BRISTOL — The Pro Stock final at last year’s Ford Thunder Valley Nationals is remembered by most in the drag racing world as the closest race in NHRA history.
For Allen Johnson, it was the most heartbreaking loss of his racing career.
At the end of the track, it was a literal dead heat, Johnson’s Dodge Avenger was edged by Mike Edwards’ Pontiac with a .000-second official margin of victory.
It validates what the defending Pro Stock champion says about how close the margin is in the division.
“We’re separated by thousdandths of a second and millimeters of an inch at the finish line,” said Johnson, an 18-time national event winner. “Every one horsepower you can find in the engine department is worth something.”
Johnson, who hails from nearby Greeneville, called the loss at Bristol Dragway very motivating and said it motivates him and the J&J Racing Team to want to win even more this year.
“We’re home sweet home, clicking our heels, hoping that something magical happens,” he said. “We wait for this event all year and the last couple of years we’ve gone from semis to runner-up, and hopefully this year we can seal the deal.”
It all could depend on getting the best holeshots in the elimination rounds. Johnson already feels the pressure within himself and within his own team to perform at a maximum level.
“I don’t know if you can put any more pressure on the driver,” Johnson said. “I’ve hired my own assassains, but they make me better. If you watched Jeg (Coughlin) and I at Topeka, we left with the exact same light, .013. He makes me rise to the occasion as does Vincent (Nobile). They are on our team, but they make me better.”
Coughlin is actually second behind Edwards in the Mello Yello point standings with Johnson in third. Nobile isn’t that far behind either, currently sixth in the standings.
Johnson is proud of how the Dodge “Superteam” has lived up to the hype so far.
“That says something about our whole program, not just the motor program,” he said. “We’re one of the strongest teams out here. Having another teammate with Jeg has allowed us to do more R&D, more funding. We’ve stepped it up another notch from last year. We need to use this race to catapult to the front.”
It’s been a whirlwind the last few months since winning his first World Championship. He’s been beseiged with honors, last week given the key to the city as part of Allen Johnson Day in Greeneville.
“Everybody has embraced our success, our championship, and it’s very humbling,” Johnson said. “The Greene County partnership, the town of Greeneville embraced our team and it’s a very humbling honor.”
Johnson, 53, is a successful businessman outside of raicng as the owner of Greeneville Oil and part of the group which owns Nolichucky View Golf Course.
Still, it is the racing business which has his undivided attention this weekend. While there have been highlights this season with wins at Gainesville and Las Vegas, and a final-round appearance at Kansas, he isnt’ up to the pace of last season when he had seven wins and 11 final-round appearances.
“We’re doing good things this year,” he said. “We’re not doing great things, but we’re doing good things so we hope the great starts here.”