Veteran nitro pilot Tommy Johnson, Jr. put his instincts and driving talents on fine display during Friday’s opening round of qualifying at the Toyota NHRA Sonoma Nationals, when his Make-A-Wish Dodge Charger lost its righ rear wheel and tire at speeds nearing 300 mph.
Johnson, Jr., running opposite of Courtney Force at the Sonoma Raceway in Northern California, was straight and smooth to the 660-foot half track clocks, when his machine abruptly pitched to the right — the rear wheel and tire separating from the chassis as TJ fought to avoid what appeared to anyone watching on live as a high-speed impact with the guardrail. Fortunately, he was able to limit the contact to the rear quarter panel section of the carbon fiber Dodge body and coasted to a stop in the shutdown area — the departed wheel and tire trailing behind him.
“It could have been a lot worse. An interesting ride,” said Johnson. “I can’t remember the last time I saw a rear axle shear off like that. When it happened, the left tire was still going and it instantly powered the car toward the wall. I was able to catch it quickly and steer it away. Then I saw the right tire passing me.”
After his team switched bodies and rear end housings, TJ returned in the evening session to card a 3.908 to slide into the sixth spot in the provisional Funny Car qualifying order. He improved in Saturday’s fourth and final session, running a fifth-best 3.896.