NHRA - National Hot Rod Association

Add nitro crew chief to the list of Jonnie Lindberg’s many skills

So far this season, Jonnie Lindberg has shone brightly in his new role as the crew chief for Paul Lee's McLeod/FTI Dodge nitro Funny Car, and he believes the best is yet to come.
23 Apr 2024
Kevin McKenna, NHRA National Dragster Senior Editor
Jonnie Lindberg

When Jonnie Lindberg came to the United States from his native Sweden nearly a decade ago, he quickly proved that he could drive a Top Alcohol Funny Car by winning two NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series titles. Then, Lindberg proved that he could also drive a nitro Funny Car by taking Jim Head’s Mustang to three final rounds in his first season in the class. Along the way, Lindberg also proved that he could weld and fabricate by opening his own chassis shop and building Top Alcohol Funny Cars, including the one piloted by three-time class champ Doug Gordon.

In short, it seems there is nothing that Lindberg can’t do if he puts his mind to it, and that philosophy has allowed him to shine in his current role as a co-crew chief for Paul Lee’s McLeod/FTI Dodge nitro Funny Car. In a surprising offseason announcement, Lindberg was named to that role this winter, sharing the tuning duties of Lee’s car with highly respected veteran John Medlen. Although, in Lindberg’s mind, the announcement wasn’t surprising at all.

“I’ve always wanted to learn [to tune a nitro car], and when I drove for Jim Head, I learned a lot there. I just wanted to do more than he let me,” said Lindberg. “This deal with Paul happened really quickly. I heard through Krista [Baldwin] that Paul was looking for a new crew chief, and I always wanted to do it. I felt it was time for me to take the next step in my career, so I called Paul, and two days later, I had the job.

“John Medlen was also really helpful. He brought my name up and told Paul, ‘You need someone young and hungry. I’ve always gotten along well with John, so it seemed like a good fit. I guess you could say it all happened for a reason.”

So far, the results have been impressive, as Lee, who won just four rounds during the entire 2023 season, already has a pair of round-wins this season, and he’s holding his own among the top 10 in an increasingly competitive Funny Car division. More importantly, the car is completing a much higher percentage of its runs than in the past.

The fact that Lindberg had very limited experience burning nitro wasn’t much of a concern to Lee, who suddenly found himself in need of a new tuner last winter.

“In this business, you’ve got to look for new talent, and you’ve got to give people a chance to prove what they can do,” said Lee. “Look, there’s only so many crew chiefs out there, and the really good ones are already taken. It’s like any other business, you’ve got to look for new opportunities. I knew Jonnie was smart and hardworking, and I also knew we had John Medlen there to provide a wealth of experience. I didn’t think it was a risky move at all.”

According to Lindberg, while there are differences between tuning an alcohol car and a nitro car, the core philosophy remains the same as they both require a meticulous approach.

“With a nitro car, there is so much more to keep track of, and they make so much power and can be so sensitive, you have to have them just about perfect,” said Lindberg. “You need to make sure all the parts are perfect and all the settings are perfect. You just need to be more detail oriented.

“I’ve told everyone, 'Without Medlen, I wouldn’t do it,' ” Lindberg said. “I know the basics, but he has so much experience, and to be able to learn from him is a huge deal. John made me feel comfortable from day one.”

Following a modest outing in Gainesville, Lee has made the most of qualifying as he’s been No. 5, No. 3, and No. 5 at the three Western events in Pomona, Phoenix, and Las Vegas. Lindberg is convinced the team would have had better results at the NHRA 4-Wide Nationals if not for an intake rocker failure in round one.

“Those [intake rockers] were just about the only parts we didn’t replace this winter,” said Lindberg. “Obviously, we’re fixing that now. Otherwise, I’m happy with where we’re at. I feel like we have a top-five car, but we just need some more luck. One of the things I’ve tried to do is go over everything on the car and make sure it’s all perfect. The whole team is getting more and more experience, and every race, we work more closely together.”

Good luck finding anyone who doesn’t admire and respect John Medlen, who has been an integral part of some of the sport’s most successful teams. Medlen is also known for his even temper and nearly inexhaustible patience.

“John is great to work with,” said Lindberg. “He lets me do my own thing, but he’s always there to keep us going in the right direction. There are no egos with either of us, and the more I work with him, the more we realize that we think alike. When it comes to tuning the car, we both write down our ideas, and they usually match. I might be a bit more aggressive, but he’s so understanding.”

The added benefit to the team’s early season success has been an expanded schedule. What started as a season of about 13 to 15 races has likely blossomed to include nearly all of the 20 events on the 2024 schedule. The team recently added stops in Charlotte, Chicago, and Richmond.

The expanded schedule has been an adjustment for Lindberg, who still maintains his shop in Brownsburg, Ind., across the street from Lucas Oil Indianapolis Raceway Park. The shop, which proudly flys both the Swedish and American flags outside the front entrance, is where Lindberg has built some of the quickest Top Alcohol Funny Cars in the history of the class. He tends to split his time between Lee’s shop, which is located within the massive DSR complex, and his own place.

“On a typical day, I’m full time in Paul’s shop, doing whatever needs to be done,” said Lindberg. “Lately, I’ve been building short blocks and just going over the car to make sure it’s perfect. At night, I’m in my shop, but now, I’m mostly doing small projects. I don’t really have time to do things like tune [Brian Hough’s TAFC], but I still help him as much as I can. I swing by his pit when we’re there, and I guess you’d say I’m a consultant.”

Lindberg acknowledges that his future might well be as a full-time nitro crew chief, but he hasn’t totally closed the door on driving, even if his fire suit is temporarily relegated to the back of the closet.

“Maybe down the road I’ll have an opportunity to both tune and drive, but if it doesn’t happen, I won’t hang my head,” said Lindberg. “I’m enjoying the crew chief part, and I think the best is still to come.”