2017 NHRA ROUTE 66 NATIONALS - EVENT NOTEBOOK
TORRENCE DEFEATS FORMER NEMESIS IN ROUTE 66 FINAL - It’s official.
Steve Torrence is starting to solve his hex against Antron Brown.
After entering the day with an overall record of 2-22 against Brown, Torrence downed the 2016 world champion Sunday in the finals of the Route 66 Nationals with a pass of 3.779 seconds at 326.08 mph to Brown's 3.796 at 326.71. The margin of victory was .007.
“That monkey has been on my back for a long time,” said Torrence, referring to his lackluster record against Brown. “He’s one of my best friends in the entire world. It brings the best out of us when we race each other. I hope the tables have turned my way a little bit.”
It was the fifth win of the season for Torrence.
Torrence admitted that seeing Brown in the opposite line has toyed with his mind in past years.
“I didn’t have a good car the first half of the races that we faced Antron. After that, it was a mental block,” Torrence said. “You try hard and do things that you wouldn’t normally do with the intentions of beating Antron instead of just doing what you need to do.”
As his equipment and brain trust has improved, Torrence said he has gradually found a comfort zone against his popular rival.
“Finally, I pushed things out of my mind,” Torrence said. “I put [Brown] at the pinnacle of our sport with the team they field and the driver he is. He’s got the all-around package. If I would say that I was trying to emulate anybody, it’s Antron because he’s always on his game.”
Torrence wasn’t surprised at the razor-thin result against Brown Sunday.
“I knew he would bring his A-game,” Torrence said. “When we race each other, both of us are going to be at our best. It’s no longer in my mind to do anything but race my car and try to leave on everybody.”
The misery for Torrence against Brown included a 2012 final round at Route 66 where Torrence fouled out at the starting line.
Brown, who also to Torrence in the June 11 finals of the NHRA Summernationals at Englishtown, New Jersey, said he enjoyed the tight competition Sunday where he crafted three of the top four runs.
En route to the finals, Brown worked past Doug Kalitta, Leah Pritchett and recent first-time winner Clay Millican. Brown cut a better light than Torrence, but Torrence chased him down just before the finish line.
“That was just a great drag race,” Brown said. “We were trying to step it up in the finals. The track got better and just ate it up a little bit. That’s all right, though. The good thing is that our Toyota is on the right track and we’re coming. Hopefully, once when we get it we won’t let up. The Western Swing is coming and we’re hungry right now.
TJ Zizzo, in his first run since last year’s U.S. Nationals, advanced to the semifinals before falling to Torrence.
Torrence has built his lead in the Top Fuel standings to 50 points against Leah Pritchett and 81 points over Brown.
“With the car that I have right now along with the performance and the way I’ve been driving, I feel like that we can go beat anybody at anytime,” said Torrence, who has 13 career wins.
Torrence said he can’t wait until the next event on Jun 21-23 in Denver.
“This is one of those situations where you don’t really want to stop. You want to race every week and not slow that momentum down,” Torrence said.
Torrence said he can appreciate the frustrations of his Top Fuel foes.
“It’s mental for the other guys because know that they have to be the best they can be to beat us. I’ve been on that other side of that more than I’ve been on this side. It just feels really great to have a car like this and to have the confidence in your tuner and every one of your guys to know that they’re doing the job.”
As for his latest conquest of Brown, Torrence said he hopes he left a forceful impression on his competition.
“We’re showing up with bombs to drop,’’ Torrence said. “We quit having bullets. Now, we’re just dropping bombs on them. It’s a huge confidence builder and I’m just blessed to have a family that supports drag racing as much as I do.” Allen Gregory
EMOTIONAL WEEKEND CAPPED OFF WITH CAREER MARK, CHICAGO WIN FOR CAPPS - A remarkable 2017 Funny Car season got even better for Ron Capps on Sunday. The defending world champion set a career best with his sixth win of the year at the NHRA Route 66 Nationals – needing only 13 races to do so – picked up his first win at Route 66 Raceway and helped Rahn Tobler earn his 60th win as a crew chief.
