Tommy Johnson Jr. ended his 35-year quest for a victory in Denver, driving his MOPAR-powered Make-A-Wish Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat Funny Car to the win at the Dodge Mile-High NHRA Nationals Presented by Pennzoil at Bandimere Speedway in Morrison, Colo. near Denver.
Johnson’s win Sunday, his 19th career NHRA victory and second in 2019, was the sixth triumph by a DSR Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat Funny Car in 2019, and fifth in the last eight events.
The run to victory, one that had eluded him for nearly three-and-a-half decades, came in Johnson’s 51st career final. His first final round appearance came at Bandimere back in 1984, when at age 15 he raced to a runner-up finish while competing in Super Gas. Three years later he found himself in the Denver finals again while competing in Top Alcohol Funny Car, and four years after that (1991), he was defeated in his first professional final round while competing in Top Fuel. Two years ago, Johnson lost in the Funny Car final, but this Sunday he was not going to be denied.
Johnson, cheered on by event Honorary Starter and four-year-old Wish Kid Porter Johnson (no relation) from the local chapter of the Make-A-Wish Foundation, started Sunday by driving his Make-A-Wish Hellcat to an opening-round win over Jeff Diehl, setting up a quarterfinal matchup with fellow DSR Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat pilot Jack Beckman. A starting-line advantage was the difference in pushing Johnson past Beckman into his seventh semifinal of the season. Next in his way was Cruz Pedregon, and Johnson raced to another consistent lap in the John Collins-tuned Hellcat to advance to his third final of 2019.
Johnson was undefeated in seven previous meetings with Bob Tasca III and made it eight straight, and first in a final, by storming down the track with a final round pass of 4.102 seconds at 308.50-mph to capture his first Bandimere triumph.
“It wasn’t easy today, we had some close ones,” remarked Johnson. “Beckman was right there, Tasca was right there in the final. We struggled on Friday, like a lot of teams, and we felt pretty confident that Saturday would be okay. We had a nice get-down-the-track run on Q3, but last night we made a great run (3.978 seconds, 317.72 mph), my quickest and fastest ever up on the mountain, and that gave John, (assistant crew chief) Rip (Reynolds) and the guys a ton of confidence. I knew going into today we had a great race car and if we could control it on the track with the sun being out, we’d be good. They did a great job. We’re a much better team than we have been in the past and we’ve really grown as a team.”
For Johnson and his Doug Chandler-sponsored ‘giving car’ program, Sunday’s victory was extra sweet with the added addition of Porter Johnson in the Make-A-Wish cheering section, and a reminder of the importance of bannering the Make-A-Wish Foundation on the side of his race car.
“It speaks volumes of our whole program and what Doug Chandler is doing,” explained Johnson. “Make-A-Wish is such a great organization, and he funds this team and gives it away to raise awareness for that organization. We have Wish Kids out every Saturday and to see Porter come out today and also to see the sponsors get involved – that was a MOPAR/Dodge decision to have a Make-A-Wish Kid as the Honorary Race Starter – it was cool to see everyone get behind this. It’s obvious what a great foundation Make-A-Wish is and all of the great things they do for the kids, so to be a part of it is very humbling. I could’ve got runner-up today and been all bummed out again, but you see kids like Porter, and it puts everything into perspective. He was a natural, he’s four-years-old, and I was nervous for him going out on stage in front of the crowd, but he wasn’t nervous at all, so it was cool. I really enjoyed experiencing that with him.”
Johnson’s Dodge Mile-High NHRA Nationals Presented by Pennzoil victory marked event win No. 339 for Don Schumacher Racing, and allowed Johnson to advance to No. 2 in the NHRA Countdown to the Championship Funny Car point standings.
Qualified: No. 2 (3.978 E.T. at 317.72 MPH)
E1: 4.156 E.T. at 268.54 MPH defeated Jeff Diehl 8.776 E.T. at 97.67 MPH
E2: 4.059 E.T. at 316.01 MPH defeated Jack Beckman 4.092 E.T. at 316.30 MPH
E3: 4.056 E.T. at 311.49 MPH defeated Cruz Pedregon 4.944 E.T. at 166.72 MPH
E4: 4.102 E.T. at 308.50 MPH defeated Bob Tasca III 4.158 E.T. at 302.14 MPH