My whole life has been racing. I started when I was 12 years old, racing go-karts in Pulaski, Iowa. I finally got my first go kart win (I still have that go kart trophy today) and I KNEW I wanted to be a race car driver from that point on. When I turned sixteen I bought a 1940 Ford coupe and hopped up the engine. I worked at a local drug store and spent 90% of my paycheck on that old car every week. I chromed the engine and repainted the car – it was a beauty! Then when my brother came home from the army, he borrowed it one summer afternoon. Needless to say, he didn’t bring it back in the same beautiful shape – he knocked down a telephone pole with my “baby”. But I fixed it up and then, what REALLY made me determined to race, was my neighbor Mike Hill had a brand new 1959 Pontiac convertible with three 2 barrel carbs and aluminum wheels that his folks bought for him. He challenged me to a street race and beat me miserably. I swore THAT someday I WOULD have a faster car than him AND anyone else in the world. In 1995 we set the NHRA and IHRA Top Fuel World Speed Records, which is the first and only time anyone has held BOTH records at the same time. We ran over 306 mph in the quarter mile when 306 mph WAS an unbelievable speed!
I raced a Vega (the car I almost lost my life in when I crashed in 1973) plus a whole collection of Camaros. I retired from driving in 1982 and turned the racing over to my son; he later would drive nitro cars, both Nitro Funny Cars and Nitro Top Fuel Dragsters. We lacked less than 20 points of winning the T/F world championship in 1999. Even today I have a 1969 Camaro race car and race it a couple times a year just to get the thrill of racing; the desire to race and win STILL burns inside me. I don’t think that will ever go away – perhaps until they put dirt on top of my box?
Not only did our son race and become a professional race car driver, but as you can see from the pictures that our daughter Wendy raced an S/C dragster also. One hot afternoon in 1992 in Topeka, Kansas she beat seven (7) men in a row to become the youngest female NHRA National Event winner in history (at just seventeen years old)! We let her skip school the following day and our hometown celebrated; that record STILL stands today. Wendy quit racing the following year to finish college and to start her marketing career with Action Collectables in Charlotte area. Later, after my battle with cancer, my wife Sarah and I would follow her to North Carolina to retire and enjoy the mild winters. We now make out home in Mooresville, North Carolina to be near our two grandsons. And now, thanks to putting cancer into full remission, we’re just enjoying life!
Most of our greatest moments in racing came at Topeka, Kansas. Our son earned his way into the prestigious Cragar 4 Second Club (that race car is now proudly on display in the Don Garlits Museum in Ocala, Fl.). We also, as outlined earlier, when Wendy won there we set the NHRA speed record at Topeka. At Houston, Texas, we were the fifteenth T/F car to get in the prestigious and exclusive 300 mph Club (there are only 5 drivers in BOTH the Cragar 4 Second Club AND the 300 MPH club). The other four besides our son are Eddie Hill, Joe Amato, Kenny Bernstein and Don “the Snake” Prudhomme. All now retired – we’re proud to be included with that elite group of Hall of Fame race car drivers.
Our son is still an active nitro race car driver on the NHRA Championship Circuit, and as I said still race a couple times a year in my 1969 Camaro 498 cu. in. big block Z-28 bracket car. Sarah and I take the grandsons to a couple of our son’s races a year. Life is especially good knowing I am living our “second chance” after that diagnosis of terminal cancer seventeen years ago.
Hopefully after you read my book life can be as good for you too?
Tommy Johnson Sr.