But the weekend for Capps and Don Schumacher Racing will truly be remembered as a tribute to Terry Chandler, who funded Funny Cars teams for DSR drivers Tommy Johnson Jr. and Jack Beckman. Chandler passed away on Tuesday after a valiant fight with brain cancer, but not before making an incredible impact within DSR and the entire NHRA.
Capps, who beat Johnson in the final round with a 4.026 at 319.67 mph, dedicated the win to Chandler, offering his own respects to a woman who touched the lives of many.
“You already knew how much she was loved, but people who had never even met her before wanted to give their respects (this weekend),” Capps said. “And then to be lined up with one of her cars, you’re just not used to her not being here. We knew she loved drag racing but we obviously didn’t know (how) much. Don went to the service and the funeral on Saturday and came back and said, ‘This was her life,’ more than we even thought, (and) how much she looked forward to coming to the races. He could not believe every one of her friends, how much they talked about that’s all she talked about when she was back home in New Mexico. It was a very emotional weekend and I’m glad we can give Don the trophy to do what he’s going to do for her family.”
Even in beating Johnson, Capps said Chandler would have been the first one to give him a hug and offer congratulations.
In that regard, there was plenty to celebrate for Capps, who continues to build on his championship defense with the best regular season of his standout career.
He appears to be a lock to take the top spot in the points standings into the Countdown to the Championship, and Capps and Tobler have been an incredible – and almost unbeatable – duo on Sundays, going 29-3 in eliminations the past nine races.
That was especially true this weekend, after Capps struggled with the prominent crosswinds at Route 66 Raceway during qualifying.
He qualified ninth, but running well immediately on Sunday – a 4.005 at 320.89 in the first round against Jonnie Lindberg – was a huge confidence booster.
“We didn’t qualify in the top half and that’s because I couldn’t keep the car in the groove on Friday night and then the second run on Saturday,” Capps said. “We saw a lot of people having problems, so it’s not an easy place to drive and it demands a lot out of you. We should have qualified better, but as every Sunday goes with Rahn Tobler, he wakes up in the morning and he’s a big-picture guy.”
Capps beat Jim Campbell in the second round and earned a spot in the finals by going 4.038 at 318.84 to oust Matt Hagan. Helping Tobler to his 60th victory as a crew chief was also meaningful for Capps considering what he means to the Funny Car veteran.
“It’s been a dream and I wake up every morning wanting to make him proud,” Capps said. He’s really become family and really become a mentor to me. He’s so fun to race with and he’s taught me a lot.”
Next up for Capps is a trip to L.A. for the ESPYS, where Capps is up for the Best Driver Award. Coming off a championship season, the success in 2017 proves the dream hasn’t stopped for Capps, who may be driving as well as he ever has.
“I feel like I’m peaking right now, I really do,” Capps said. “I always felt like I took a lot of those years for granted with Snake’s team. I didn’t think a lot about anything more than a step in front of me. I was living in the moment a lot and now I’ve learned big picture, and a lot of things I’ve gotten to be smarter about because of the people around me. I’m in better shape than I’ve ever been and I look forward to it more than ever, so yeah, I do feel like I’m at my peak.” Josh Hachat
SKILLMAN GETS HEAD RIGHT, GRABS FIRST PRO STOCK WIN OF THE YEAR AT CHICAGO - Through with beating himself, Drew Skillman was ready to let someone else finally take the punishment Sunday at Route 66 Raceway.
The talented Skillman had been his own worst enemy through the first half of the 2017 NHRA Pro Stock season, losing in the first round eight times and letting that frustration get the best of him.
That all changed on Sunday when he was brilliant on the starting line and delivered consistent performances to win his first race of the season at the NHRA Route 66 Nationals, becoming the ninth different Pro Stock winner in 2017.
