Allen Johnson, Jason Line, and Erica Enders, who are locked in a race for the NHRA Full Throttle season championship in Pro Stock, took part in a national media teleconference to discuss their championship battle. Points leader Johnson has scored a career-best five wins this season and four runner-up finishes. Line is second in points after two wins and four runner-up finishes. Enders is third in points on the strength of four wins, including her historic first win in Pro Stock in Chicago.
Q: With only two races left, how important is it to get on a mini hot streak?
Johnson: Oh, you know, everything we can do hot right now is good. You know, we've been to three finals in the Countdown, and that was our plan, and that's huge. Didn't do so well at Reading. But getting on the hot streaks, anytime you can do it in Pro Stock is a good thing.
Line: Yeah, I agree. Obviously, with the Countdown format, the playoff-style format, it's all about peaking at the right time. We still haven't quite hit our peak yet, but I don't think it's too late. We're definitely getting faster each week, and right now, we've got a pretty bad, fast Camaro. Definitely it's not over yet. We're definitely going to give Allen a tough time the next couple weeks.
Enders: It's always a challenge to be hot, but we've certainly had some momentum the past few races. You know, unfortunately, we started off on the wrong foot in Charlotte, and it's been hard to catch up. But my guys have been doing a great job, and we've got a really fast Cobalt. We've just got to continue to carry the momentum. We're not out yet.
Q: Allen seems to be the guy to be chased at this point with having a great season; 82 points isn't insurmountable for sure, but at the same time, with that kind of point buffer, what's your take on going into this, and how do you look at that, the next two races?
Johnson: You know, I'm looking at it as there's no lead at all the way Jason and Erica both are running. I'm taking it one round at a time qualifying and racing, just trying to get every single point I can get, as they are, I'm sure. But I think it's just like I heard Antron [Brown] say, you go out there and stub your toe first round, and them guys can leave Vegas ahead of you. I'm looking at it as I've got to go to the semi's at least to win this thing, both races.
Q: And for Jason and Erica, what's it like to be in the position that you're in? To be able to catch Allen, you've got to have some serious rounds coming up.
Line: Well, obviously, we do have to win some serious rounds. Basically, we have to win both those two races. Last weekend was a little bit of a blown opportunity. It felt like we certainly had the car to beat, and if we could have just made any kind of clean run, we'd have set the record easily. It just didn't happen, so we stubbed our toe a little bit. Just one of those things. But it's definitely not over yet, so we definitely have to go to Vegas, and like Allen said and Antron said, if Allen makes one little mistake, hopefully we can be there to capitalize on that.
Q: Erica, can you talk about what your mind-set is trying to get all those valuable points?
Enders: Yeah, we've been taking it round by round each week and been performing pretty well. You know, last week was unfortunate in Reading with A.J. going red and my teammate shook, so he got a lucky round-win there, and we were going down the track behind him, and I just had the thought, "This is our time to capitalize on it." We need to make up some rounds on A.J. and Jason, and sitting third going into that race, we knew how important it was. And unfortunately on Friday, or Saturday rather, we missed, I'm sorry, Sunday, it was a four-day race, I'm a little confused. But on Sunday, we missed lane choice by a few thousandths. That was a difference for us. I pedaled the car, and it was just a crazy round, and we didn't get the win that we needed.
It's going to be tough to catch Allen. I think he's probably just going to have to not show up to Vegas, and I'm going to have to kidnap him for that to happen. We certainly can make up some ground on Jason, and that's our plan. No offense, Jason.
Line: None taken.
Q: For Jeff Gordon, he doesn't look at anything else except the race that he's in. Could you talk a little bit about that?
Line: For me personally, the next race, what happened last week really doesn't matter. What matters next is obviously Q1 at Vegas. There's qualifying points to be had, and those "little" points, I think we're 82 points behind Allen, and we can make that up in qualifying, and to get that in one round less, and again, if you win the first round, we win the race. Obviously, things change in a hurry. And that can happen in drag racing. It's happened to both Allen and myself, and I'm sure Erica, as well.
