The Greeneville driver, after retiring from Pro Stock competition at the end of last season, will be driving a purple Factory Stock Dodge Challenger when qualifying begins Friday. There will be another qualifying session Saturday before eliminations start Sunday.
For Johnson, racing his new car on Father’s Day weekend is as much about his father, noted engine builder Roy Johnson, as himself.
“This keeps our minds into it, gives my dad something to do,” Johnson said last Wednesday during a test session. “It’s a new engine combination (that) has perked him up trying to figure it out. It’s a fun car to drive with a big wheelie.
“It’s also a little different with the little tire on the rear, it’s hard to manage the power. I’ve never had a car in Pro Stock where we had more power than we could use. With this deal, you’ve got more power than you can use the first 100 feet.”
Johnson, 59, retired as one of the most successful drivers in Pro Stock history with 27 wins, 59 final-round appearances and the 2012 World Championship over his 22-year career. He insists the new class is even more competitive than Pro Stock, with 34 cars at Gainesville trying to qualify for just 16 spots. Johnson didn’t qualify and Top Fuel driver Leah Pritchett was eliminated in the second round.
“It’s a very hard class but a popular class with the fans and the drivers,” Johnson said. “I think it will be one of the most popular NHRA classes in time. There are several pro drivers like Leah and Erica (Enders-Stevens) running it.”
After so many years on the road, Johnson likes having the six-race schedule the Factory Stock class offers instead of the full 24-race schedule of the Pro Stock cars. He stays plenty busy around his home with his hobbies and running Greeneville Oil and several convenience stores around the region.
“I’ve been raising the horses, playing a little golf and fooling around with this car,” Johnson said. “Now that I’m home more, I’m working more with my businesses.
“But it’s good to be back on the track at Bristol. I love this track and all the folks up here have always been so good to me.”
NHRA Fitzgerald Thunder Valley Nationals schedule
Friday, June 15
9 a.m. — Gates open
10 a.m. — Sportsman qualifying
2:30 p.m. — Factory Stock Showdown qualifying
3:15 p.m. — Nitro Harley qualifying
3:45 p.m. — Pro Mod qualifying
4:30 p.m. — Pro Stock qualifying
5 p.m. — Nitro qualifying (Funny Car/Top Fuel)
6 p.m. — Nitro Harley qualifying
6:15 p.m. — Factory Stock Showdown qualifying
6:45 p.m. — Pro Mod qualifying
7:30 p.m. — Pro Stock qualifying
8 p.m. — Nitro qualifying (Funny Car/Top Fuel)
(Fireworks at conclusion of qualifying)
Saturday, June 16
7:30 a.m. — Gates open
8 a.m. — Sportsman eliminations
11:30 a.m. — Factory Stock Showdown qualifying
Noon — Nitro Harley qualifying
12:15 p.m. — Pro Mod qualifying
1 p.m. — Pro Stock qualifying
1:30 p.m. — Nitro qualifying (Funny Car/Top Fuel)
2:30 p.m. — Nitro Harley qualifying
2:40 p.m. — Factory Stock Showdown eliminations
2:45 p.m. — Pro Mod Eliminations
3:30 p.m. — Pro Stock qualifying
4 p.m. — Nitro qualifying (Funny Car/Top Fuel)
(Fan Fest begins 30 minutes after last qualifying round)
Sunday, June 17
8:30 a.m. — Gates open
10:30 a.m. — Track walk
11 a.m. — Pre-race ceremonies
Noon — Eliminations