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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Ford Mustang GT3 test has Austin Cindric dreaming of Daytona: ‘I want to drive that car’

Cindric Ford GT3 test
Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

Austin Cindric wasn’t the “mystery” test driver behind the wheel of the new Ford Mustang GT3 at Sebring International Raceway, but the Team Penske driver desperately wanted to be.

Ford CEO Jim Farley, an amateur sports car driver himself, made the big reveal via a Tuesday tweet that provided the first video evidence of the GT3 Mustang on track.

“I’ve watched the video in question about a million times,” Cindric said Wednesday during a Ford Performance Zoom news conference to promote NASCAR’s first road course weekend of the season at Circuit of the Americas. “Definitely exciting times for sure. I want to drive that car. It suits my experience level and also the relationships that I have.”

Ford will enter the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship next season with its GT3 Mustang, entering a two-car factory effort (that will be managed by Multimatic) in GTD Pro and making customer cars available in the GT Daytona category.

That increases the likelihood of seeing more NASCAR drivers crossing over to IMSA. Cindric has been the only full-time Cup driver in the Rolex 24 at Daytona the past two years, but Ford Performance global director Mark Rushbrook has said the GT3 Mustang will provide more opportunities.

Ford has used its GT4 Mustang as a NASCAR driver development tool in the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge with Harrison Burton and Zane Smith combining to win the season opener at Daytona International Speedway in January.

“We’re excited about the Next Gen car and the new architecture there and the similarities between that car and GT3 and even GT4 cars,” Rushbrook said at the announcement of the Ford GT3 program in January 2022 at Daytona. “We think it’s a great opportunity and to do be able to do that in a 24-hour race and get NASCAR drivers even more time is something we need to consider taking advantage of that opportunity.”

Given his sports car background, Cindric probably still would be in the Rolex 24 regardless. He has eight IMSA starts since the 2017 season opener at Daytona, racing a Lexus RCF GT3 and Mercedes-AMG GT3 in the GT category. The 2022 Daytona 500 winner made his second LMP2 start this year with Rick Ware Racing.

But Cindric’s preference naturally would be in a Ford, particularly with sports car racing enjoying convergence and crossovers in both GT and prototype racing.

“It’s an exciting time in GT racing, just as it is now for prototype racing with a lot of new regulations and manufacturers building new GT3 cars,” he said. “And also the opportunity with WEC (the World Endurance Championship) and Le Mans and how that all lines up for that category of car. It’s definitely an exciting time. I want to be as much of a part of that as possible.”

Though those odds seemingly will increase with multiple Ford entries in the Rolex 24 field next year, Cindric said NASCAR drivers still have to put in the networking to land rides as he has in recent years.

“Now how (the GT3 Mustang) relates to specifically NASCAR drivers and how often they want to be in the Rolex, could it be an influence? Absolutely, as far as the tie-in with the manufacturer,” Cindric said. “But the challenge and the drive and the logistics of getting an opportunity for a race like the Rolex 24 will be just as challenging as it always is to find your one-off ride for the race. At least from my experience, that’s what I still anticipate.”

It turned out the “mystery” test driver wasn’t from NASCAR (Farley revealed the driver to be 24 Hours of Le Mans winner Joey Hand after a fan asked whether it was Joey Logano).

But Cindric believes there could be more Cup drivers — and perhaps himself — behind the wheel of Mustang GT3s in the future.

“There’s definitely more of a pathway than I think there would be before as far as Ford drivers are concerned,” he said. “Hopefully, I’ll get the opportunity to drive that thing. It’s obviously a great looking car. That’s the first box you’ve got to check. And it’s cool (to have) a guy like Jim Farley, no doubt he’s a racer just as much as he is steering the ship for Ford. It’s cool to see he’s just as excited as the rest of us about it.”