ENGLISHTOWN, NJ – June 7, 2016 – (Motor Sports Newswire) – It took a final round appearance in New England for Tommy Johnson Jr. to get his season on track a year ago. The Funny Car standout now hopes history is about to repeat itself heading into this weekend’s 47th annual NHRA Summernationals at Old Bridge Township Raceway Park.
Johnson put together a second straight final round appearance in Epping on Monday and it appears things are shaping up nicely for Johnson and his Make-A-Wish Dodge Charger R/T. Last year’s first final round appearance started Johnson’s strong run a year ago that included two wins, eight final round appearances and a third-place points finish.
Fresh off his first final round during the 2016 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season, Johnson is optimistic heading to Englishtown.
“Our team seems to be a slow starter and last year we did the same thing,” said Johnson, who moved to ninth in points after Epping. “Epping is when things turned for the better and got us on a roll. Coming into this year I knew we had a championship-caliber team. We had a slow start, but we’ve been building and hopefully this kicks off a good stretch for us.
“A lot of parts change in these cars and it’s hard to keep them performing well all the time. We’ve done a good job adapting and massaging the tune-up to work with what we have now. It’s coming along now.”
Antron Brown (Top Fuel), Matt Hagan (Funny Car), Greg Anderson (Pro Stock) and Jerry Savoie (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were last year’s winners of the iconic summertime event that for the first time will be televised on FOX Sports 1. It is the 10th of 24 events in 2016 and the second of four straight race weekends during the month of June.
Johnson views that as a good thing, especially with the start that included a series of runs in the 3.90s before a close loss in the final round to Don Schumacher Racing teammate Ron Capps. After sitting as low as 12th in the points standings four races ago, Johnson and his team, led by crew chief John Collins, have made considerable strides.
Johnson has posted two semifinals and one final since then and the talented veteran has his sights set on more during this busy stretch.
“You can definitely make a big gain with four in a row and as a driver it’s great,” Johnson said. “As a driver, you love stretches like this. The more runs in the car, the better you get. Hopefully we can go on a run and keep that momentum going. I’m glad we’re off to a great start.”
But even when the team suffered through a slow start, including three first-round losses in the first four races, Johnson was impressed with how the team battled through it. It also meant Johnson had to keep pushing forward, knowing better days were ahead.
“It is easy to get down when you’re struggling, but as a driver you have to bring it every time,” Johnson said. “You have to really keep good focus and when you come to the starting line, you have to do the best job you can. No matter where the performance is, you try to be the best you can on the starting line. It’s nice to see both starting to come around.”
The recent string also helps ease some nerves about the points standings, even if it is early. Johnson wasn’t overly concerned sitting outside the top 10 as recently as three races ago, but he does want to be peaking heading into the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship. That happened a season ago when Johnson made four final-round appearances in a five-race stretch during the six-race playoffs, entering the Countdown in third.
“You do have to keep the big picture in mind,” Johnson said. “You have to keep working and keep focused on the fact that it’s a long year. We can put a good season together and I knew we would get it together. You have to get the team going on the same idea. Fortunately, last year we had some experience in it, and we turned it around and made a heck of a charge.”
Johnson hopes that charge continues in Englishtown against a host of talented Funny Car standouts, including DSR teammates Capps, Matt Hagan, who won back-to-back races in Atlanta and Topeka, and Jack Beckman, who made the highlight reel in New Hampshire with an intense engine explosion. Others to watch include defending world champion Del Worsham, points leader Courtney Force, Robert Hight, John Force, Tim Wilkerson and Alexis DeJoria.
Johnson also has special memories about racing at the NHRA Summernationals, including an incredible victory in 2007 in Funny Car.
“To me, that was probably my ultimate victory,” Johnson said. “We were the No. 1 qualifier and the car burned to the ground in the first round. It caught fire at the (finish line). We basically started over with just a frame. We were able to rebuild the car in between rounds and set low E.T. on the next run. It was phenomenal. We went on to win and that was pretty much the ultimate way to get a victory.”
In Top Fuel, New Jersey native Brown raced to his first win at Englishtown in the 10,000-horsepower category last year en route to his second world championship and won the most recent event in Epping. He will be looking to defend his hometown event this year against a tough field, including points leader Doug Kalitta, who scored a winning hat-trick at Houston, Atlanta and Topeka in his Mac Tools dragster. Other top standouts include Brittany Force, a two-time winner this season, and past NHRA Summernationals winners Richie Crampton, Shawn Langdon, Tony Schumacher and Steve Torrence.
