Rising From The Ashes: Todd Johnson’s Phoenix Firebird 2.0

Racers don’t really talk about crashing a car because it won’t happen to them, but if it does happen, getting back to the track can be a long and difficult road. Todd Johnson experienced every racer’s worst nightmare when he lost his beloved Firebird known as “Phoenix” in a brutal on-track crash. Johnson now has a new Phoenix, and it’s risen from the ashes in spectacular fashion.

Johnson has been around muscle cars and high-performance vehicles ever since he was a teenager. Bob McCain, Johnson’s uncle, had lots of classic iron for him to look at and gave him a 1969 Mach 1 Mustang when he turned 18. Johnson’s cousin, Terry Cummings, showed him the ropes on building engines, and that pushed him along in his quest for speed.

Johnson had been racing his high-horsepower Firebird for years before his crash, so it’s not like he was lacking in experience. In the sport of drag racing crashes do happen, and it wasn’t easy for Johnson to make the decision to return to the driver’s seat.

“It took me a bit to decide to build the new car; we rolled the first Phoenix several times and completely destroyed the car. I lost vision in my left eye from the wreck, so it was a hard decision to go racing again, but I’ve never quit anything in my life. I had some friends that got me back in a car pretty quick to let me race and get through everything I was dealing with. It was a scary ride, but you accept it could happen every time you strap in a car and make a pass,” Johnson explains.

The new Phoenix 2.0 is a 2000 Firebird that uses an original roof, quarter panels, and doors. Johnson added a fiberglass front end, hood, and rear hatch from Glasstek, along with Optic Armor windows. This new body rides on a double framerail 7.50 certified chassis from Hobbs Chassis that has a strut front end and 4-link rear suspension. Inside the Fab-9 rearend is a Strange Engineering Ultra Case with 4.30 gears. AFCO struts were used for the front suspension, and a set of AFCO shocks found a home under the rear of the Firebird.

The Phoenix will have a 638 cubic-inch big-block Chevy lurking between the fenders for the 2021 racing season. For a power adder, Johnson will be using a two-stage nitrous system from Nitrous Outlet. Johnson added an MS3Pro ECU that will control the ignition, nitrous, provide data-logging, and take care of many other functions for the car. Everything was wired by Tony Finley of Skeet Performance, including the custom G-meter box. Behind the big-block is a Proglide transmission from Hotrod’s Racing Engines and Transmissions that features a Reid case. Marty Chance and the team at Neal Chance Racing Converters spec’d out the torque converter for the new engine package.

“Everyone knew me and the green car as the “Phoenix Firebird,” so we thought another Firebird was the right choice. The mythical Phoenix died and rose up from the ashes better than ever, so we wanted the same scenario for the car. We expect this one to run in the mid 4-second zone, and will race at some big tire heads-up events, along with some big-tire no-prep races next year,” Johnson says.

Any racer that has gone through what Johnson has will tell you that it’s not easy rebuilding a racing program. Johnson is very thankful for those who stepped up to help him with the new car.

“There’s a long list of people that got me here, and I couldn’t have done it without them. Lee Hobbs, Tony Finley, Rob Pritchett, John Phillips, Eric Saffell, Jerry Hoffmann, David Vasser, Sam Vincent, and Tim Apple all played big roles in getting this car ready. I also need to thank my son Caleb, my mom Marilyn, and all my friends who helped out with this build. None of this would have been possible without their help.”

Todd Johnson’s Phoenix Firebird 2.0 is a car that represents everything good in drag racing, and thanks to the help of friends and sponsors Johnson is able to get back to the track and do what he loves after a scary crash that would have turned many away from the sport permanently.

About the author

Brian Wagner

Spending his childhood at different race tracks around Ohio with his family’s 1967 Nova, Brian developed a true love for drag racing. When Brian is not writing, you can find him at the track as a crew chief, doing freelance photography, or beating on his nitrous-fed 2000 Trans Am.
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