Those things can happen, and you don't want to wish misfortune on anybody, but the truth is it can happen. You just go up there each round and try to focus on that one only and not think about anything else. Obviously, we're not adding up points; you've just got to turn the win light on, and somebody else will add the points up.
Johnson: I mean, first round is definitely tough. You've got all your nerves up. You know you can't lose that round or you're going to get made up on. The second round at Reading, I felt the same way, and when we lost, it was like, "Oh, God, here goes, Jason is going to set the record and do this and that," and none of it happened. Like he said, things can change on a dime, and you've just got to take one round at a time, whether it be qualifying or racing.
Enders: And I feel like it's important. I agree with the other guys. It's important to not get ahead of yourself and just focus on the task at hand. You really can't control what the other racers are going to do. You know, it's not always determinant of who's the fastest on paper. That's why we race on Sunday. We've just got to do our best in our lane and get the job done.
Q: Jason, last year, the roles were reversed a little bit. You were the one being chased, and you basically had to perform and do well enough, although you didn't win the event, you had enough on the line to walk away from Vegas with the title last year. With the roles being a little bit reversed, not with a clinch scenario in place necessarily, is it now just a matter of going "How is this year different from last year?"?
Line: Well, last year, the race was really a formality. It was going to happen. It wasn't over mathematically, but obviously, all of us that race in Pro Stock know that you're not going to go to Vegas and set a record. It's just not going to happen. This year is obviously a little different, and being on the other side of it, I'd rather trade places with Allen, but at the same time, it's a nice challenge, and it'll be fun to see if we can make something happen.
It's definitely out there. It could happen. But it's going to take a monumental effort, and it's going to take probably some misfortune on his part. It's racing, as Erica said. That's why you've got to go up there and do it. If we didn't, I would have won the last two races. I had the fastest car, and it just didn't happen. You've got to go up there and do it and see what happens.
But it'll be a little bit different. Certainly role reversal from last year, and it'll be kind of fun. At this point, you're kind of the underdog, you've got nothing to lose, you just go out there and go for it. That's what we're going to do, just go up there and try to catch Allen.
Q: Erica, after the Western Swing and then the misfortune at Charlotte, are you finding you are trying to find your way back and get yourself a few more round-wins and just go, are you just going for it at this point?
Enders: Yeah, we're definitely going for it. We are going to fight tooth and nail till the end, and we've got nothing to lose. Yeah, like you mentioned, it was really unfortunate what happened to us in Charlotte, especially coming off the back-to-back wins in Seattle and Brainerd. Final-round appearance at Indy the last race before the Countdown started, so we definitely had that momentum, and to go out there and me have to abort the run, that really hurt us. But at the end of the day, my job is to get the car back to the trailer safely, and if I told you I didn't think about that every day when I wake up, I'd be lying.
No, it's just that's what happened. But I'm a firm believer in there's a plan that's bigger than mine, and we just have to do our best and see how it turns out.
Q: Allen, you've been out there since 1996 on the tour, and I should know this, but I don't: Have you always driven Dodge products? Are you and your dad Dodge guys through and through?
Johnson: Yes, that's all we've ever competed in professionally.
Q: How big is your shop, your operation there in Tennessee?
Johnson: Probably about 10 percent of what the Summit shop is. My dad had an automotive business right beside his house, and we just added to it and built on our shop behind it, so the truck and trailer are right in the middle of a residential neighborhood. We can barely get the truck and trailer off the main road into it.
Q: What's it like working with your dad on a career like this and working towards a championship?
Johnson: You know, it's been our dream for a long time, my dad's dream when I was just a little kid to race Pro Stock. He never could really put the funding together. He was a very successful Sportsman racer, but I got fortunate in business, and we got to talking about it again after taking about 10 years off and just decided to go for it. But I can't believe it's been 17 years. But ever since then, we have gone out there and dug tooth and nail with our Mopar stuff, and hopefully this year it's going to pay off.
Q: And one final thing: How old is your dad?
Johnson: He just turned 71 about two weeks ago.
Q: Does he put in a full day every day? I imagine he does.
