Steve Johnson looked every bit like a man ready to quit.
Johnson could have won in St. Louis when the Screamin’ Eagle team stumbled, running off pace with a 7.222.
Johnson could have also won with a 7.01 elapsed time had he not red-lighted.
The starting line gaffe might have wasted the best opportunity he’s gotten in a long time to beat the seemingly unbeatable Harley-Davidson organization. Instead, he became an example; one of the examples the NHRA has used to contend parity with starting line miscues having prevented victory for other brands.
The major letdown left Johnson wondering why he goes through the efforts when the odds are obviously stacked against him.
“I keep thinking I am going to win a championship,” admitted Johnson, when asked why he still races in the face of insurmountable odds. “I really do. And every time I go with [Larry] Dixon to a sponsor meeting or hanging out with his family, I always see his championship rings and trophies and I want one. I’ve invested into the sport and it remains my goal.”
Ask Johnson if the investment is worth the potential reward and chances are, he’ll break out into laughter.
“I’d like to think so,” said Johnson, regaining his composure. “There’s a lot of times I look at what I’ve given up. People often talk about having regrets and I definitely have some. It’s all my choice and I just keep putting one foot in front of the other. Every Monday, I feel like I am getting ready to go win a race after a loss.”
Johnson takes great pride when he discusses having won the NHRA U.S. Nationals, arguably drag racing’s most prestigious event, not once, but twice.
“Those wins were wonderful for my brand,” said Johnson. “I’m always worried about my brand as a racer, team owner and spokesman for the sport. I want to have confidence when I say something about our sport being a viable business entity in which corporate America should invest and promote their products, I want them to listen. Winning helps that but I don’t think it’s everything.”
Johnson prefers to look at a bigger picture, a picture which sometimes is, at times, cloudy.
“When I was a kid we had the Pinewood Derby,” explained Johnson. “It was all about painting the car and making the wheels spin good. But everyone had the same stuff. Pinewood is a long way from NHRA 2012. Having said that, there are choices in life. There are choices in making money and I believe I could make a lot more money somewhere else, even in this sport … marketing and promoting. These are my choices and having said that I really feel Suzuki, at the end of the day, (is) behind from my point of view and how I run my company and the amount of income I have.
While Johnson clearly accepts the shortcomings of the Suzuki and in turn his team, he believes if he ever decided to park his team and concentrated on the class, he could yield good results in another competition – the battle for Corporate America.
“I told someone last night if I quit, in three years I believe I could get 70-percent of the teams out here good funding,” said Johnson. “I feel like I could do it but you just have to have time.”
Johnson went on to say, while Sunday’s loss would have provided the perfect time to hang up racing, the fact his loss was self-inflicted serves as a good reason to keep moving forward.
“In 2004, I won my first race after 17 years,” said Johnson. “I’m the same guy I was before that. I really believe I’m not here to ride a motorcycle. I love it but I am here to educate school students on how to better market themselves.”
And in the end, Johnson believes channeling his inner [self-help icon] Tony Robbins and keeping life on the positive side fuels his passion, which never dies regardless of how many losses he might experience.
The thrill of victory keeps him longing for more; even if he does lose the races he should have won.
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