Snap-on Tools Suzuki Pro Stock Motorcycle rider Steve Johnson knows his American history – and intends to begin reliving it this coming weekend. “I think Sutter’s Mill, where the California Gold Rush began, is pretty close to Infineon Raceway in Sonoma,” he said with a twinkle in his eye as his team loaded his race bike for the trip to the West Coast. “My intention is to start ‘digging for gold’ on Friday, when qualifying begins, and then dig up that great big nugget on Sunday afternoon. You know, that gold nugget they call a ‘Wally!’” he said in reference to the NHRA POWERade Series winner’s trophies that are named in honor of NHRA Founder Wally Parks.
As usual, Johnson has been a very busy man even if his team had a week “off.” Appearing at the biggest show in Snap-on Tool’s history in Las Vegas, Johnson, who turned wrenches on Rolls Royces and Jaguars before becoming a professional motorcycle drag racer, witnessed the introduction of new tools he wishes were available back in the day.
“When you see the kind of Snap-on Tools today’s mechanics have at their disposal, you quickly realize how technical the automotive industry has become. Quality, innovative tools help those men and women get the job done, and believe me, we depend on those same tools when we’re servicing our Suzuki between rounds at the NHRA POWERade Series races,” he said.
All work and no play makes Steve a dull boy (hardly likely!), so while he was in Las Vegas he spent some time behind the wheel of a NASCAR-style car at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. “Not to worry,” he said. “As cool as that ride was, I’m not about to give up straight line racing to go around in circles!”
Regarding this coming weekend’s Fram/Autolite Nationals, Johnson said, “We’re sitting in eighth place in the standings right now, but we need to move up in the points if we hope to maintain our eligibility for the POWERade championship.”
Following the Toyo Tires Nationals in Pennsylvania in mid-August only the top 8 points earners will remain in contention for this year’s championship. NHRA’s new points chase, called the ”Countdown to 8,” at this juncture of the season, will then become the “Countdown to 4” and ultimately the “Countdown to 1” as the field is narrowed down to the championship event, the Auto Club Finals in Pomona, California on the first weekend of November.
“The pressure is really on,” Johnson admits. “Every competitor – with very few exceptions – is in the same situation we are. Right now the idea is to make that final 8. Nothing else matters.
“We’ve had a pretty good season so far,” he added, “but we’re looking for more, and the Fram/Autolite Nationals this coming weekend is where that search for ‘more’ begins. We need to qualify in the top half of the field so we get lane choice in the first round of eliminations, and then we’ve got to go rounds. In other words, win each round of racing – all four or ‘em if possible – so that when the race ends we’ve earned as many points as possible. That’s the only thing that’s going to help guarantee our making that final 8.”
Crew chief Mark Peiser and the guys have gone completely through their Snap-on Tools Suzuki since their last outing at the Mopar Mile-High Nationals in Denver, and feel good about the team’s chances in California. “I think we’ve got the right engine/clutch combination in our motorcycle,” Peiser said. “If we can keep our eyes focused on the prize in Sonoma we really can strike gold. That’s our intention.”
“If there’s one thing I’ve learned about drag racing,” Johnson said, “it’s that there’s more pressure to perform well with each passing race. There are no weekends off, no easy races, no opponents you just know you can beat. Every rider out here has the ability to cut great Reaction Times, and almost every motorcycle is capable of stepping up and running the quickest elapsed time of the weekend at any time. That means we can’t take a second to catch our collective breath. We’ve got to make every move, every decision, the right one.
“As hard as we’re going to try and do that very thing this coming weekend, so, too, is everyone else. We’ll just have to try harder, work harder and maybe get a little lucky, too.”
On Wednesday evening Johnson will be making a personal appearance at the WyoTech Technical School campus in Sacramento, which will be followed by a Reaction Time “fun-for-all” appearance at the Jackson Rancheria Hotel & Casino in the same city.