As he sat there in his deck chair at Sanibel Island, Fla., a week or so ago, soaking in the serenity, lulled by the lazy ebb and flow of the Gulf tides, surely it crossed Allen Johnson’s mind that he needed this peace.
After all, he was about to plunge back into the chaotic world of engines, horsepower, qualifying skirmishes and all-out drag-racing war. All too soon he would be consumed with noise and nemeses at the Big O Tires NHRA Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
And within the NHRA Pro Stock points leader’s grasp is the series championship he has wanted since he began racing in this class 17 years ago. He soon could achieve the dream his engine-builder father Roy chased in his International Hot Rod days while Allen and siblings Randy and Rhonda ran through the open land beside the dragstrips that Roy called “pasture-field” tracks. They were bleacher-less facilities where Roy remembered that “everybody stood along the edge of the track and as we left the starting line they moved back.”
That was in the days when Allen’s mother, Revonda, said, “We stayed in one room, all nine of us. We took the mattress of the bed and some people slept on the floor on the mattress and some slept on the bed on the box springs. We took bologna and cheese. We ate potted meat and Beenie Weenies. We couldn’t eat out. All the money we had had to go to getting the car in the lane. That’s the only life we knew.”
Today the life they know is racing their Team Mopar J&J Dodge Avenger at the sport’s finest facilities — and winning, leading the standings, and inching ever closer to that first championship. But aaah, they have to deal with two troublesome items — two-time and reigning champion Jason Line and hot-streaking Erica Enders. Line is 82 points off the pace, Enders 125.
Johnson said of his dad, “In my high school years, he was frickin’ dominant.” At the time Allen Johnson was focusing on winning a football letter and had neglected racing. “You had to about beat him to make him go,” Roy said.
Now he can’t wait to be at the dragstrip. And Roy, who just turned 71 a couple of weeks ago, can’t seem to stay out of the race shop that has grown from the automotive business right beside the family home, right there in their Greeneville, Tenn., neighborhood.
“He’s down there at night. I’ll go by sometimes at 8 or 9 at night coming home. I just live about a half-mile from the shop, and I’ll swing in there and he’ll be messing with something,” Allen Johnson said. “He’s always thinking. It’s keeping him young.”
This championship goal, he said, “has been our dream for a long time, my dad’s dream when I was just a little kid to race Pro Stock. He never could really put the funding together. He was a very successful sportsman racer, but I got fortunate in business and we got to talking about it again after taking about 10 years off and just decided to go for it. But I can’t believe it’s been 17 years. But ever since then we have gone out there and dug tooth and nail with our Mopar stuff, and hopefully this year it’s going to pay off. “
KB/Summit Racing headliner Line said he wouldn’t mind turning Johnson’s dream into a nightmare: “We’re definitely going to give Allen a tough time the next couple weeks. it’s all about peaking at the right time. We still haven’t quite hit our peak yet, but I don’t think it’s too late. We’re definitely getting faster each week, and right now we’ve got a pretty bad, fast Camaro. Definitely it’s not over yet. If Allen makes one little mistake, hopefully we can be there to capitalize on that.”
Said Johnson, “I’m looking at it as there’s no lead at all, the way Jason and Erica both are running. I’m taking it one round at a time qualifying and racing, just trying to get every single point I can get, as they are.”
He said his calculations tell him the he has to advance to the semifinals at both this weekend’s race and the season finale at Pomona, Calif. For his part, Line said he will have to win the final two races.
Enders said, “It’s going to be tough to catch Allen. I think he’s probably just going to have to not show up to Vegas, and I’m going to have to kidnap him for that to happen.” (She had her chance, as she and boyfriend Richie Stevens vacationed with Allen and wife Pam Johnson at Sanibel again this month.)
“We’re not out yet,” the Cagnazzi Racing/KLR Group driver said. “We’ve certainly had some momentum the past few races. And we’ve got a really fast Cobalt.”
The Pro Stock Motorcycle chase comes down to the question of whether points leader Eddie Krawiec will win his third title or Vance & Hines Screamin’ Eagle Harley-Davidson teammate Andrew Hines will become the class’ first since Dave Schultz to earn four championships. Hines would pass brother Matt Hines, Angelle Sampey Drago, and John Myers.