Tennessee has an unofficial anthem, "Rocky Top," that talks about a scrappy mountain boy who's "half bear, other half cat" -- as in cougar.
That describes Allen Johnson, the Greeneville, Tenn., veteran Pro Stock racer. His scrappy, resourceful upbringing is serving him well in this fight for the Full Throttle Drag Racing Series championship. Then again, maybe it's what is helping fuel the mouthy little
melee with the equally cheeky current champion, Jason Line.
The trash-talking is all tongue-in-cheek between the on-track-only rivals, but it's amusing. And the truth is that both have the keen desire to win it all and to do it showing the competition -- all the competition -- no mercy.
In the style of WWE wrestlers or professional boxers hyping their next match, they have been engaging in silly name-calling and dancing around a mutual challenge to have a fistfight at the top end of the racetrack sometime. And the yakking continued this past weekend at the Ford Thunder Valley Nationals at Bristol Dragway.
"I'm willing to shed a little blood for the cause," Line said.
Would Johnson try to give him a knuckle sandwich?
"Oh, yeah," Johnson said after grabbing the No. 1 qualifying position with a quarter-mile track-record 6.623-second elapsed time Friday night that held up for his fourth of the season and third in five races.
"He thinks just because he's bigger than me that he can whup me," Johnson, who's a sturdy 5-foot-9 and 190 pounds, said of the 6-3, 215-pound Line.
But Johnson is a Tennessee "feller," a dangerous mountain man to reckon with.
"I've been trying to tell him that," Johnson said.
So far they haven't engaged in fisticuffs. But Line repeatedly has called Johnson and his fellow Mopar drivers Vincent Nobile, V Gaines, and Jeg Coughlin something curious: "rubber-cranks."
Fired back Johnson Friday night, "I'll show 'em my d*** rubber crank."
The term, Line said, "is a derogatory comment about Mopar's engines. I didn't make it up. I've heard people say that since I was a kid. It's not very nice, but that's what makes it a good insult."
So what does Johnson call Line and his KB / Summit Racing Camaro teammate Greg Anderson?
"I don't think you can say it and be politically correct," Johnson said. "I just say they drive those off-brand cars. A lot of people call Mopars 'rubbercranks.' "
Johnson spoke seriously, though, about his desire to join that exclusive group of Pro Stock drivers -- to join Anderson, Line, and Edwards -- who have won series crowns.
"We are embroiled in a bitter rivalry now with KB and Mike Edwards," Johnson said. "I want to kick their butts so bad every time I go up there that I can't stand it. Our team is the same way. We've learned how to win, and we like it."
As for his vocal opponents, he said, "We've just developed this rivalry, and Mike [Edwards] has beaten on us a bunch, too. I've got my teeth gritted this year. I want to win this thing, and I'm not going to take any prisoners."
Both camps -- Johnson's and Line's -- count Edwards, in the Penhall / Interstate Batteries Pontiac GXP, as one of the elite to beat. They never have directed any of their silly trash-talking at Edwards. "It's hard to say anything mean about Mike," Johnson said. "Mike and I are great friends, as are Jason and Greg."
Neither has Edwards volunteered any mock-slanderous remarks. Actually, as late as Saturday morning, he had no idea this war of words was taking place.
"I didn't know they were saying anything," Edwards said. That tells you how much I know about what's going on out there. We're just trying to catch up."
Flying below the radar suits him more.
"We're just doing our deal and laying low," Edwards said. "They can say anything they want.
"Look at NASCAR. I'm not saying we're NASCAR or anything like that," he said, "but those fans dig that over there. It could create some interest in the Pro Stock class. It's probably good for the class. So tell them to keep at it."
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