Johnson wanting better Bristol

By Jeff Birchfield
 STAR Staff
jbirchfield@starhq.com

   BRISTOL -- Two seasons in a row he has come up short.
   Last season, Greeneville's Allen Johnson left his home track heartbroken after failing to qualify for Pro Stock division eliminations at the 2002 NHRA MAC Tools Thunder Valley Nationals.
   Saturday he was just shy again, the 18th fastest qualifier only .003 of a second from making the field.
   "We struggled the first four or five races of last year," said Johnson, driver of the Mopar Dodge. "The race after we tested and sort of figured out what we were doing wrong. You have a thousand different ingredients that make up a Pro Stock car and you have to have them all right."
   Despite missing the race today, Johnson can still look to the rest of the season with a sense of optimism and recent history on his side.
   In 2002, he redeemed himself the weekend follow Bristol at Atlanta Dragway scoring a victory in the Southern Nationals. Johnson has plans of repeating in that next event on the NHRA Powerade Tour using a test session at Atlanta earlier in the week.
   "We made some good runs down there," said the 43 year-old, who set 4th in the NHRA points coming into Bristol. "We weren't the quickest, but we weren't the slowest. There are three or four cars out here that are flying. We have lost a little ground to them, but we will get it back."
   Besides being an accomplished racer with two career NHRA national event wins and completing last season with a round record of 17 wins and 15 losses, Johnson is also the owner of Greeneville Oil Company.
   He has plenty of faith in the employees that run that the company, staying on the West Coast an extra week recently with his race team instead of coming back to attend to the business.
   "I have a lot of good people that work for me in the office and at the convenience store site," said Johnson. "I couldn't be doing this if I didn't have confidence in them."
   After being a loyal member of the Dodge camp for several seasons, Johnson recently picked up the Mopar sponsorship. Technical assistance and extra dollars put into the racing program is much appreciated by the longtime Dodge racer.
   "It means a lot to us," said Johnson, whose only previous major sponsorship came from the Amoco products his company distributes. "Financially, it helps us and there's plenty of engineering support and people to fall back on. One year when we had the Amoco deal, they helped us some, but not in a major way.
   "Dodge is all we have ever raced back all the way to the early 70's when we were racing Sportsman. It's all we have ever been excited about."
   In racing Dodges, Johnson actually has two models which he can choose to take down the quarter-mile.
   "We run both the Stratus and the Neon," said Johnson. "There's not a lot of difference from a driver's standpoint, except the Stratus is a little bigger and we've improved the chassis. We are still working on the aero a little bit."
   Besides the addition of the big-budget sponsor in the manufacturer, Johnson is benefiting this season from gaining former Pro Stock champion Darrell Alderman as a teammate.
   "It's a good thing having Darrell on board," said Johnson. "He brings a lot of experience, morale and optimism to the team. We want him to do real well. Our goals this season is one of us to be in the top five and one to win the championship."
   Despite not making the field at Bristol, the championship could well by in reach. His father Roy is a well-known local racer and from the time he can remember, nothing else has appealed to Allen like the lure of the drag strip.
   "When I was five years old, I was at a race track," recalled Johnson. "I have been here ever since. It's a family thing. My dad is involved as the engine builder and it means a lot for us to be together all the time."
   Much publicity recently has been given to Funny Car racer Ron Capps testing an IROC car. Johnson himself would like to test his mettle against champions from other forms of motorsports.
   "I would love to do it," admitted Allen. "I have driven that kind of stuff (stock cars) and if I had got the opportunity I would jump at it. I got to run a Busch car a couple of years ago and had a real good time. I got to run about 120 laps over at Charlotte when Dave Blaney was still with Amoco and they put together a deal. I have heard Mopar might put together a deal where one of their Cup guys might run one of our cars and we could one of theirs."
   First on the agenda will be recovering from the disappointment of Bristol and getting back on track for his title aspirations.