JOLIET, Illinois – If you want to be the best, sometimes you have to go out and hire the best to give you a hand.
That’s what happened just before the 2016 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series began. Sixteen-time Funny Car Champ John Force made multi-champion car owner Alan Johnson an offer he couldn’t refuse: to help Force’s daughter Brittany not only a more consistent Top Fuel driver, but also to become a winning Top Fuel driver.
Project accomplished – quickly and in a big way.
Since Johnson joined forces with Force – no pun intended – the latter has enjoyed a breakout season, with two wins and currently fourth in the Top Fuel point standings.
And there’s still a half-season to go for Brittany and Johnson to make even more noise and success together, starting with this weekend’s K&N Route 66 NHRA Nationals at Route 66 Raceway.
“Alan has really turned everything around for us and the Monster Energy team,” Brittany Force said. “During our first three years, we had struggles and we also had some great weekends.
“But when Alan came in, he took us that one step further that we needed, especially to get into the winner’s circle. Prior to this season, we had been to seven finals since my first season in 2013, so we had been chasing it for a while.
“Having Alan come on board, along with our new crew chief, Brian Husen, plus a few new crew guys, they all meshed together very well. We’ve really found what we’ve been looking for. We’ve won two races, we’re fourth in the standings and I’m just excited that we’re going to continue to get better.”
Johnson had originally planned just to work with another Top Fuel driver, Steve Torrence, this season. But John Force can be very persuasive and made Johnson an offer he couldn’t refuse – provided that the latter could work as a tuner for both Brittany and Torrence.
A deal was struck and Johnson has also helped Torrence improve his game thus far this season, as well. Torrence is ranked third in the Top Fuel standings behind Doug Kalitta and defending season champion Antron Brown. Brittany Force is just 14 points behind Torrence, in fourth place.
“I think the opportunity to work with both of these teams, Brittany and Steve (Torrence), to be able to get both of those drivers to that next level, that was exciting,” Johnson said. “It was as much both of them as it was one.
“But obviously, it was very fulfilling to get Brittany her first win (at Gainesville, Florida). That’s always fun for anybody who’s running a team or running a car, to see somebody and see how excited they are to get that first win – and you were partly responsible for that is just a great feeling.”
Brittany Force still relives that first visit to the winner’s circle virtually every day, not to mention her second win at Charlotte two races later.
“It’s a day I’ll never forget,” Brittany Force said. “Standing in the winner’s circle with (father John Force) on one side of me and Alan on the other side, plus my team around, it was one of the proudest moments of my life.”
Johnson has helped Force develop a new confidence and comfort level with his strategy on how to run successfully – and as a winner.
“Having a car that has run as consistent as ours has this year helps a driver,” Force said. “It gives you that extra boost of confidence in the seat when the car’s going down the track on every single run. You feel better in the seat, you’re more confident and more comfortable. He’s really put that in all of us, everybody on the team.”
Johnson is one of the most prolific tuners and team owners in the entire sport. As a team owner, he’s been part of 11 Top Fuel championships with five different drivers, and 15 total championships in his career.
Johnson, who put his team on hiatus after last year’s U.S. Nationals due to lack of sponsorship, still hopes to bring it back if he can attract new sponsorship.“I would like to bring another sponsor into the sport before I decide I don’t want to do this anymore,” Johnson said. “If it happens, great. If it doesn’t, well, I might do this for a couple more years.”
Then he adds with a smile, “I’m not getting any younger.”
But for now, Johnson is feeling younger and is happy doing what he does best and loves to do: find ways to make dragsters run as fast as they possibly can.
“Fun is what it’s all about, really,” Johnson said. “There’s a lot of responsibility and hard work involved, but if you can’t have fun doing it, you have no business being out here.”
But there is one question that could be a dilemma for Johnson: what happens if the championship comes down to the final round in the season finale in Pomona, California – and it comes down to Force vs. Torrence?
“May the best man or woman win,” Johnson said with a smile. “Both crew chiefs are really capable of running their cars. I will do my part over here (with Force), I’ll make sure that Richard Hogan (Torrence’s crew chief) is okay, if he needs anything, I’ll be there to help him.
“But if not, we’ll just tee it up and see who wins.”