Rumor Mill

TJ: I AM VERY MUCH INTERESTED IN DRIVING

tommy johnsonTommy Johnson Jr., with his Track Meter track surface analyzer under one arm and writing pad in the other, walked out to the starting line. In his ear, an earpiece, and a microphone attached to his lapel, connects him with the Don Schumacher Racing crew chiefs back in the pits.

Johnson relays his data back to the tuners and immediately he’s fulfilled his role as an assistant with DSR and maintained his involvement in the sport. As Johnson puts it, “I’m very grateful for the opportunity that Don Schumacher has provided to keep me in the game.”

Happy Johnson might be; but not a state of euphoria kind of happy landing a driving gig could provide.

“I am doing what I am doing right now to stay in the sport, to stay involved and make a living,” said Johnson. “There is no less desire to drive and probably even more desire to drive doing what I am doing right now. So, all focus is intention to finding a driving job again, getting back behind the wheel.

Tommy Johnson Jr., with his Track Meter track surface analyzer under one arm and writing pad in the other, walked out to the starting line. In his ear, an earpiece, and a microphone attached to his lapel, connects him with the Don Schumacher Racing tommy johnsoncrew chiefs back in the pits.

Johnson relays his data back to the tuners and immediately he’s fulfilled his role as an assistant with DSR and maintained his involvement in the sport. As Johnson puts it, “I’m very grateful for the opportunity that Don Schumacher has provided to keep me in the game.”

Happy Johnson might be; but not a state of euphoria kind of happy landing a driving gig could provide.

“I am doing what I am doing right now to stay in the sport, to stay involved and make a living,” said Johnson. “There is no less desire to drive and probably even more desire to drive doing what I am doing right now. So, all focus is intention to finding a driving job again, getting back behind the wheel.

“It is a question I get asked every weekend in the pits by the fans walking around – 'when are we going to see back in a car?' It's the same answer every time – as soon as I can. Unfortunately it's based around sponsorship. We see a lot of drivers out of the seat right now. It's tough to get a sponsorship package put together to get you back behind the wheel. There is no less focus on that just because I am doing the track job.”

Right now he is unlikely to drive this season unless something comes up outside of the NHRA Full Throttle tour and has no plans to drive in Europe this season like he did last season.
 
Johnson piloted the Andersen Racing to within one round of clinching a title when an FIA regulation prohibiting a prescribed and medically necessary narcotic found in a drug screening disqualified him from competition. His driving privileges were initially suspended for two sessions but reduced for one year.

Johnson admittedly left the series with a sour taste in his mouth but the lure of driving and the kindness of the race fans and the professionalism of the race teams could possibly be enough of a lure to bring him back. After all, up until the moment politics entered the game, Johnson was having the most fun he’d had in a long time.

“The people I met over there would draw me back to go do it again if I had the opportunity,” admits Johnson. “It was a great experience even though it didn't end on a good note. Such good people. Really enjoyed myself and had a great time there and enjoyed racing there. I'd never say never. I would go back and compete with them again. But, it unfortunately worked out the way it did and left a little bit of a sour taste. But, the people that were so good, I would go back just to visit them and compete again.”

In the meantime, in the homeland, Johnson isn’t ruling out an eagerness to serve as a test driver.

“It has been mentioned if the opportunity arises,” Johnson said. “Certainly the driver commitments and appearances when a test is needed has become a topic of discussion. I would jump at the opportunity to help the teams and get back behind the wheel. It never hurts to make a few laps here and there. I make laps in my head every the cars go down the racetrack, but nothing like the experience behind the wheel again.”

Johnson’s last full-time driving gig was in 2008 when he drove the Monster Energy drink sponsored Funny Car for Kenny Bernstein. He then drove briefly for the Abu Dhabi-based Yas Marina team.

“Sitting on the sidelines gives me a renewed sense of never take it for granted,” said Johnson. “The desire level is probably highest it’s ever been in my career as a driver. My desire and dedication to whatever it takes to get back racing is higher than it's ever been. That is a good thing I guess.”

And for Johnson, he can say unequivocally that he never took his driving job for granted.

“I enjoyed every day of it,” Johnson said. “Never in my mind took it for granted but yet maybe got comfortable. Your goal all along is to get a long term deal, find a home and build on it and I did that. Now I see the other side of it; how quickly that can disappear. I think the next ride I get will be the hardest I'll ever work and make the most of the opportunity. Not that I never did that before but it makes you dig a little deeper. I think the results will show on the racetrack when I do get my next opportunity. I've told people that you better stand back because I’m hungry, I mean really hungry.”

Johnson might not mash the gas pedal literally but every time you see him behind a race car, just know that he’s doing it in his mind.

“Every run down the racetrack,” Johnson admits. “I practice every time I am standing on the starting line. I actually have more practice now then I have ever had because I watch every pair of cars going down the racetrack now instead of just the couple in front of me. I've adapted to all the changes we've seen. I don't think I would miss a beat when I strap back in a car it is going to be like I was racing this entire time.”

And for Johnson, it’s just his way of playing the game, until the call comes along to return to the big show.

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