Story By: SCOTT SMITH / NHRA – MORRISON, CO – Tommy Johnson Jr. has enjoyed a lot of success at Bandimere Speedway, the site of this weekend’s 39th annual Dodge Mile-High NHRA Nationals, throughout his standout NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series career in a number of different classes.
He hasn’t tasted the ultimate success on the mountain and that’s something he’s looking to change in 2018.
Johnson has been runner-up four different times in four different classes, including last year in Funny Car in his 10,000-horsepower Make-A-Wish Dodge Charger R/T. The fan-favorite track is a top destination for Johnson as well, and his sponsorship with Dodge makes the kickoff event to the NHRA’s three-race Western Swing even more important. Getting that ultimate satisfaction with a first trip to the winner’s circle would be the perfect capper to the weekend for Johnson.
“The Mopar and Dodge people are definitely hardcore and die-hards, and they turn out in full force at this race,” said Johnson, who is currently seventh in Funny Car points. “The whole buildup to this race with the block party and everything that goes on, it’s great. I would certainly like to win this one, not only because I drive a Dodge but I’ve been a runner-up there in every class I’ve raced there. That’s been a little aggravating and I have to win this race one of these years.”
Antron Brown (Top Fuel), Robert Hight (Funny Car), Drew Skillman (Pro Stock), and Eddie Krawiec (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were last year’s winners of the event that will be televised on FOX Sports 1 and FOX, including live final eliminations on FOX at 3 p.m. (ET) on Sunday, July 22. It is the 14th of 24 events in 2018 and racing at an altitude of more than 5,800 feet presents an abundance of challenges. But it is one Johnson has enjoyed tackling throughout his standout career.
His first final came in Super Gas in 1984 and Johnson, who has 17 career professional wins, hasn’t minded the extra work that goes into succeeding at a potentially difficult race. With that in mind, Johnson believes racing at Bandimere Speedway has often brought out the best in him and he’s confident that will happen again in 2018 with his team, which is led by crew chief John Collins.
“Sometimes you need to reset your focus and obviously going into your sponsor’s is definitely something to spark your team,” Johnson said. “This is one race I look forward to every year, seeing all the Dodge and Mopar fans. I love the track. A lot of people go in there with a negative attitude because it is so different, but I’ve always gone there with a positive attitude. It’s almost a home away from home for me. I’ve tried to embrace the altitude and I’ve loved it year after year.”
A breakthrough in the win column would be welcome for Johnson, who lost to defending world champion Hight in the final a year ago. Johnson hasn’t advanced out of the second round since late April, a trend he’s hoping to reverse as the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship nears. He’ll have to get past the likes of points leader Courtney Force, Don Schumacher Racing teammate Matt Hagan, who has back-to-back wins, and two-time 2018 winner J.R. Todd to do so, but Johnson believes it’s just a matter of time before things go his way this year.
“We’ve been very competitive, we just haven’t had many breaks go our way,” Johnson said. “The tide has to turn at some point. We just need that one weekend to change the way things are going and it would be great to do it this weekend. This is kind of our time of year. Things just haven’t quite lined up for us yet, but the guys are pretty determined. As long as we keep giving it all we’ve got and continue to do that, it’s going to come to us.”
Three-time Top Fuel world champ Antron Brown has three Denver wins, but is seeking his first in 2018 against the likes of points leader Steve Torrence and defending world champ Brittany Force.
Skillman will try to become the ninth different winner in Pro Stock in 2018. Points leader Tanner Gray, Jeg Coughlin Jr. and world champ Bo Butner will be among the top challengers.
Krawiec won in Denver for the fourth time in 2017 and the reigning world champ is the current points leader over talents like Andrew Hines, Matt Smith and L.E. Tonglet.
The event also features thrilling competition in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series, showcasing the future stars of the sport. After Nitro qualifying, fans can watch the spectacular Majestic jet car from El Arabe Racing, the Lucas Oil Muy Caliente jet and the Lucas Oil Terminal Velocity jet. Jet cars are thrust driven propelled by jet engines with exciting pre-run flame shows.
Those in attendance will have the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to interact with a few of the most renowned names in drag racing during the NHRA Legends Tour. This will feature meet-and-greets, autograph sessions, and a variety of other activities. Legends scheduled to attend the Dodge Mile-High NHRA Nationals include Kenny Bernstein, Judy Lilley, John Bandimere Jr. and more.
For the 17th consecutive year, the Mopar Big Block Party Presented by Pennzoil, scheduled for Thursday, July 19, from 6 to 10 p.m. MT, will serve as the “official starter” of the Dodge Mile-High NHRA Nationals Powered by Mopar race weekend. The popular free-admission event, held on the streets of downtown Golden, Colorado, provides race fans the opportunity to meet their favorite Mopar Dodge Pennzoil NHRA drag racing stars in an hour-long autograph session. Attendees can experience virtual “rides” down the drag strip in Dodge Challenger SRT Demon race simulators and take virtual spins in simulators located in the Pennzoil display, hear live music from the Steve Thomas Band and visit a variety of food, drink and merchandise tents. For complete information on the Mopar Big Block Party Presented by Pennzoil, visit www.milehighblockparty.com.
As always, fans can interact with their favorite drivers as they’re granted an exclusive pit pass to the most powerful and sensory-filled motorsports attraction on the planet. This unique opportunity gives fans direct access to the teams, allowing them to see firsthand the highly-skilled mechanics service their hot rods between rounds, and get autographs from their favorite NHRA drivers.
Fans also will want to visit NHRA’s popular Nitro Alley and Manufacturers Midway, where sponsors and race vendors create a carnival atmosphere, with interactive displays, simulated competitions, merchandise, food and fun for the entire family.
Mello Yello Drag Racing Series qualifying will feature two rounds at 5:15 and 7:00 p.m. on Friday, July 20, and the final two rounds of qualifying on Saturday, July 21, at 5:15 and 7:30 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sunday, July 22.