NHRA Funny Car: Tommy Johnson Jr.’s winning wish comes true at Route 66

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Tommy Johnson Jr. won the Funny Car class in Sunday’s final round of the Lucas Oil Route 66 Nationals at Route 66 Raceway. (Photo courtesy NHRA)

JOLIET, Il. – For the nearly five years he was away from drag racing as an active driver, Tommy Johnson Jr. had the same recurring wish: that he’d find his way back behind the wheel some day.

In February 2014, legendary team owner Don Schumacher threw Johnson a lifeline, bringing the Ottumwa, Iowa native into the Don Schumacher Racing fold as one of four DSR Funny Car drivers.

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

Ironically enough, Johnson’s sponsor upon his return to the 1,000-foot sport was the well-known charity “Make-A-Wish.”

Sunday in the Lucas Oil Route 66 Nationals at Route 66 Raceway, another of Johnson’s dreams came true, winning for the first time in 2015, capturing the Funny Car crown. In doing so, Johnson moved into sixth place in the standings and qualifies him for the $100,000 Traxxas Shootout, to be held during the U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis on Labor Day weekend.

MORE: NHRA: Final finishing order, results, round-by-round and standings after Lucas Oil Route 66 Nationals

In a rematch of last year’s Funny Car final at Route 66 – but with a totally different outcome – Johnson defeated DSR teammate and defending Funny Car champ Matt Hagan to take Sunday’s top prize.

“It’s very gratifying now, you appreciate it more,” Johnson said. “You race all those years, you win races, you’re out here, you don’t really grasp what you’re doing and maybe don’t savor the moment as much.

“Last year and this year, I know I’m doing, I get it and cherish every moment. To win races like this, it really means something. They’re very special to me. You don’t know how long you’ll do this, you just try as hard as you can while you’re here and enjoy the moment.”

It was Johnson’s 11th career NHRA win, split between Funny Car and Top Fuel, as well as his first win ever at Route 66.

“The days you win, you get up and you just feel it, you’re going to win,” Johnson said after Sunday’s win. “I woke up this morning and thought we had the car to beat, we’re going to win this race, I feel like it.”

It was Johnson’s second final round appearance of the season. This is his second Funny Car win since returning to the NHRA fold, his first win coming last year at Bristol (Tenn.).

“We’ve had a really good car, we just couldn’t get the breaks to go our way,” Johnson said. “We kinda beat ourselves a couple times with mistakes.

“I have to hand it to the guys, they kept working, nobody got discouraged. We had team meetings and said we had to step it up and every one of them did.”

Johnson becomes the final of the seven DSR drivers to win a race in 2015. Johnson also earned some bragging rights of sorts: he became the first driver to hand Hagan, a four-time winner this season, his first final-round loss of the year.

“You’ve got to do your own thing, just do what you can do,” Johnson said of facing Hagan. “I knew it was Matt, but I really didn’t care who it was. They’re No. 1, their tough and you knew you had a challenge, but I just felt my guys could do it.”

Johnson then added, “I make a lot of wishes. I’m glad this one came true.”

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Indianapolis Motor Speedway can have 10,000 fans for IndyCar races

Indianapolis Motor Speedway fans
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Indianapolis Motor Speedway will have crowds for its NTT IndyCar Series race weekend next month, the first time fans are allowed at the track this year.

The track announced Friday that up to 10,000 fans will be allowed in the grandstands daily from Oct. 1-4. The IndyCar Harvest GP race doubleheader will be held on the track’s road course Oct. 2-3.

IMS has played host to several events this year without fans, including the 104th Indianapolis 500 on Aug. 23 and a NASCAR-IndyCar weekend July 4-5 that included the Brickyard 400. Plans originally were made to have fans at the Indy 500 before reversing course a few weeks ahead of the race. In a letter last month, Roger Penske vowed that fans would return for the 2021 Indy 500.

“We can’t wait to see fans come through our gates for the first time in 2020,” IMS president Doug Boles said in a release. “They’ll be greeted by a vastly improved facility, featuring significant upgrades to the spectator experience. We’re also extremely grateful to have a presenting sponsor with the expertise and resources of GMR as we look to implement our detailed and comprehensive health and safety plan.”

Fans will undergo temperature screenings upon entry and also be required to wear face coverings at all times on property. The track said each attendee will receive a mask and bottle of hand sanitizer.

The Friday, Oct. 2 race will be shown at 3:30 p.m. ET on USA, and NBC will broadcast the Saturday, Oct. 3 race at 2:30 p.m. ET.

Here’s the release from Indianapolis Motor Speedway:

INDIANAPOLIS, Friday, Sept. 18, 2020 – For the first time in 2020, Indianapolis Motor Speedway will welcome fans to the Racing Capital of the World for the INDYCAR Harvest GP presented by GMR weekend. Up to 10,000 spectators can be in the grandstands each day of racing action Oct. 1-4, per approval from the Marion County Public Health Department.

Tickets are available now via IMS.com and will be sold on a first-come, first-served basis.

The massive facility, which holds more than 300,000 people, will provide two spectator zones with up to 5,000 fans in each. The zones will be located in Turns 1 and 4 of the oval, offering strong sightlines of the road course. Strict health and safety rules will be in place, including the following:

  • Face coverings must be worn throughout the property at all times;
  • All fans will receive temperature screenings before gate entry;
  • Grandstand seats will be marked for distancing;
  • Attendees must use pre-assigned gates and remain in their designated zones.

Global Medical Response, the world leader in compassionate, quality emergency medical and patient relocation services, will be the presenting sponsor of the penultimate weekend of INDYCAR racing this season.

“We can’t wait to see fans come through our gates for the first time in 2020,” IMS President J. Douglas Boles said. “They’ll be greeted by a vastly improved facility, featuring significant upgrades to the spectator experience. We’re also extremely grateful to have a presenting sponsor with the expertise and resources of GMR as we look to implement our detailed and comprehensive health and safety plan.”

The plan, which includes each attendee receiving a mask and a bottle of hand sanitizer upon entering the track, was developed in consultation with state and local health officials.

This event weekend is highlighted by an NTT INDYCAR SERIES doubleheader, with races Friday, Oct. 2 and Saturday, Oct. 3. It will be the penultimate event of the series’ season as the field pursues the champion’s prestigious Astor Challenge Cup to be awarded Sunday, Oct. 25 at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

The INDYCAR Harvest GP will pay tribute to a storied IMS event, the Harvest Classic in September 1916. The Harvest Classic was the only racing event held outside of May at IMS from 1911 through 1993. The event featured three races, all won by legendary driver Johnny Aitken.

Fans also will see a host of facility improvements during the event weekend, including more than 30 new LED video boards, refreshed concession stands and restrooms, and 5G wireless connectivity throughout the facility.

The first race will air at 3:30 p.m. (ET) Friday, Oct. 2 on the USA Network. NBC will broadcast the second race at 2:30 p.m. (ET) Saturday, Oct. 3, with WTHR-13 airing the action live in Central Indiana.

Also racing that weekend will be the first pairing of two major sports car series — the Intercontinental GT Challenge Powered by Pirelli and its North American counterpart, GT World Challenge America Powered by AWS. Former Indianapolis 500 pole winner Ryan Briscoe is among the drivers in the Indianapolis 8 Hour event held Sunday, Oct. 4.

The event also will showcase drivers in SRO America’s Pirelli GT4 America, GT Sports Club America and the TC America series.

The full on-track schedule is available at IMS.com.