second. Are we talking about Steve Johnson, the guy who races on the National Hot Rod Association’s Full Throttle Series tour? The guy who’s been known to not only embrace the trophies when he wins, but to sit on the ground and talk to them? The guy who will suddenly stop talking to a newspaper man so he can walk over and hand his hat to a fan? The guy whose outrageous comments extends press conferences for, well, at least an additional half hour?
Yeah, that’s the guy!
This coming weekend is drag racing’s most prestigious event, the NHRA U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis. It’s the race that every competitor aims for all season. It’s the one they want to win more than any other. It’s the one race that can define a competitor’s career.
Johnson has won it not once, but twice!
But, when qualifying opens on Friday evening at O’Reilly Raceway Park there’ll be even more at stake. The U.S. Nationals is the first of six races in NHRA’s Countdown to 1 that will determine this year’s Full Throttle champion. A season of strong finishes, including several final round appearances, has Johnson sitting in fifth place in the standings, a slim 60 markers from the top of the list.
“Oh, man, there are four really good racers ahead of me, and a bunch of others right behind me,” Johnson said from his Alabama shop as the team prepped for the trip to Indiana. “We’re going to have to be at the top of our game if we’re going to pull this off, but I really think we can do it. Crew chief Tim Kulunjian has done a terrific job on our Suzuki, so it’s up to the guy riding the bike to do his job. If he does, wow, anything could happen.”
Uh, Mr. Johnson, you’re that rider!
“Yeah, I know. The pressure’s really going to be on me, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I love drag racing. It’s exciting. Riding a Suzuki down the quarter mile in six seconds at about 190 mph is way beyond cool. But, as much fun as it is, we’re going after the championship like a squirrel after the last acorn, a dog after the last bone, a cat after the last piece of tuna, a…. Whoa! I’ve gotta calm down before I completely lose it!
“It’s pretty obvious we’re excited about this, isn’t it? Well, come on out to ORP next weekend and let’s get this Countdown party started!”