He got past Erica Enders in the final round with a 6.627 at 209.23 mph, exorcising a lot of frustrations – mostly in his own head – in the process.
“We’ve struggled all year,” said Skillman, who is eighth in points after his fourth career win. “I’ve had a lot better car than I’ve been a driver, so we finally put everything together and got my head right. We’ve got great people behind me. We’ve got a lot of experience. There’s no reason we haven’t won before this and we’re going to win after this.”
Sunday’s breakthrough may be just what Skillman needed.
After beating Shane Tucker in the opening round with a 6.624 at 209.23, Skillman knocked off two of the top three in points before beating a two-time world champ in the final round.
The second-round win came in a close race against Gray Motorsports teammate and rookie Tanner Gray, who had won against Skillman every time they had met previously. Skillman finally got the best of him on Sunday with 6.622 at 208.91, and the third-year pro followed with an impressive showing against points leader Bo Butner. He had another consistent run with a 6.625, but a 0.009 reaction time against Butner was the difference.
“Bo is one of my good friends,” Skillman said. “I’ve raced against Bo for a very long time and he’s really come to be a great Pro Stock driver this past year. I love racing against that guy and we play with each other constantly, so it’s always a mind game with each other. A little talking back and forth goes on and it’s fun, and at the end of the day none of us is bitter. That’s what this racing should be.”
The final round produced another 6.62 and a killer 0.013 reaction time to hold off Enders, whose first Pro Stock win came in Chicago in 2012.
Skillman, though, felt he has had a consistent car all year. But he felt he wasn’t delivering on his end, and it was becoming an irritating ordeal he knew had to change. For Skillman, the solution was simple.
“Just get out of my own head,” Skillman said. “It’s a struggle. My first year I didn’t know it better, so that one if I lost I was supposed to lose so it was no big deal. The next year you’re supposed to do a little better and I did a little bit better, and this year we came out and I did horrible, and I got in my own head. Like I said, I’ve had a better car than I’ve been a driver, (but) we’re on the right path now.”
With those struggles seemingly behind him, Skillman is excited to see what he can build heading into the Countdown to the Championship.
He realizes the tight competition at the top, but Skillman also believes he belongs in that conversation.
“Pro Stock’s so close right now,” Skillman said. “That’s how it used to be and that’s how it should be. We’re all in that group now and we’ve been pretty steady, so we finally got where we deserved to be.” Josh Hachat
TONGLET STOMPS OUT ANOTHER FIRE IN CHICAGO - LE Tonglet spends his weekdays fighting fires in his hometown of Metaire, Louisiana.
The No. 1 qualifier beat the heat again Sunday in the finals of the Route 66 Nationals at Route 66 Raceway in Joliet, Illinois.
Tonglet, who rides the Nitro Fish Racing Suzuki, delivered a pass of 6.835 seconds at 195.99 mph to clip Hector Arana Jr., who ran 6.878 at 193.28 in his Lucas Oil Buell. In the six PSM races of 2017, Tonglet has four wins in four final rounds and has crafted a margin of 121 at the top of point standings. The 2012 world champion has 14 career wins.
“I sure this is my year,” said Tonglet, who earned back-to-back victories in 2011-12 at Route 66. “We go race by race and just try to move forward.”
Tonglet credited his wizard of a crew chief, Tim Kulungian, for conjuring up the perfect blend of speed and consistency Sunday.
“Tim just has this bike just flying. It’s a rocket ship ever single run,” Tonglet said.
“We knew we had a good bike at the start of the season, but it was just a matter of getting tuned up as we learn more about the bike each week. On Sunday our goal is to get win lights, so I’ve improved on being calm and staying focused to try and get the job done.”
En route to the finals, Tonglet defeated Cory Reed, Scotty Pollacheck and Karen Stoffer. Arana Jr. vanquished the gauntlet of Angelle Sampey, Angie Smith and Eddie Krawiec to earn his second runner-up finish of the season.
