(Photo courtesy:  TommyJohnsonJr.com)

Tommy Johnson Jr. back to fulltime NHRA drag racing after five-year layoff

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A familiar name on the NHRA Top Fuel and Funny Car circuits is returning to the sport after a five-year absence from the full-time ranks, as Iowa native Tommy Johnson Jr. will compete the entire 2014 season for the Funny Car championship.

Johnson will drive the Make-A-Wish Dodge Charger R/T for Don Schumacher Racing, according to NHRA.com.

Johnson is one of only 15 drivers in NHRA history to have career wins in both the Top Fuel and Funny Car ranks, spread across nine national event wins.

During a recent NHRA teleconference, Johnson admitted that as one year away from the sport turned into another and another, he feared he’d never get back behind the wheel fulltime.

Having last competed for an entire season in 2008, Johnson had all but given up hope after his absence reached five seasons last year.

“You wonder every day, especially the first year (2009),” Johnson said. “Okay, it was tough times economy wise. It’s hard to put a sponsorship package together and get in a car.

“It’s been five years since I ran fulltime in 2008 with Kenny Bernstein, so there was definitely some doubt along the way. But my love for the sport and just everybody asking me all the time, “What would you do if you didn’t drive race cars?” And that isn’t an option. It’s the only thing I’ve ever done, and the will to get back here, you get tired of hearing no.

“But if you want to do something bad enough, you put your mind to it, and you continue to put your head down and work towards that goal, and that’s what I did. I just never gave up. It would have been easy to give up several times along the way, but it’s what I want to do, and my desire to do that paid off and the persistence. But every day I wondered, ‘I don’t know if I’m ever going to get this shot.'”

Johnson kept himself busy in recent years serving as a part-time test driver for DSR, as well as working in the race shop. And while gathering data from test runs is important for teams to build race setups upon, it was a shy substitute for the competition he thrived on in the NHRA drag racing world for nearly 20 years.

“When I went to work for Don (Schumacher) two or three years ago, he said, ‘Come to work for me. We’ll work on a deal and get you in the car.’ Maybe it didn’t happen as fast as we wanted it to, but it eventually happened, and I’ve got to thank him for the opportunity along with Terry Chandler (sister of Funny Car driver Johnny Gray and primary sponsor for Johnson’s car). She had a lot of say in who got to drive. I got to know her over the last few years as well there working at Don Schumacher Racing when Johnny was driving the car. Just a great lady. I just can’t thank them enough, both of them, for giving me the opportunity.”

Johnson is excited to shake off the rust and cobwebs and show that he hasn’t lost anything behind the wheel.

“I’ve managed to be able to stay in cars off and on throughout those five years,” he said. “It’s not like I got out of the car and haven’t been in one since, so that’s helped me a lot. Just to keep up to speed and the technology and some of the different things that evolve over the years in driving the cars.

“I think a couple races, we’ll be back in the swing of it. It came back pretty quick in testing. As soon as they dropped the body, I felt like they dropped the body in the ’09 season after the ’08 full year, so it came back naturally.”

That Johnson is resuming his fulltime career driving for arguably the best and biggest team in drag racing is an opportunity that rarely comes along. Sure, there’ll be pressure in driving for the best, but he’s ready for it.

“I think you put pressure on yourself no matter what situation you’re in,” Johnson said. “But to know that you have the car that is capable of winning races, and not only winning races, they’ve won championships here in the past few years.

“So to go out there and have that shot at a competitive car and have a shot at a championship, definitely the goal as you start the season is to win races, make the Countdown (for the Championship), and to strive for that championship. I don’t know that there’s anymore added pressure, but it’s certainly a lot because it is a high-profile team, and that is the goal that I was shooting for. I’m going to get all the pressure I asked for.”

Making Johnson’s return all the more sweeter is he begins his comeback at this weekend’s NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season-opening Circle K Winternationals at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona, Calif. It was in 2005 that Johnson won that race, a feat he’d love to repeat as he begins his new comeback.

“In 2005, I was able to win the Pomona Winternationals, and my dad was there,” Johnson recalled. “It’s history, our sport has a lot of history. To be able to win one of the big ones like Winternationals, to me, it’s one of the big ones. It’s one that’s on the tour that every year you look forward to. To kick off the season with a win and you’re the guy leading the points, there is something special about that every year.

“But to start the tour back full time with Don Schumacher Racing, driving for Terry Chandler, and debuting Make-A-Wish at the Winternationals, it doesn’t get any bigger than that to me.”

PWC: Andrew Palmer, Jorge de la Torre remain hospitalized in Hartford

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Pirelli World Challenge released an updated statement late Tuesday night on the status of injured drivers Andrew Palmer and Jorge de la Torre, who were both injured in a severe accident in practice on Saturday morning ahead of that series’ race at Lime Rock Park in Lakeville, Conn.

No conditions were revealed in the statement.

The statement reads:

“As a follow up to the releases regarding the GT warm-up accident in Saturday’s Pirelli World Challenge race at Lime Rock Park, the Series wants to thank our teams, drivers and fans for the tremendous outpouring of support for Andrew Palmer and Jorge De La Torre.