Johnson: He's there before anybody. Of course he walks to work, you know, and he's down there at night. I'll go by sometimes at 8 or 9 at night coming home. I just live about a half-mile from the shop, and I'll swing in there, and he'll be messing with something. He's always thinking; it's keeping him young.
Q: We do head to Las Vegas and Pomona for the next two events. Each of you talk about going back to tracks we've raced at earlier this year, and just talk about your thoughts about both Las Vegas and Pomona. Allen, we'll start with you.
Johnson: Of course, you know, we're sort of loving going back to Vegas. Had some good fortune there in the spring and won the race. I was just looking back at that, and Jason was the fastest car, so hopefully, we can turn that around and him be No. 2 and me be No. 1 out there.
Actually, I think all of us are going up there to test next week if I'm not mistaken, so look forward to that, also.
Pomona has been a decent track for us. Probably not as good as it has been for the Summit cars, but hopefully, again, we can take that and turn it around and have good fortune there, too. But I like both venues.
Line: Vegas obviously for me is a pretty special place. My team owner Ken Black, Ken and Judy, they're from there. I don't know what it is about Vegas, but we seem to especially like the fall race. I don't know, we seem to do very well there, and I guess it's I don't know, we like trying to show off for Ken and Judy, I guess, and make them see that the money they're spending on us is worthwhile. It's been a very good place for both Greg [Anderson] and myself, and you hope this year will be no exception.
And Pomona as well. Pomona has been a great place. I certainly like going out there. It's usually pretty fast. I think everybody looks forward to Pomona, whether it's the first one or the second one.
Excited to go to both those places, and we are going out there to test next week, and hopefully, we'll have a fast hot rod. I think our Summit Camaro right now is the fastest it's ever been, and timing is everything, so hopefully we can do some damage.
Enders: Sure. Excited to go back to Vegas. We've run there obviously national events twice a year, but we test there a bunch, and the Pro Stock Super Bowl is there. So we definitely have a lot of data there, and like these guys, we're going there to test next week to try to get all our ducks in a row and prepare as well as possible for the event. I'm looking forward to it.
And Pomona has been a really good track to a lot of the Cagnazzi drivers before me, Dave Connolly, Jeg Coughlin, and a couple No. 1 qualifiers. Excited to get back there and just see how the season winds down.
Q: You talk about you're going testing, but as Antron and Spencer [Massey] talked, it has been a pretty tough stretch here the past handful of weeks. Do you have anything special planned for the time off or the time between we go to Las Vegas for the next event?
Enders: Sure, yeah, we look forward to going to test there. These next two weeks, actually, we went on the road six weeks because of the rainout in Indy, and it's been crazy and hectic. This weekend, we're taking a week off and heading down to Sanibel, actually, with A.J. and his wife, Pam. So that'll be a nice weekend away from racing and the cell phone, and the following week, we head to Dallas for my fiancé Richie's final ADL race. That's all we've got planned.
Line: My plan is as soon as I get off the phone, I'm going to make another dyno pull, and it's got A.J.'s name written all over it. Tomorrow, we're going to go testing. We've got the new stuff we're working on, and we're going to go test over at Rockingham, and pretty much I'll be working the whole time.
I hope Erica and A.J. take plenty of time off so that they're good and rested up. I'm going to work like crazy and hope we can find something that helps us beat both of them.
But that's really my plan. We've got just a lot of work, and I'm going to try to spend Sunday with my family. So that's the plan.
Johnson: You heard Erica. We're going down to Sanibel. I'm actually leaving as soon as I hang this up and get on the plane and head towards Sanibel, and we're going to stay down there through Sunday. Jason, just so you know, my people that make the horsepower are making dyno pulls during this phone call.
Line: I figured that. I actually texted your dad; it was his idea for me to be on this so he'd pull me away from the dyno a little bit. I know how that works.
Johnson: He's got an eye on it. The work never quits around the race shop. We know that. I'm fortunate to be able to take a few days off and relax and try and get a sunburn and maybe do a little fishing or something and eat some good seafood down there. All of us are going to Vegas to test next week, so we'll get a serious game face back on and have a little family time when we get back from out there.