BROWNSBURG, Ind. (Mar. 14, 2017) - Tommy Johnson Jr. and the Make-A-Wish Dodge Charge R/T team sponsored by Terry Chandler are confidant their first NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series win of the year isn't far off with a very good chance it could be this weekend in the NHRA Gatornationals at Gainesville, Fla.
The Make-A-Wish Dodge limped into the opener at Pomona, Calif., with a back-up car after its primary chassis was damaged a week earlier in testing but managed to advance to the second round.
The Don Schumacher Racing fabrication team perfectly repaired it in time to the race two weeks later near Phoenix. The team led by crew chief John Collins and assistant Rip Reynolds set a track record in the desert and earned the No. 1 qualifying position with a track-record time of 3.387 seconds at 329.10 mph. The Make-A-Wish Dodge advanced to the semifinals where Johnson lost to eventual event winner and teammate Matt Hagan.
Arriving at Gainesville as the fourth-ranked team is a testament to the effort put forth by the Make-A-Wish team.
"We have a great opportunity to get a win early in the season," Johnson said. "We have momentum going to Gainesville the way the car is running."
Johnson's first of three wins last year didn't come until the 13th of 24 events when he finished second in championship points for his career-best position.
"We tend to come alive later in the year, around Epping or so, but this season, I think we've started on a high note. It would definitely be nice to get a win at the beginning of the season."
At the 2016 Gatornationals, Johnson and the Make-A-Wish team qualified 10th and lost in the opening round.
"We were struggling last year going into the race. The car wasn't running the way we'd like it to and this year, it's 180 degrees different with the car running really how we want it to. I'm really looking forward to getting back there.
Gainesville is where Johnson competed in his first national event.
"It's one of my favorite races on the tour. I've been going there since 1984 so I have a ton of history at that track. It was the first national event I'd ever raced so it's always been one of my favorites."
Weather conditions in Gainesville look sunny. Johnson says the track could produce good performance in the Funny Car category.
"I think it's going to be great weather, great conditions - maybe the best conditions we've seen in Gainesville for years, as far as performance wise. As long as it's not raining in Florida, we'll be good."
TOMMY JOHNSON JR.: Make-A-Wish 2017 Dodge Charger R/T - No. 1 qualifier at Phoenix last week
Last event (Feb. 24-26 at Phoenix): Qualified No. 1, lost in semifinals to DSR's eventual event winner Matt Hagan
2016 at Gainesville: Qualified No. 10, lost in first round to Chad Head
Career at Gainesville: Wins 0; Runner-ups 0; Poles 0
Pts Events Wins Rup Semi Qtr 1st rd Poles DNQ W/L
2017 4th 2 0 0 1 1 0 1 0 3-2
2016 2nd 24 3 3 4 9 5 1 0 38-21
CAREER 400 15 24 53 99 163 15 44 339-341
Best Time, Speed: 3.837 sec. (Phoenix 2017); 330.80 mph (Seattle, 2016)
2017 NHRA MELLO YELLO DRAG RACING SERIES STANDINGS
(Official after Phoenix; 2 of 24 events; wins in parenthesis; DSR drivers in CAPS)
1. MATT HAGAN (2) 240 -----
2. RON CAPPS 178 -62
3. Courtney Force 140 -100
4. TOMMY JOHNSON JR. 134 -106
5. John Force 112 -128
6. J.R. Todd 105 -135
7. Jim Campbell 102 -138
8. JACK BECKMAN 90 -150
8. Tim Wilkerson 90 -150
10. Robert Hight 88 -152
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