Former NHRA Pro Stock world champion Jim Yates worked in the pits for Arana, whose father Hector is recovering at home from shoulder surgery.
“Not bad at all,” said Arana, summing up his weekend at the hot track. “You have to hand it to LE. He’s been nearly perfect, but we are definitely headed right there. I really wish we could have brought the win home today for my dad, but we gave it our best.”
The final clash brought fans to their feet.
“We were dead-even off the starting line, but we just missed it a little on the tune-up,” Arana said. “We’re definitely on the right track. Moving forward, I know we will have something for them over these next few races.”
The final eight bikes on Sunday included a mix of four Suzuki’s and four V12s.
After recent struggles, the Harley-Davidson contingent continues to work on the wheelie bar on their bikes in hopes of being more competitive.
Jerry Savoie, defending PSM world champion and owner of the White Alligator Racing team which features Tonglet, was upset by Karen Stouffer in the second round. The Savoie bike bobbled early in the run, giving Stouffer time to pull away
Tonglet praised colorful businessman and former driver Kenny Koretsky for setting up the team arrangement between Louisiana natives, Savoie and Tonglet. Koretsy is the owner of the distinctive Nitro Fish Racing and Apparel.
“We can’t thank Kenny enough,” Tonglet said. “He’s back home and still recovering. Without him and Nitro Fish stepping up, we couldn’t have done this deal. And I can’t thank enough all the crew that gets this bike back together in between rounds. They just do a really good job.”
Krawiec remains second in points, 91 behind Tonglet following Sunday’s semifinal appearance. Arana Jr. moves up to third, with Pollacheck dropping to fourth. Allen Gregory
C. FORCE OUT FOR REDEMPTION AFTER NORWALK DNQ: Norwalk was the end of a four-race swing, but after failing to qualify for the first time in her Funny Car career, Courtney Force would have gladly taken a fifth straight race to quickly get that bad taste out of her mouth.
Instead she had to wait an extra week for this weekend’s NHRA Route 66 Nationals, where she quickly made amends with a 3.88 at 331.36 mph that qualified her third on Friday. She wouldn’t totally chalk Norwalk’s struggles to a lack of focus, but there was no doubt Force was locked in on Friday.
“Yeah, I think a lot of people take (qualifying) for granted,” Force said. “And maybe that’s kind of what bit us. We thought, ‘Well, we still have another round. We’ll get it down there.’ You know, it was just a bummer but we just have to kind of study it, learn from it and like I said, just move on to the next one. But I think we expected to be qualified. We didn’t really think we’d be in that sort of position, but we put ourselves there and that’s something that we can’t do anymore.”
Force was visibly and vocally upset following the final qualifying pass in Norwalk, but ultimately it could prove to be a blessing in disguise down the road.
She liked the team’s focus level early in the weekend in Chicago and Force, who has qualified No. 1 five times in 2017, has utmost confidence in what her team can accomplish this year, including picking up her first win of the season.
“I love driving this car, and winning this championship is obviously the most important thing to me right now,” Force said. “And that was just a big I guess hump in the road that we had to go over and you know a lot of people texted me positive things making me feel better. My Dad (John Force) obviously was you know, ‘You’ve just got to put it behind you. I’ve had DNQ’s plenty of times in my career.’ And the fact that that was my first one ever in Funny Car, he told me not to be so hard on myself. I’ve got a great team behind me and we just have to remember that and put it behind us.”
BUTNER FEELING COMFORTABLE, CONFIDENT: After a successful sportsman career, Pro Stock’s Bo Butner knew he was capable of winning races. But even he started to wonder when that moment would come after so many near-misses, especially as KB Racing teammates Greg Anderson and Jason Line continued to rack up victories.
Butner got the monkey off his in his 46th career start and he admitted everything started to come together after he stopped overthinking and started relaxing.
