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Funny Car standout Tommy Johnson Jr. hopes another June hot streak means success at 48th annual NHRA Summernationals

by Mike Haag | Posted on Tuesday, May 30th, 2017

ENGLISHTOWN, N.J. — For whatever reason, this time of year has usually been very good for Tommy Johnson Jr. After a string of four straight first-round losses, the Funny Car standout hopes he can rely on another hot start to the summer during the 2017 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season.

Johnson Jr. went to two final rounds and posted one win last June. This season he has his sights set on something big in his 10,000-horsepower Make-A-Wish Dodge Charger R/T during a stretch of four straight race weekends. That includes doing well at the upcoming 48th annual NHRA Summernationals, June 8-11 at Old Bridge Township Raceway Park, a race he won in 2007.

“This is usually the stretch where this team turns it on,” said Johnson Jr., who is currently seventh in Funny Car points. “It’s a good time of the year for our team and seems to be where we shine. We seem to do well when we have the hot conditions and we seem to adapt to those hot tracks really well. You can grab a lot of momentum of these four races. (Points leader Ron) Capps showed what you can do over a four-race stretch, and now we want to try to win four in a row in four weeks.”

Steve Torrence (Top Fuel), Ron Capps (Funny Car), Greg Anderson (Pro Stock) and Angelle Sampey (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were last year’s winners of the event that will be televised on FOX Sports 1, including finals coverage starting at 6:00 p.m. (ET) on Sunday, June 11. It is the tenth of 24 events during a 2017 season that has been challenging for Johnson Jr. and his talented team.

As he’s watched Don Schumacher Racing teammate and reigning world champ Capps win four straight races, Johnson Jr. has been mired in a four-race slump. Some of it was expected, as the team has made big changes following an early-season win in Las Vegas, but Johnson believes his group is on the verge of turning things around.

“We went in a different direction with how we tuned the car and we did that to put us in a better position when the (Mello Yello) Countdown (to the Championship) comes,” Johnson Jr. said. “We were able to try different stuff and we’re close to getting what we’re looking for. Sometimes you sacrifice a few races, but I think it will pay off in the long run. It can be tough on everyone, but as a driver you go up and try to do your best every run. It’s so close to performing how it should be.”

Johnson Jr., though, knows the importance of a strong summer and entering the Countdown to the Championship on a good note. He won two of the six playoff races last year, but couldn’t make up enough ground down the stretch to catch Capps, finishing a career-best second. The goal is to improve upon the seventh spot he started the Countdown in 2016 and that means doing well at the iconic Summernationals, where Johnson Jr. posted one of his most incredible wins 10 years ago.

“We learned a valuable lesson last year not starting high enough in the Countdown,” Johnson Jr. said. “We want to be in the top 3-4 spots to have a good shot at it. You ultimately won to win a championship and I feel like this team is capable of doing it. In your career, you need that Englishtown win with the tradition at that race. Probably the most memorable win I’ve ever had was there in 2007. I burned the car to the ground in the first round and we weren’t expected to come back, and we went on to win the race. It was a storybook script.”

Torrence won the Summernationals for the second time in Top Fuel last year and won back-to-back races before back-to-back world champion Antron Brown knocked him off in Topeka. Others to watch include eight-time world champ Tony Schumacher and points leader Leah Pritchett.

Greg Anderson’s seventh Pro Stock win at Englishtown came in 2016 and he is after his third straight victory at the track against the likes of points leader Bo Butner and rookie Tanner Gray. 

Angelle Sampey’s first Pro Stock Motorcycle victory since 2007 came at last year’s race, but she’s chasing points leader Eddie Krawiec and L.E. Tonglet, who has won two straight events in 2017.

The NHRA J&A Service Pro Mod Drag Racing Series makes its sixth of 12 stops in the 2017 season in Englishtown. The event also features thrilling competition in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series, showcasing the future stars of the sport. After Nitro qualifying on Friday, fans can watch the spectacular Larsen Motorsports jet dragsters sponsored by Florida Tech and Matrix System. Jet cars are thrust driven propelled by jet engines with exciting pre-run flame shows.

As always, fans will have the opportunity to interact with their favorite drivers as they’re granted an exclusive pit pass to the most powerful and sensory-filled motorsports attraction on the planet. This unique opportunity in motorsports gives fans direct access to the teams, allowing them to see firsthand the highly-skilled mechanics service their hot rods between rounds, and get autographs from their favorite NHRA drivers.

Fans also will want to visit NHRA’s popular Nitro Alley and Manufacturers Midway, where sponsors and race vendors create a carnival atmosphere, with interactive displays, simulated competitions, merchandise, food and fun for the entire family.

Mello Yello Drag Racing Series qualifying will feature two rounds at 3:45 and 6:15 p.m. on Friday, June 9 and the final two rounds of qualifying on Saturday, June 10, at 1:45 and 4:15 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sunday, June 11.

