Those hopes were dashed on a hole shot.
Greg Anderson got off the line with a .027 RT, beating the Greeneville native and reigning Pro Stock points champion to the line in the quarterfinals of the Ford NHRA Thunder Valley nationals en route to a narrow victory.
“We didn’t make a good run right there at all. The driver got beat there,” Johnson said. “We’ll take it and use it as motivation to start our run to the championship.”
The loss was already tough to swallow for Johnson, who has suffered through his share of disappointment in Bristol over the years. But when Mike Edwards, the four-time defending champion, blew an engine and lost to Rodger Brogdon moments after Johnson bowed out, the frustration grew in the face of a golden opportunity missed.
“You had to bring that up, didn’t you?” Johnson said with a chuckle. “The stars aligned for us right there to go. But like I said, we’ll take this as a team and we’ll build on this.”
CHAMP TO CHAMP: Defending Funny Car champion Jack Beckman was given a special award by the family of the late Shirl Greer, the first NHRA Funny Car champion, before the racing began on Sunday.
Beckman is a former sergeant in the Air Force and a cancer survivor. Still, he lauded the toughness of Greer, a former Kingsport resident who came back from a vicious wreck in qualifying for the final race of the 1974 season to win the championship the next day.
“I’ll be 47 in a couple of weeks, but the 7-year-old in me, the age when I first when to the races, hasn’t disappeared,” Beckman said. “That hasn’t disappeared when I’m around the pioneers and the legends of the sport. When they were recognizing Shirl in 2009, I didn’t know if I would have the chance again, so I went and introduced myself. It took me from a 40-some-year-old dad to a little kid at the ropes in the mid-'70s again. The man was just tough as nails, from a different breed, a different generation. It’s a bit surreal to have my name mentioned in the same sentence.”
HONORING THE PROFESSOR: Spend any amount of time with Warren Johnson and you’ll quickly figure out why he was tagged with the moniker “The Professor” many years ago.
Johnson is meticulous, deliberate. He studies his car, the track and his competition like an archeologist honing in on a new discovery. That style earned Johnson eight wins, 11 final-round appearances and two top qualifying spots at Bristol Dragway, and on Sunday, it earned him a spot among the Legends of Thunder Valley.
Johnson’s career accomplishments are staggering. He is the all-time leader in NHRA Pro Stock wins with 97 and is third on the overall NHRA career win list. Johnson has won six Pro Stock championships and is already a member of the International Motorsports Hall of Fame.
FAILURE TO LAUNCH: The clock struck midnight early for Doug Herbert on Sunday.
After qualifying for the Top Fuel field in his first attempt in over a year, Herbert rolled to the start line and performed his burnout in preparation for his run against top qualifier Spencer Massey. But Herbert’s parachute fell out, forcing his crew to roll his dragster off the line and concede the victory to Massey.
To add insult to injury, Massey struck his tires on the run and rolled across the finish line with a 6.95 ET, leaving Herbert to wonder what might have been.
“Obviously we hate when somebody has to be shut off at the start line,” Massey said. “We dodged a bullet there.”