“I made a lot of changes in my life that I think are the right direction,” Butner said. “There’s a bigger world than us out there. And you get that in your head and if you can be honest with yourself, that changes the whole game. And you can definitely over think drag racing. I just talked to a sportsman’s racer’s father about that, and they were changing their dial in four times. I said, ‘Well what did he run?’ and he goes, ‘The one we had it on the first time’. So you can overthink this sport. We do this for fun. So you have to tell yourself that. This is fun, you’re doing this to enjoy life.”
Winning helps make everything more enjoyable, and the floodgates have seemingly opened for the Pro Stock points leader, as Butner has three wins and counting through the first 12 races this season.
He’s qualified second with a 6.58 at Route 66 Raceway and even with a talented Pro Stock class, Butner has maintained success in 2017.
The next step is continuing to do so as everyone is chasing him, which appears to be the case heading to the Countdown to the Championship.
“The talent’s great,” Butner said. “Pro Stock I think is as competitive as it’s been in many years, and it’s going to be fun to finish it out. But I feel like if you just go win rounds, the points come.”
HUMBLE BEGINNINGS TO 400 RACES: Participating in 400 races obviously didn’t come overnight for Pro Stock Motorcycle’s Steve Johnson.
But to get to this point, where Johnson is making his 400th start this weekend in Chicago, it started with some humble beginnings.
“The first race, while everybody has you know really cool truck and trailers, or they’ve got these box vans or something like that, my first NHRA race was a wooden crate, literally,” Johnson said. “I had a ride with somebody to go from California to New Jersey and he canceled on me at the last minute. And then, I’m like, ‘Well we were already entered, do we want to go? We’re all set.’ So we built a crate and shipped it, and we raced out of a crate all weekend at Englishtown, qualified and went two rounds.”
It’s come a long way since then, with Johnson winning six races, including the U.S. Nationals twice. He’s seeking his first win in 2017, but reaching a milestone like 400 simply shows that Johnson continues to live his dream.
“It was always probably a dream, not to make a career out of it, but to do it all the time,” Johnson said. “NHRA provided an opportunity for us to keep our racing going along, and we loved it, so we got involved.
J. FORCE FIRES STRIKE AT WRIGLEY: John Force knows how to make an impression and that now includes first pitches at Wrigley Field.
Force got the opportunity to throw out the first pitch earlier this week for the defending World Series champs.
The Cubs gave Force the number 16 to line up with his 16 Funny Car world championships, and the legendary driver was determined to make a strong impression. He was reminded not to make an errant throw – a surefire way to reach the blooper reel – and Force also didn’t want to just lob the ball across home plate.
But true to perform, Force responded, delivering a strong throw right on track and delivered quite a show in the process.
“It’s finally time to go out,” Force said. “Hands up waving at the crowd and they were cheering. I went out and I just thought, ‘Turn the switch off Force or you’ll throw this thing 100 miles the wrong direction’. But he said to me, ’Don’t throw it if it’s slow, I can’t help you. You throw it high, I can jump 10 feet and get it. Just get it somewhere near me but don’t throw it in the dirt’. I wound up and I threw as hard as I could throw it. And that son of a b**** went right down there, I couldn’t believe it. I mean it wasn’t no 100 mile per hour speed ball, but he caught it.”
TUCKER FINE WITH POTENTIAL PRO STOCK MOVE TO 18 RACES: Pro Stock’s Shane Tucker believes the move to fuel injection has leveled the playing field and given his part-time team a better shot at going rounds against the big hitters in the class.
That’s kept Tucker’s passion for the sport and class strong, even as his business in Australia continues to grow at a rapid pace. That’s taken much of his attention, but making competitive passes remains a thrill.
Just as enticing for Tucker is Pro Stock’s possible move to 18 races during the 2018 NHRA season. It’s brought a variety of opinions, but in Tucker’s case, he believes it could be a good thing, and a situation that would work almost perfectly for him.
“I think for guys like myself that are running 12 races it entices us to think about running the full season,” Tucker said. “We’re in a stretch right now to run 12, but maybe we’ll figure out how to run another six.”