To purchase general-admission or reserved seats, call Old Bridge Township Raceway Park at (732) 446-7800. Tickets also are available online at www.racewaypark.com. Kids 12 and under are free in general admission areas with a paid adult. For more information about the NHRA visit www.NHRA.com.   

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NHRA SUMMERNATIONALS

WHAT: Forty-eighth annual NHRA Summernationals, the tenth of 24 events in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series. Drivers in four categories – Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle – earn points leading to 2017 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series world championships. Competition in the NHRA J&A Service Pro Mod Series and the NHRA Lucas Oil Series also will be featured at this event.

WHERE: Old Bridge Township Raceway Park, Englishtown, N.J. From the North, take N.J. Turnpike South to Exit 9, follow the signs to Rt. 18 South. Go six miles to the Englishtown exit. Take Rt. 527 South five miles. Make a left onto Pension Rd. Go ¼ mile, track entrance on left. From the South, take N.J. Turnpike north to Exit 8 to Route 33 east. Go eight miles to the Englishtown exit. Take Rt. 527 north. Go through Englishtown. Make a right onto Gordons Corner Rd. Go ¼ mile. Make a left onto Pension Rd. Got two miles. Track entrance is on the right.

COURSE: Championship drag strip; Track elevation is 60 feet above sea level; Track direction is northeast to southwest

WHEN: Thursday through Sunday, June 8-11, 2017

SCHEDULE:      

THURSDAY, June 8 – LUCAS OIL SERIES qualifying

FRIDAY, June 9 – LUCAS OIL SERIES qualifying

NHRA J&A SERVICE PRO MOD SERIES qualifying at 3 and 5:30 p.m.

MELLO YELLO SERIES qualifying at 3:45 and 6:15 p.m.

SATURDAY, June 10 – LUCAS OIL SERIES eliminations

NHRA J&A SERVICE PRO MOD SERIES qualifying at 3:30 p.m.; Round 1 of eliminations at 6 p.m.

MELLO YELLO SERIES qualifying at 1:45 and 4:15 p.m.

SUNDAY, June 11 – Pre-race ceremonies, 10 a.m.

MELLO YELLO SERIES eliminations begin at 11 a.m.

TELEVISION:  

Friday, June 9, FS1 will televise one hour of qualifying coverage at 10 p.m. (ET).

Saturday, June 10, FS1 will televise two hours of qualifying coverage at 2 p.m. (ET).

Sunday, June 11, FS1 will televise three hours of finals coverage at 6 p.m. (ET).

2016 EVENT WINNERS: Steve Torrence, Top Fuel; Ron Capps, Funny Car; Greg Anderson, Pro Stock, Angelle Sampey, Pro Stock Motorcycle.

MOSTVICTORIES: Greg Anderson, 7, PS; Kenny Bernstein, 7, (4 FC, 3 TF); Joe Amato, 6, TF; Larry Dixon, 6, TF; Don Prudhomme, 6, FC; John Force, 4, FC; Jeg Coughlin, 4, PS; Bob Glidden, 4, PS; Warren Johnson, 4, PS; John Myers, 4, PSM; Dave Schultz, 4, PSM.

TRACK RECORDS:       

Top Fuel – 3.725 sec. by Antron Brown, June ’15; 329.91 mph by Massey, June ’12.

Funny Car – 3.870 sec. by Ron Capps, June ‘16; 326.71 by Matt Hagan, June 16.

Pro Stock – 6.464 sec. and 215.55 mph by Erica Enders, June ’14.

PS Motorcycle – 6.747 sec. by Eddie Krawiec, June ’14; 199.37 mph by Hector Arana Jr., June ’15.

NATIONAL RECORDS: 

Top Fuel – 3.658 sec. by Leah Pritchett, Feb. ‘17, Phoenix; 332.75 mph by Spencer Massey, Aug. ’15, Brainerd, Minn.

Funny Car – 3.802 by Matt Hagan, May ‘17, Topeka, Kan.; 338.85 mph by Hagan, May ’17, Topeka, Kan.

Pro Stock – 6.455 sec. by Jason Line, March ’15, Charlotte, N.C.; 215.55 mph by Erica Enders, May ’14, Englishtown N.J.

PS Motorcycle – 6.728 sec. by Andrew Hines, Oct. ’12, Reading, Pa.; 199.88 mph by Hector Arana Jr., March ’15, Charlotte, N.C.

TICKETS: For tickets call Old Bridge Township Raceway Park at (732) 446-7800. Tickets also are available online at www.etownraceway.com.

Story and photos courtesy of the NHRA

About the Author

Mike Haag has covered motorsports in San Antonio and South Texas for more than 30 years. In addition to working for the San Antonio Express-News for nearly 28 years, Mike also has co-hosted TrackSmack with Dawn Murphy for 15 race seasons. In addition to being a writer, Mike also teaches English at Floresville High School.