It no coincidence that the most successful event for the Dodge Stratus team of driver Allen Johnson and his father, Roy, has been the Mopar Mile-High NHRA Nationals, where they have scored a win and a runner-up finish in the last two years.
“The reason we’ve done so well there is that we make more test runs for this race than anywhere else,” said Johnson. “We’ll be there for three days, just trying to get ready for the race. It’s always a feather in your cap when you can do well at your sponsor’s event, and we’re looking forward to repeating what we’ve done in the past this year as well.”
In addition to getting acclimated to the extreme conditions of Bandimere Speedway, which sits at more than 5,000 feet, the highest facility on the NHRA Full Throttle tour, the extra testing allows the J&J Racing team to try new ideas. “We’ll be making as many as 15 test runs before the event, and that allows you to go outside the box. We’ve had some success trying some off-the-wall stuff there. It has worked out well, and we’ve managed to keep what we’ve learned under our hat.”
According to Johnson, major changes are required to adapt to the mile-high conditions. “The higher altitude knocks the engine down by about 200 horsepower, so you have to recalibrate the entire car. You end up changing the gear ratios in both the transmission and rear end, tire size, and types of clutches. We’ll run the same carburetors, but everything like the jetting is different than what we normally run. We’ve got it down to a pretty basic routine in terms of what we modify on the car, so it generally takes us only about a half-day to make the changes.”
Another area where the extra test runs come in handy is driving characteristics of the car. “A lot of people think that there is more time between the gear shifts, but it’s actually quicker, especially on the 1-2 shift, because of all the more aggressive gear ratios. You get into high gear a little sooner than on normal tracks, and once that happens, the motor really lugs. That’s why we’re still a long way off from Denver’s first 200-mph run [current track record is 196.39]. You also hardly have a clutch, and it is necessary to rev up the engine to make the counterweights come in to make the car move.”
After making those changes for Denver, each Pro Stock team then has to return its car to sea-level form for the race in Seattle one week later. “When you go from Denver to Seattle, it’s like night and day,” said Johnson. “You notice a huge difference when you rev up the motor in the pits, and you can’t help but think that you’ve got more power. For the experienced racing team that’s been through this procedure a few times, it’s not that big of a deal. But for someone new in Pro Stock, it’s pretty tough to get used to.”
Of his showing so far in 2009, Johnson, who is fifth in the Full Throttle Pro Stock standings, said, “I’d rate our performance so far as just okay. We’re a little bit behind where we want to be, and we need to really turn on the burners for the next two to four races, and the same goes for [J&J Racing teammate] Johnny [Gray], too. Our biggest problem has been starting-line consistency. We made a couple of decisions in Norwalk that cost us in the first round of the K&N Horsepower Challenge and in the second round of Sunday’s eliminations. Hopefully, that will be the last race this year that we’ll be making those kind of mistakes and boo-boos.”
Where would he like to be in the standings by the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals presented by Lucas Oil? “The top five would be okay. I’d prefer to be in the top three, but we could handle being in the top five.”
As for his future plans, Johnson said, “We’re hearing pretty much the same thing from Mopar, which is good. I think that the backing for us next year is in their plans. They’ve been a great partner for the seven years that we’ve been with them. We’re looking forward to the rest of the ’09 season and hope to continue racing with them for several more years to come.”
This story is copyright 2009 National Hot Rod Association. It may not be reprinted or retransmitted in any form without the express written permission of NHRA.com.