Johnson Earns First Funny Car Win of the Season for DSR, Mopar at NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals
· Mopar driver Tommy Johnson Jr. earns first Funny Car title win of the season for DSR at 14th annual NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals
· Johnson drives his Make-a-Wish Dodge Charger R/T to third spot in Funny Car NHRA championship points standings
· Jeg Coughlin Jr. is highest finishing Mopar Pro Stock after red light start in a semi-final loss
· Hometown favorite Johnson falters in his bid for an elusive Pro Stock win at his home track with a first round loss
· Coughlin and Johnson now second and third in Pro Stock points
Bristol, Tenn. (Sunday, June 15) – Don Schumacher Racing driver Tommy Johnson Jr. drove his Make-A-Wish Dodge Charger R/T to the team’s first Funny Car win of the season at the 14th annual National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) Thunder Valley Nationals at Bristol Dragway.
“This is third time I’ve won on Father’s Day,” said Johnson after earning his 10th career win and the first in seven years and 53 events that also occurred on Father’s Day. “I love the fans, the sound of Thunder Valley. There’s nothing like it. This is a great facility. It was a tricky racetrack today, and all the guys on my team did a great job.
“And it makes it even better to associate with Make-A-Wish and raise awareness for them, it’s just great,” added Johnson. “We just let everyone know what great things they do for these kids that are fighting life-threatening illnesses. To see them smile when they’re going through tough things warms my heart and now we got them a win.”
“All of us at Mopar would like to offer congratulations to Tommy Johnson Jr. on the win in Bristol,” said Pietro Gorlier, President and CEO of Mopar, Chrysler Group LLC’s service, parts and customer-care brand. “The Mopar-powered Funny Car package has been strong and it’s great to see it back in the winner’s circle. We look forward to seeing Tommy (Johnson Jr.) and his Don Schumacher Racing teammates contending for more wins in honor of the 50 year legacy of the 426 Race HEMI.”
To get to the final elimination, Johnson defeated Cruz Pedregon and Robert Hight, only to be paired with his Mopar teammate Matt Hagan. The HEMI-powered duo treated fans to an exciting semifinal showdown won by Johnson with a 4.201 second (299.46 mph) elapsed time run to a 4.207 second (293.54 mph) pass by the Mopar Express Lane Dodge Charger R/T. Johnson then took the victory over Tim Wilkerson to leapfrog the Make-A-Wish Dodge Charger R/T four sports into third place in the championship points race.
In stark contrast to the Funny Car win celebrations, disappointment reigned in the Mopar Pro Stock camp as crowd favorite Allen Johnson, who has yearned for an elusive win at his home track for the last 14 years, saw his hopes dashed once more in the first round of eliminations.
“Dammit,” said Johnson to convey his disappointment before explaining why his “Magneti Marelli Offered by Mopar” Dodge Dart veered towards to centerline in a loss to Dave Connolly.
“When left the starting line, it was pretty decent in first gear and then it started chattering the left tire and pushing me over there,” Johnson said. “If you make a big correction you kill a lot of e.t. so I was trying to ease it back but never could get it to take hold. Then it made one big move and I was getting ready to relive Gainesville from a few years back (where he had a spectacular accident) if I had stayed in it. I thought, you know what? There’s another race next week.”
In 2012, Johnson missed winning on home turf by less than .0000 of a second against Mike Edwards in the closest race in NHRA history, but went on to win the NHRA Pro Stock championship that season. While he’s hoping that scenario perhaps might repeat itself, this weekend’s loss will still sting.
“It’s going to be sweet to win it one of these days,” Johnson bass. “We’ll keep after it. Next year we’ll work hard at it again and one day it will be our day. Today just wasn’t.”
While Jeg Coughlin Jr., also faltered in a bid to carry the Johnson & Johnson HEMI-powered banner through to the final round, there were still some positives to take away. The JEGS.com Dodge Dart posted low elapsed times in all three rounds against Kenny Delco, Vincent Nobile and even in the semi-final loss against Erica-Enders Stevens which was forfeited with a red light start.
“I let the clutch out and was so focused on getting the car down the lane that I never even saw the red-light,” said Coughlin who failed to make the final round for the first time in four events. “I put the car in fifth gear and had a glance or two to the other lane. We got through the finish line and I never saw any win lights. Sure we hate to give one back, but that’s just the way it was made out to be. We’ll try harder in Epping [N.H.].”
The third HEMI-powered Dodge Dart entry of V. Gaines bowed out in the first round.
Coughlin takes over the second spot in the Pro Stock points with his Mopar teammate Johnson right behind in third, trailing Sunday’s event winner Enders- Stevens who defeated Jonathon Gray in the final to extend her lead in the points.
The rest of the Mopar DSR Funny Car contingent didn’t fare quite as well in the points standings as a first round upset dropped No.3 qualifier Ron Capps to seventh place, Hagan sits tenth after his semifinal loss and Jack Beckman fell out of the top-10 with his first round loss to find himself in eleventh place.
Mopar teams now get set for the second Mello Yello Drag Racing national event in a stretch of four straight when they make a return to the 2nd Annual NHRA New England Nationals next weekend in Epping, New Hampshire, just north of Boston, on June 19-22.