DETROIT — Allen Johnson can’t get into a precision racing car every day.
Between being a parent and a grandparent, owning and managing a Tennessee oil and petroleum company, and navigating the travel schedule of drag racing’s National Hot Rod Association, Johnson has to carve out time to hone his craft.
That means making a commitment to physical fitness training three times a week, and making at least 30 passes a day in a custom-designed chassis that is built to simulate drag racing runs, and working on the timing of his starts. Precision is key when you’re an NHRA Pro Stock driver.
“The competition is so close,” Johnson said. “You can be 100th of a second off the tree [the timing system at a race starting line] and give up the win.”
Johnson, the 2012 NHRA champion in the pro stock series, met with the media earlier this week in Detroit and will compete this weekend in the Summit Racing Equipment Nationals at Summit Motorsports Park in Norwalk.
The NHRA’s Mello Yello Drag Racing Series qualifications begin begin at 4:45 p.m. today and continues through Sunday afternoon’s finals in four top-tier drag racing events: Pro Stock, Pro Stock Motorcycle, Funny Car, and Top Fuel.
Johnson has won three events this season and comes to Norwalk third in the Pro Stock points standings (960) in the Mello Yello Drag Racing series, behind Mike Edwards (1,090) and Jeg Coughlin (962). This weekend kicks off a month-long stretch in NHRA that begins in Norwalk and ends in Seattle, a stretch in which Johnson said earning points and consistent driving will be key.
“This four-race swing is very important,” said Johnson, a Tennessee native who drives a Dodge Avenger for Mopar. “We run three races out west [in Denver, Sonoma, Calif., and Seattle] and with Norwalk and last week’s race in Chicago a week apart, those are our two best races of the year.”
Johnson’s challenge in that period of time is to to drive to perfection, when he believes everything else around him is perfect — from the crew to the car to the conditions — as drag racing is more than just going from Point A to Point B.
Driving a Pro Stock car, Johnson explained, isn’t just about the speed of the car.
“It’s the toughest class to drive, because you’re still driving the car,” said Johnson, 53, who has competed in Pro Stock racing since 1996. “You have to shift all five gears, you operate the clutch, you have to shift ..., and you still have to drive the car. With Pro Stock cars, there’s no downforce, and the rear of the car is free, a lot like a NASCAR car. If you get just a little to the left or the right of a groove, the car will jump out from you.”
Weight is another factor that goes into Pro Stock competition.
Each car has to meet weight requirements for each round of competition, which means that drivers have to maintain their own weight and fitness requirements. That even means forgoing an indulgence like ice cream.
“I don't get to indulge in that too much,” Pro Stock driver Greg Anderson told NHRA.com. “My kids, my family, and the rest of the team get to enjoy that, but Rob [Downing, crew chief] has me on such a strict diet that I'm not allowed to have it. I might get to have a spoonful, but it's kind of a bummer. At least in public and in front of my crew, I can't eat it.”
Because during each race, whether it’s a qualifying run or an event final, precision is key.
“It’s a sport of inches and thousandths of seconds,” Johnson said. “You’ve got to be perfect.”
Contact Rachel Lenzi at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6510 or on Twitter @RLenziBlade.