“Both drivers continue to receive treatment for their injuries at Hartford Hospital in Hartford, Conn.  Hartford Hospital has not released further information at this time. The Series will forward any detailed update on the drivers when received from a Hartford Hospital spokesperson. We thank everyone for respecting the families right to privacy as they concentrate on Andrew and Jorge’s hospitalization.”

Bryan Clauson pulls off ‘Hoosier Double’ — Indy 500 and sprint car win in same day

Bryan Clauson prior to the start of Sunday's Indianapolis 500. He'd then go on to race again that evening in a sprint car race at Kokomo (Ind.) Speedway -- and won!
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When Sunday’s Indianapolis 500 was over, most drivers went out to dinner, attended Conor Daly’s post-race party – or just plain chilled out and relaxed.

But not Bryan Clauson.

Clauson put together his own version of “the double” Sunday, starting his day at Indy and finishing it not 600 miles away for NASCAR’s Coca-Cola 600 – but rather with an evening sprint car race about 60 miles away in Kokomo, Indiana.

 

It was indeed a heck of a day and evening for Clauson.

First, he led the 500 for the first time in three career starts there, having the 32 other drivers in the field chasing him for three laps.

Next, Clauson finally finished his first 500 in the No. 88 Cancer Treatment Centers of America Honda for Dale Coyne/Jonathan Byrd’s Racing, amassing 198 laps in the 200-lap event. That was a significant improvement than his first two starts in 2012 (completed just 46 laps) and 2015 (completed 61 laps).

Running 500 miles at Indy didn’t leave Clauson too worse for the wear: he went out and won just a few hours later that evening at Kokomo!

As he was leaving IMS, Clauson, a native of Noblesville, Indiana – about halfway between Indy and Kokomo – stopped quick enough to tweet out his reaction to his finish at Indy.

And then with that, the 26-year-old Clauson was back on the road up to Kokomo Speedway.

Racing at Indy and Kokomo was just a warm-up act for Clauson, who is kicking off a stint of 40 races in 34 days, as part of Clauson and Byrd Racing’s “Chasing 200” tour.

Of course he and fiancee Lauren also had a banquet to attend on Monday night.

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Indy 500 champ Alexander Rossi visits NASCAR AMERICA (VIDEO)

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As part of his New York City media tour on Tuesday, Indianapolis 500 champion Alexander Rossi visited NBCSN’s NASCAR AMERICA show.

Rossi spoke with Carolyn Manno, and discusses winning the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500, his choice of milk after winning and his Formula 1 past before shifting to IndyCar and driving the No. 98 NAPA Auto Parts/Curb Honda for Andretti Herta Autosport with Curb-Agajanian.

Rossi’s NAPA Auto Parts primary sponsorship will continue into next weekend’s Chevrolet Dual in Detroit Presented by Quicken Loans, Rounds 7 and 8 of the Verizon IndyCar Series season.

The IndyCar circuit returns to NBCSN on June 11, at 8 p.m. ET, from Texas Motor Speedway.

Despite rough finish, Conor Daly finds humor in 2016 Indianapolis 500 experience

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(Photo: Chris Owens)
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Conor Daly may have been disappointed in his 29th place finish in Sunday’s 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500.

But you couldn’t tell by the 24-year-old Noblesville, Indiana native’s comments at Monday’s Indy 500 Victory Banquet.

Daly started his acceptance speech to receive the $336,243 he earned for being in the 500 by discussing his wardrobe – or lack thereof.

“This is my first purchased suit,” he said with a smirk. “I bought this with my own money. It’s a big achievement in my life.”

That comment drew applause and laughs.

Daly touched on the crash with Mikhail Aleshin shortly after the mid-point of the race that ended the day for both drivers, not blaming the Russian driver, then went into a routine that featured several funny one-liners, including:

* “I’d like to thank Christopher Columbus for coming over and discovering this great place.”

* “And I’d like to thank George Washington for establishing this wonderful country. And all of our veterans and just the great American country, because it’s awesome.”

Daly then talked about how he decided to mosey out to Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s legendary “Snake Pit” in the Turn 3 and Turn 4 portion of the infield.

Just before the race, too!

“I had never been to the snake pit before so I went out there before the race, oddly enough,” Daly said. “I carved out a 30-minute window to do some promotional activities and I wore my helmet and my race suit, safety first. That was awesome. I probably won’t be able to see it ever hopefully for a long time because I’ll be driving (in the race).”

And as for his close friend Rossi, Daly said, “Mr. Rossi, good job, my friend. You get a car and money and all kinds of cool stuff. Yeah, it’s awesome, so good job, buddy.”

When asked about his close friendship with Rossi when they raced against each other in the GP2 series, Daly noted: “We shared many a meal in the GP2 hospitality of dried meats and cucumbers and whatever the heck they had there that I thought were ridiculous.

“We talked many a times about where we were going to go in our careers. Sure enough, here we are, he’s an Indy 500 champion and I’m attempting to do something with my life. So, we’re getting there.”

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