JOHNSON’S PRO STOCK BIKE FEAT AT zMAX GOES FAR BEYOND WINNING, GETTING TROPHY
It’s true that Steve Johnson claimed the Pro Stock Motorcycle trophy Sunday at the NGK NTK Four-Wide Nationals, just like he did at the first-ever NHRA event at Concord, N.C.’s zMAX Dragway in September 2008.
It’s true he won for the first time in more than seven years, since the March 2014 Gatornationals.
It’s true that he was third among the four racers in the final round to launch from the starting line but came from that far behind to win.
It’s true this seventh victory for him in 451 races gives the class four different winners in four races
And it’s true he said the feeling of earning the victory was “euphoric” and called it “the most special” in his collection, rating it [with apologies to the NHRA and its image-keepers] “higher than a U.S. Nationals trophy.”
It isn’t true that this victory validates Steve Johnson.
“The real validation, for me,” the independent Suzuki owner-driver said, “is to go through COVID with Jock [Allen, his crew chief]” and simply be able to be out at the Charlotte-area venue – or anywhere else – competing together in the sport for which they share a passion.
Allen contracted coronavirus and was on a ventilator for 24 days. In the meantime, his mother passed away, and the task of breaking the news to him fell to Johnson, who was at his bedside daily and posting updates on Allen’s condition via a social-media “vlog.” That’s why when Johnson won, competitors and crew members from other teams streamed to Allen and enveloped him with hugs. Everyone knew how much it meant not only to Johnson and Allen to win but how much it meant to all the drag-racing and motorcycle-racing family that those two are still are alive, functioning, and part of the mix in the Camping World Drag Racing Series.
“Man, if you just come out of COVID breathing, you’re a winner,” Johnson said. “There’s no trophy” for that, he said.
That, he said, is what he’ll attach to earning this latest brass-and-wood Wally. He saw this victory through Allen’s eyes: “To come though all of that, to have him finally come to the track and struggle [with so many after-effects of the disease] and even struggle with putting the darn transmission in right, all of these things . . . It’s cool the sanctioning body gives you a trophy that says, ‘You guys came through that, and you did it with a great job.’
“Our society is driven on winners and winners and winners,” Johnson said. But despite his honest statement that “I have plenty of financial issues,” he said he still has faith in the “cliché” that if one has a passion, money will follow. He’s not overly worried about amassing a big bank account, although that would fuel his NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle racing passion in a much more comfortable way.
“I try to inspire people,” Johnson said.
“If you look at this race and us winning – and winning in this fashion,” he said, referring to his 6.729-second elapsed time (at 198.03 mph) in the quarter-mile. “That’s low E.T., on a Suzuki. But our brand is not necessarily the quickest. Our brand is really to be a fantastic human being. I know it’s corny. But be a fantastic human being – and if [someone’s] company is along those lines and you believe in that [with] the culture of your company, then let our passion drive your sales. It’s a pitch, sure, but at the same time, it all stems from my emotions through COVID and Jock and him coming out of that.
“Less than 10 percent survive after 21 or more days on a ventilator. So to see him with his excitement . . . He lost his dreads [his trademark dreadlocks]. He lost his mom. But he has some love today. It’s very rewarding,” Johnson said.
Johnson, 60, said he “really felt good” about his performance throughout the day. He said he was buoyed by John Force’s Funny Car victory Sunday because “he’s our eldest, our Dale Earnhardt or whatever.” And he emphasized that “You ride a bull. You drive a Pro Stock Motorcycle.” He said, “And it’s the coolest thing to be able to shift it on time and throw your body forward. I mean, we take the soles out of our shoes so that our feet are lower to the ground – these are the details that we chase to capture something at this level.”
Full of emotion and joy and gratitude and wonder all wrapped up into one sensation Sunday, Johnson said, “We’re committed to this sport, excited about the emotion of our sport right now: the brand, the ambience, the aura, all these fancy words. I really feel like our sport’s really doing well. There’s a lot of excitement right now.”
Johnson shared the winners podium with three others whose days capped plenty of drama. Steve Torrence won in a Top Fuel four-abreast classic. John Force won for the 152nd time in Funny Car. And rookie Dallas Glenn won in a Pro Stock photo-finish nail-biter over fellow young guns Mason McGaha and Troy Coughlin Jr.
The others in Johnson’s final-round quad had their own drama, as well.
Four-time series champion and current points leader Matt Smith, hoping to win at his home track, took his shot at becoming the class’ first two-time winner this season. The Gatornationals winner was impressive in his runner-up effort with a 202.48-mph clocking, but he missed by .0072 of a second.
Karen Stoffer, looking for her first victory since the September 2019 St. Louis event, finished third, even though her .020-second reaction time was quickest of the quad.
Just last month, Joey Gladstone was in McLeod Medial Center at Florence, next door in South Carolina, with a concussion, four broken ribs, a bruised lung, broken collarbone, broken shoulder blade, and road rash over much of his body from a testing crash at Darlington Dragway. But he reached the final round Sunday and finished fourth (after returning to competition at Atlanta and making the quarterfinal round).
The class saw 24 passes at 200 mph or better this weekend, including 11 on race day and a national-record 203.49 from Eddie Krawiec during qualifying.
The series heads west this weekend to Houston Raceway Park at Baytown, Texas, for the Mopar Express Lane SpringNationals.