Defending Pro Stock world champion Allen Johnson entered the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Countdown to the Championship in a different position than a year ago, but when he heads to Texas Motorplex for the AAA Texas NHRA FallNationals, Sept. 19-22, Johnson will go with the same mind-set he had in 2012. The AAA Texas NHRA FallNationals is the second of six races in the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship, and it is where Johnson put a definitive stamp on his banner championship season.
He won the race and used that momentum to help gain his first Pro Stock title. Other event winners from a year ago were defending world champion Antron Brown (Top Fuel), Bob Tasca III (Funny Car), and Michael Ray (Pro Stock Motorcycle).
This season, Johnson comes to Texas Motorplex in fourth place behind series leader Mike Edwards, Charlotte winner Jeg Coughlin Jr., and Jason Line, but at 60 points back of first, he is still within striking distance. With another strong showing in Dallas, the Greeneville, Tenn., native could be right back in line for another world title.
“We just have to go be consistent and make good runs," he said. "Hopefully we’ll have a setup that’s pretty bad to the bone when we get there.”
A strong setup in his Team Mopar Dodge Avenger has been apparent for most of the year, as Johnson has powered to four victories (in Gainesville, Las Vegas, Epping, and Denver) and seven final-round appearances.
But the team hit a bump heading into the Countdown: Johnson failed to get out of the second round at each of the last three races of the regular season. That included the prestigious Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis, but Johnson found a positive that could be highly beneficial heading into the Countdown.
“Our last run in Indy, we might have hit on something that we’ve been fighting for a few races and give us some momentum in the Countdown,” Johnson said. “Maybe that was a bright spot in an otherwise dismal [event].”
Johnson will have plenty of good vibes heading to the legendary all-concrete Texas Motorplex. His 2012 win was the first of three in the Countdown and marked an important step in his championship journey.
Johnson beat Erica Enders-Stevens in the final round and from there continued to build on that points lead the rest of the season. After tasting success in Dallas, Johnson is certainly ready for more.
“Knowing how important that win at the Motorplex was to us winning the championship made it even more special,” Johnson said. “If we keep running well, going rounds, and we get another win at the Motorplex, it would go a long way toward getting that second championship.
“I sure wouldn’t mind us leaving Texas in the same situation we were in a year ago. That’s definitely going to be the goal.”
Johnson will have his work cut out for him in a loaded class. Points leader Edwards aims to bring his Interstate Batteries/I Am Second Chevy Camaro back to the Motorplex winner’s circle as he did in 1998, giving him seven victories in his dream season. But chasing him is a number of standouts, including Johnson’s teammates, Coughlin, who has two wins, and Vincent Nobile, who has three. Rodger Brogdon, of Tomball, Texas, and Chris McGaha, of Odessa, Texas, are also local favorites seeking wins in front of a large contingent of family and friends.
But racing at the history-rich Texas Motorplex has always been exciting for Johnson, and he hopes there’s another memory to be made there in 2013.
“I have always, always loved that smooth concrete surface at the Motorplex,” Johnson said. “That win gave our whole team momentum in the Countdown and a lot of confidence, and that’s something we hope we can repeat.”
In Top Fuel, everyone is chasing points leader Shawn Langdon, who earned his fifth victory of the season at the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals, but Langdon will have to contend with the likes of five-time event winner and defending world champion Brown, seven-time world champion Tony Schumacher, and other standouts including Khalid alBalooshi, Doug Kalitta, Clay Millican, Morgan Lucas, Texas native Steve Torrence, and 2011 Motorplex winner Bob Vandergriff Jr.
In Funny Car, Matt Hagan leads the standings with four season victories at the controls of his Magneti Marelli Dodge Charger and will be trying to earn his second victory at the Motorplex. He will need to hold off veterans Cruz Pedregon, a three-time event champ, and Ron Capps, the 1998 winner there. Others to watch include the Force powerhouse of 15-time world champion John Force; his youngest daughter, Courtney, a two-time winner this season; and two-time Motorplex winner and Auto Club Ford Mustang driver Robert Hight.
Pro Stock Motorcycle sensation Hector Arana Jr. leads the class with four wins aboard his Lucas Oil Buell while battling a tough group of challengers in the two-wheel category, including two-time season winner and New Braunfels, Texas, rider Ray and his Sovereign/Star Racing Buell, Matt Smith, Indy winner John Hall, defending world champ Eddie Krawiec, and Hector Arana Sr.
The NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series also will thrill the crowds during the weekend with intense competition on the track.
As always, every ticket purchased for the AAA Texas NHRA FallNationals is a pit pass, which offers an extraordinary look behind the scenes in the world of the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series. This unique opportunity in motorsports gives fans direct access to the teams, allowing them to see firsthand the highly skilled mechanics service their high-horsepower machines between rounds and enjoy cherished face time with their favorite NHRA drivers.
Fans will also want to check out NHRA Nitro Alley and the popular NHRA Manufacturers Midway, where manufacturers and sponsors create a carnival atmosphere with interactive displays, simulated competitions, merchandise, food, and freebies. Fans will also want to take advantage of Championship Sunday for the fun fan zone featuring driver introductions and a special Track Walk at 9:30 a.m. It’s free to all Sunday ticket holders.
AAA Texas NHRA FallNationals qualifying opens Friday, Sept. 20, with sessions at 2:15 and 5:15 p.m. The final two qualifying sessions will take place Saturday, Sept. 21, at 11:15 a.m. and 2:15 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. Sunday, Sept. 22.
Tickets for the AAA Texas NHRA FallNationals range from just $10 to $380 for weekend packages. Youth tickets for children 12 and younger start as low as $5. For tickets or more information, call the Texas Motorplex office, 800-MOTORPLEX, or log on to www.texasmotorplex.com.