PRITCHETT STAYS UNDEFEATED IN CHARITY CHALLENGE: Top Fuel’s Leah Pritchett moved to 3-0 against “Papa John” Schnatter in their Charity Challenge match race on Saturday at Route 66 Raceway. Pritchett lost traction and smoked the tires, but Schnatter was early on the starting line, keeping Pritchett undefeated through three events.
Most importantly, Don Schumacher Racing owner Don Schumacher and Schnatter each donated $10,000 to the Infinite Hero Foundation.
To date, the Challenge has generated $60,000 to Infinite Hero.
On Saturday, Mount Zion, Ill., native Chad Watson, a retired Marine, accepted a $20,000 check on behalf of Infinite Hero. Watson earned his BA from Indiana University and his MBA from Notre Dame after he lost a leg below the knee to an IED blast in 2007 while on a mission at Fallujah, Iraq.
SEEKING WIN NO. 2, MILLICAN REFLECTS ON DEBUT: Clay Millican picked up his long-awaited first NHRA Top Fuel win in Bristol, receiving a groundswell of congratulations in the process. Now looking for his second victory, Route 66 Raceway, the site of this weekend’s Fallen Patriots NHRA Route 66 Nationals, presents a nostalgic storyline.
It was here where Millican made his NHRA Top Fuel debut, driving a dragster sponsored by the Chicago White Sox. It’s a memory that will forever remain fresh for Millican.
“It was really cool experience for me. We had the dragster on display out at a Chicago White Sox game and everything that week. I will never forget it,” Millican said.
Of course, Millican had to wait 250-plus more races until he took a Top Fuel car to the winner’s circle, but he figures Chicago would be the perfect location for his second win. He’ll have to make his move on Saturday, as he’s currently qualified in the 17th spot after two disappointing passes on Friday.
“Since I finally have an NHRA race win under my belt, there is no better place to grab my next win than the track where I made my debut in a Top Fuel dragster,” Millican said.
IT’S 1,000 AND COUNTING FOR PEDREGON: Chicago will mark Cruz Pedregon’s 1,000th Funny Car round in Funny Car, but there’s two other numbers grabbing the veteran’s attention this weekend: 10 and one.
The 10 is Pedregon’s current spot in the standings, just five more than Del Worsham in what is shaping up to be a furious fight for the final spot in the Countdown to the Championship. The one, of course, is Pedregon’s first win since 2014, something he’s hoping to put together this weekend.
“Drag racing is a calling for me, not just because it’s my family sport, but because it’s my passion. Staging for the 1,000th time is a real thrill for me personally and professionally.”
A 3.967 at 320.13 put Pedregon in 11th after Friday and crew chief Aaron Brooks is confident the team can build on that. We've got our eye on the prize, and that's the playoff berth,” Brooks said. “Cruz set a track record here in 2015, and we believe we have the momentum to do it again. Each week, we're seeing gains in the program and Chicago is where we plan to see it pay off."
SCHUMACHER STILL FEELS RIGHT AT HOME AT ROUTE 66: He couldn’t top Brittany Force’s blistering pass of 3.711 on Friday, but Tony Schumacher still enjoyed plenty of home cooking at Route 66 Raceway.
He no longer calls Chicago home, as the Windy City native resides in Austin, Texas, but plenty of good vibes remain. Schumacher qualified second with a 3.758 at 325.37, putting him in strong position for a sixth Top Fuel win at the track.
That success should be no surprise considering Schumacher’s feelings for the city and the facility.
“There is nothing like going home,” Schumacher said. “I spent 40 plus years in the Windy City and it’s always special. The facility at Route 66 is incredible. The fans get to see some remarkable runs both under the lights in qualifying and racing during the heat of the day. Chicago is the city of broad shoulders and toughness is ingrained people there. We’re excited to come home and look forward to trying to get another win. We’ve had some really good weekends in Chicago the past few years and we’re looking forward to having another one.”
