Three blow-ups, three shredded bodies in three races and as far as Funny Car veteran Tommy Johnson Jr. is concerned it’s not a bad start to a season, just an unfortunate one. Johnson sits fifth in the championship points, just nine points behind John Force, who last year had a similar run of misfortune.
“It’s not even a bug in the car. It’s more just bad luck,” Johnson admitted. “You know, all three incidents are not even related. It’d almost be better if we had an issue and you could address it and fix it. But the three things that have happened aren’t related in any form and are just random, and it’s unfortunate they all happened so soon together.”
The calamity began in Phoenix when Johnson went through two explosions and then added a third in Gainesville. Despite it all, Johnson’s confidence is not the least bit shaken, nor does he feel snakebit.
“I’ve been doing it long enough to know that this is a possibility,” Johnson explained. “It’s not that you’re like, ‘Oh wow, I can’t believe that happened. Oh, I can’t believe it happened again.”
“I’ve been around long enough to know this happens. If it was an issue where I felt that we were weak on, yeah it might test my confidence a little bit. But the problem is, it’s not. I know it’s not a weakness of our team or a fault of our own. Basically, all three weren’t really avoidable. There were things that you couldn’t see coming.”
The most recent of the catastrophic trio; ironically, it was Force in the other lane. Force went through a period where there were calls for his retirement. Johnson says he hasn’t had any calls for his retirement.
“I think they are totally different scenarios of how things happened, you know,” Johnson said. “Force, the only reason people were saying that I believe was Force was having trouble. I don’t know what it was, or what it is, but he was having trouble staying in his lane. He was having trouble driving the car around and taking cones out, and things and I think, even though some of the blow-ups, yeah maybe he should have lifted a little sooner. I think that’s where all that came from.
“I don’t know that they are very comparable incidents. I feel bad for him, but at the same time sometimes stuff’s self-inflicted.”
Johnson said the team hadn’t done any testing since Gainesville, and for a good reason.
“We don’t have enough bodies to test, what are you talking about?” Johnson said with a chuckle. “No, you know what, that’s the good thing is we feel, we’re confident enough. The car’s running great. That’s what I keep telling everybody. It’s hard to say we’re having a bad season even though we blew up three times it’s hard to say we’re having a bad season because our car’s performing so well. If there was an issue that we thought man we’ve got a problem in this area, we need to find it; we would definitely be testing.
“But it’s not that situation; it’s random part failures from things that never very often fail.”
The three areas of failure, Johnson adds, were not even related.
“What would you test to try and fix it?” Johnson asked. “The car’s running great. I say maybe we’ve tested in the shop really analyzing everything to make sure everything is, not to let it happen again because sometimes you can’t help parts failures.”
As Johnson sees it, as long as a racer runs nitro, they’re going to have a rough patch some time or another.
“Absolutely, one hundred percent, this stuff is going to happen,” Johnson reiterated. “Will it happen as frequently as we’ve had it happen? No. That’s what’s making it so rare to have three issues in such a short period of time. I mean I did the same thing at Phoenix last year. I blew up in Phoenix last year, had a big explosion where it looks like it pushed a head gasket a little bit and fired up through the intake and then boom, big explosion, broke the body. But that was the only one I had all season.
“It’s not like I haven’t done it before, it’s just you don’t normally have three in a year, and three in this short period of time. If you pull the wires to start the thing, it’s going to happen. That’s what everybody says, how do you not blow these things up? I said, ‘Don’t start it.”
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If there’s one positive which has appeared out of the misfortune, they’ve been able to diagnose issues with the Hellcat bodies in terms of the way they’ve come apart in the incidents.
“Actually we’re addressing a lot of those issues. We’re finding some weaknesses in the body,” Johnson explained. “Not even a weakness, but this body’s a new body from what we had, and you go through this same thing every time you develop a new body, you might find something like maybe that wasn’t a good idea, or maybe we should do it differently. I know Dodge and Mopar are really working with us and seeing.
“We’ve made changes to this next body that we’re putting on the car to try and alleviate some of the stress and try to make it stronger in areas. That’s what’s kind of cool is Dodge is really on top of it. The Mopar guys we’ve talked to have really studied the body and what happened and we’re changing some stuff on them to try and make them stronger and try and make them better and try to figure out how to not have such big damage and all the catastrophic damage to the body.
“I don’t like being the test pilot, the test dummy, but it’s neat to see how they jump right on it and say okay, we’ve got to make this better, we’ve got to do this different, we’ve got to change this. That’s kind of cool to see them so behind it.”
And, just because Johnson understands Mr. Mayhem might visit from time to time, doesn’t mean there’s time logic is thrown out the door and superstition welcomed.
“What are we going to do, what did we do wrong to deserve all of this and then we’ve got to fix it if we did something,” Johnson pondered. “And at the same time what are we going to probably have a seance and get rid of all the bad spirits here, you know?
“I tell you what’s funny; I saw a thing one time, I don’t remember who wrote it or whatever, it said, ‘If we didn’t have bad racing luck, we wouldn’t have any at all.”
“It’s kind of true. Our team is such a good team and is so competitive, but we never seem to get the breaks that kind of go our way. It always looks to go the other way. It’s frustrating. It’s such a good team, but yet at the same time, we don’t ever seem to get that lucky break. I guess I need to start going to church more or something.
They might even have to sacrifice a chicken or at least a bucket of chicken.
“You’ve got to do original recipe; you’ve got to get original,” Johnson said. “I don’t want to change anything, man. Not at this point. I want to stick to basics.