In Pro Stock, Summit Racing Chevy Camaro driver Anderson sprinted past Allen Johnson in the final last year in Englishtown to earn his sixth career victory at Raceway Park. Anderson has four wins this season, including Monday in Epping, but is chasing teammate and points leader Jason Line, who has had an unbelievable start to 2016 with five wins and eight final round appearances in the all new Pro Stock class, which features electronic fuel injection, a 10,500 rev-limited, flattened hoods and shortened wheelie-bars. Competition in the door-slammer category is stiff with drivers like back-to-back world champ Erica Enders, four-time Englishtown winner Jeg Coughlin, rising star Bo Butner, 2015 Rookie of the Year Drew Skillman, veteran driver Shane Gray, local favorite Vincent Nobile and tough Texan Chris McGaha.
Pro Stock Motorcycle will make its fourth appearance of the 2016 season. Last year, Louisiana alligator farmer Savoie raced to his first victory of the season and finished a career-high third in points. Three-time world champion and 2012 Summernationals winner Eddie Krawiec, who used to be employed at Raceway Park, currently has a grip on the Pro Stock Motorcycle points lead. His teammate, reigning world champ and two-time Englishtown winner, Andrew Hines has a win this year while others in the two-wheeled category hoping to race to the winner’s circle include three-time event winner Angelle Sampey, Gatornationals runner-up Hector Arana, two-time champ Matt Smith, veteran rider Steve Johnson, Chip Ellis, Michael Ray Jr. and rookie Melissa Surber.
The NHRA J&A Service Pro Mod Drag Racing Series returns to Raceway Park for its fourth of 10 races in the 2016 season. The NHRA Summernationals also will feature thrilling competition in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series.
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 how the highly-skilled mechanics service their hot rods between rounds, and get autographs from their favorite NHRA drivers.
Mello Yello Drag Racing Series qualifying will feature two rounds at 3:45 and 6:15 p.m. on Friday, June 10 and the final two rounds of qualifying on Saturday, June 11, at 1:45 and 4:15 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sunday, June 12.
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.
NHRA SUMMERNATIONALS FACT SHEET
WHAT: 47th annual NHRA Summernationals, the 10th 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 2016 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 9-12, 2016
THURSDAY, June 9 – LUCAS OIL SERIES qualifying
FRIDAY, June 10 – 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 11 – 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 12 – Pre-race ceremonies, 10 a.m.
MELLO YELLO SERIES eliminations begin at 11 a.m.
Saturday, June 11, FS1 will televise two hours of qualifying coverage at 1 a.m. (ET).
Sunday, June 12, FS1 will televise three hours of finals coverage at 4:30 p.m. (ET).
2015 EVENT WINNERS: Antron Brown, Top Fuel; Matt Hagan, Funny Car; Greg Anderson, Pro Stock, Jerry Savoie, Pro Stock Motorcycle.
MOST VICTORIES: Kenny Bernstein, 7, (4 FC, 3 TF); Joe Amato, 6, TF; Greg Anderson,6, PS; 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.
Top Fuel – 3.725 sec. by Antron Brown, June ’15; 329.91 mph by Massey, June ’12.
Funny Car – 3.959 sec. by Cruz Pedregon, June ’14; 321.04 mph by Del Worsham, June ’14.
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.
Top Fuel – 3.676 sec. by Brittany Force, May ’16, Topeka, Kan.; 332.75 mph by Spencer Massey, Aug. ’15, Brainerd, Minn.
Funny Car – 3.862 sec. and 335.57 mph by Matt Hagan, May ’16, 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.racewaypark.com.
NHRA MELLO YELLO DRAG RACING SERIES WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP POINTS STANDINGS
GLENDORA, CA — Point standings (top 10) following the ninth of 24 events in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series –
1. Doug Kalitta, 785; 2. Antron Brown, 739; 3. Steve Torrence, 658; 4. Brittany Force, 623; 5. Tony Schumacher, 483; 6. Clay Millican, 475; 7. J.R. Todd, 473; 8. Richie Crampton, 450; 9. Shawn Langdon, 399; 10. Leah Pritchett, 360.
1. Courtney Force, 654; 2. Jack Beckman, 639; 3. Ron Capps, 632; 4. Tim Wilkerson, 608; 5. Del Worsham, 558; 6. Matt Hagan, 556; 7. Robert Hight, 545; 8. John Force, 527; 9. Tommy Johnson Jr., 503; 10. Alexis DeJoria, 483.
1. Jason Line, 1,026; 2. Greg Anderson, 937; 3. Bo Butner, 680; 4. Allen Johnson, 559; 5. Drew Skillman, 497; 6. Chris McGaha, 459; 7. Vincent Nobile, 405; 8. Alex Laughlin, 381; 9. Erica Enders, 373; 10. Jeg Coughlin, 372.
Pro Stock Motorcycle:
1. Eddie Krawiec, 353; 2. Andrew Hines, 233; 3. Hector Arana, 207; 4. Jerry Savoie, 204; 5. Chip Ellis, 193; 6. Angelle Sampey, 179; 7. LE Tonglet, 143; 8. Matt Smith, 124; 9. Karen Stoffer, 118; 10. Scotty Pollacheck, 117.