Back in 1989, Tommy Johnson Jr. made his debut in the nitro ranks in Phoenix – competing in Top Fuel.
The talented, versatile driver has come a long way since. Sunday he captured his 20th career NHRA national event title and 18th in Funny Car.
Johnson clocked a 3.883-second elapsed time at 326.40 mph to defeat his Don Schumacher Racing teammate Jack Beckman, who slowed to 6.156 seconds.
Johnson pilots the MD Anderson Funny Car, while Beckman drives the Infinite Hero Foundation Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat.
On his way to the big final-round showdown, Johnson defeated Paul Lee, Bob Tasca III and Ron Capps.
“We had a good car and we came up here (Sunday) and we had a lot of confidence,” Johnson Jr. said. “As a driver going in each round knowing you have a car that’s going to perform makes your job a little easier and gives you a little less stress. The guys did a great job. Even in a Pomona, we had a good car and it just dropped a cylinder in the second round. We had a little issue with that in qualifying here and we worked hard to fix that and now it is running really well and consistent.”
In the final, Johnson saw it as a win-win against Beckman.
“There wasn’t going to be a loser in the final, Doug Chandler is supporting both of these teams, and both are giving cars,” Johnson Jr. said. “They are paying forward so much you love to bring it home for somebody like that who helps so many others. I wanted to win, but even if we had loss, Doug still won. That’s the main focus of both of our teams to do the job Doug is wanting us to do and promote these foundations he’s supporting. No matter who won that it was a win. He (Beckman) got the first one of the year and I got the second one, so it is even now.”
This is Johnson Jr.’s second career win in Phoenix – the first coming in 2006.
“Coming into a track that you have won at in the past, it gives you a little more confidence,” Johnson said. “You know how to get to the winner’s circle, and I started my (nitro) career back here in 1989 in the Top Fuel car and it’s a big circle and nice to be able put a cap on it with a win. We had a struggle in the Countdown last year. We had a great season and then in the (six-race) Countdown we struggled. That’s totally opposite of what we had done in the past. We weren’t real pleased with the finish of the season. So, to come out strong at the beginning of the year this year, I’m happy for all my guys.”
Johnson moved into second in the Funny Car point standings behind Beckman, the current point leader. Johnson finished eighth in the points standings a year ago.
“I was very relieved when I turned the corner down there (in the finals),” Johnson said. “We had such a good car last year and we didn’t finish well at all, so to come out strong and get that out of the way right off the bat, now it just shifts to maintaining it. You learn from your mistakes you make, and I think we learned well from last year with what went wrong and what we needed to do to fix it. It’s nice to be able to know that you did fix it.”