Tommy Johnson Jr Gets a Rain Check; Hagan Zero Points
On Friday, things were looking up for Tommy Johnson Jr, the semi-retired Funny Car driver, who had finished second in the 2020 NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series but was released by Don Schumacher Racing at the end of season. The former driver of the Make-A-Wish funny car that carried The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center sponsorship was sitting at home about 15 minutes from Lucas Oil Raceway when he got a call from his former team.
As the DSR team was preparing to take to the staging lanes for Friday qualifying at the Dodge//SRT NHRA U.S. Nationals, it was announced that defending Funny Car World Champion Matt Hagan had tested positive for COVID-19 and would not be competing at The Big Go. Having won the U.S. Nationals in 2016, Hagan’s quest to maintain his points lead in NHRA Funny Car would, however, ultimately be denied by a broken part and rain... lots of rain. This after NHRA officials had agreed that any points earned by Hagan's replacement driver would be awarded to the points leader.
DSR Felt Great with the Funny Car Runner Up Behind the Wheel
It’s always great to have the World Champion from the 2020 NHRA Funny Car division behind the wheel, but with Matt Hagan quarantining at home after testing positive for coronavirus, the runner-up in last year’s championship would do just fine. Moreover, Tommy Johnson Jr just happens to live minutes away from the Indianapolis track, and well… wasn’t really doing anything, so he grabbed his gear bag. Having competed in more than 450 NHRA pro events, Johnson admitted he felt a different kind of pressure on Friday after the last minute phone call.
In addition to winning titles in seven different countries during his career, Johnson is one of only seventeen drivers to win NHRA events in Top Fuel and Funny Car as well as one of only eighteen drivers to qualify Number One in both nitro categories. With 22 NHRA National wins, 56 final round appearances, and 21 Number One qualifiers, Johnson had never won at the U.S. Nationals with his only second-place finish coming 2002. Amidst great expectations on Friday, a $15 rear wheelie bar pin would break at the starting line cancelling Johnson’s only qualifying attempt.
Rain on Saturday Killed Hagan’s Hope for Points and Half
When everyone arrived at Lucas Oil Raceway in Brownsburg, IN on Saturday morning, the Indiana skies had opened up and rain was falling. The 52-year old driver has been down the road leading to disappointment before but understands that in terms of Nitro Funny Car racing he is still in prime. In fact, in an exit-interview last season he told interviewers that he had little patience early in his career but had learned that patience is an essential trait in being an NHRA pro driver.
The persistent rains on Saturday not only ended Johnson’s hope of another race behind the wheel of a primo Funny Car ride, but it also ended Hagan’s hopes of picking up valuable points at a three-qualifying round of an NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series event. Instead of the traditional 127 points to be earned over 10 runs, the U.S. Nationals had 187 points up for grab over 15 possible trips down the track at Indy. With relentless rain on Saturday, 72-year-old John Force would earn Number One qualifier for the 162nd time in NHRA Funny Car based on his Friday run at 3.877 ET and 330.72 mph.
Don Schumacher Racing announced Wednesday that Tommy Johnson Jr will continue to sub for defending Funny Car world champion Matt Hagan in the Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat Redeye Funny Car at the Mopar Express Lane NHRA Nationals Presented By Pennzoil at Maple Grove Raceway while Matt Hagan continues to recover from COVID-19. NHRA officials had already announced the points Johnson accumulates during the race weekend will be awarded to Hagan, who starts the Countdown ranked fifth.