COUGHLIN BRINGS WIFE INTO THE MIX IN CHICAGO: A busy weekend may just what Pro Stock’s Jeg Coughlin needs for a breakout performance. This weekend’s NHRA Route 66 Nationals provides that on a number of fronts, starting with the JEGS Allstars bonus event for Sportsman racers.
It continues with another important aspect, as Coughlin’s wife, Samantha, will be competing in Super Gas, with her family also running in Super Gas, Super Comp and Top Dragster.
“All-in-all, it’s going to be a very fun weekend,” said Coughlin, who qualified ninth on Friday with a 6.647. “It’s a fun and big weekend for us on a lot of levels.”
Of course, that also includes doing well in his Pro Stock car, with the ultimate goal having evaded Coughlin thus far. With eight different drivers picking up wins in the first 12 events, Coughlin is more than ready to crack that category after an up and down 2017 campaign.
“We’ve kind of licked our wounds from the last couple of weeks so we want to rebound well and see if we can’t go some rounds on Sunday again,” Coughlin said. “I’ve got all the faith in the world in Mark Ingersoll and Rick and Rickie Jones (crew chiefs).”
GOOD VIBES, FIRST WIN OF 2017 FOR ARANA JR.?: Known for a spectacular starting line, Hector Arana Jr. always looks forward to racing at Route 66 Raceway. Two previous wins at the NHRA Route 66 Nationals gives the Pro Stock Motorcycle standout even further confidence at the track, which he hopes helps him break through for the first time this season.
He sits third after a strong 6.884 at 194.97 on Friday, only adding to the belief Arana Jr. can repeat his wins from 2014 and 2015.
“Chicago is one of my favorite races," said Arana Jr., who has a runner-up and semifinal finish the past two races. "Route 66 Raceway is known for having a great surface and a really good bite so we usually make some good 60-foot times there. It's always been a great place for me and we always do well there.
"We've definitely turned the corner performance wise. The team's been working really hard on the engine, and we've finally gotten back our good horsepower. There's been some trial and error, but we've got a good combination that's repeating for us now, and we're very happy.”
400 AND NOT SLOWING DOWN: This weekend’s NHRA Route 66 Nationals marks the 400th career race for Pro Stock Motorcycle veteran Steve Johnson.
But to hear Johnson, it appears he remains as passionate as ever about not only competing, but also thriving. He’s after his first win of 2017 and started the weekend with a pass of 6.981 to put him 14th in a loaded field, but Johnson knows there’s work to do.
Still, that pursuit continues to drive him, even 400 races later.
“I’ve been experimenting with different things and I feel like it’s going to pay off,” Johnson said. “I still want to win. I think I want to win as much as I ever did and maybe more. When I see all the data and everything add up, I know I can win. I’ve got a good engine and a good team, and we have the equipment, so we’re confident we can. I’m definitely still experimenting but I need to win some rounds."
QUICK START IN CHICAGO CRUCIAL FOR TOP FUEL’S BROWN: Antron Brown has put together an impressive recipe for success in Chicago, winning three times at Route 66 Raceway. But while the bulk of the work is done on Sunday, part of that recipe is starting strong under the lights on Friday.
The rest of the weekend brings far different conditions, meaning Brown and others must take advantage of usual ideal conditions on Friday night. He was solid, though not spectacular, on Friday, running 3.766 to sit fifth, but it sets himself up for another banner weekend. Enjoying the atmosphere at Route 66 Raceway also seems to bring out the best in the back to back world champ.
“Qualifying (in Chicago) can make or break you,” Brown said. “That sets you up for the whole race weekend, so Friday night is an absolutely crucial run. The pressure is going to be on – and that’s when our team always shines.
“I absolutely love racing at Route 66. When you roll out from underneath the tower the stands are so unique and it's like you're a gladiator going into the battle-royal. It's just incredible.”