Sydney race fans might have their last chance to see nine times NHRA event winner Tommy Johnson Jr in competition in Australia when he competes at the Australian Nationals this weekend.
Johnson will return to the NHRA full time next year, having just been announced as the driver of the Don Schumacher Racing-operated Nitro Funny Car that driver Johnny Gray will be leaving at the end of this year.
Johnson, who now resides in Avon, Indiana, has been a popular addition to recent Australian events including the Nitro Champs and Fuchs Winternationals, driving for Rapisarda Autosport International.
When the call up to race in Australia first came, Johnson said he was keen to observe drag racing down under and how it ranked against his many other international experiences including in the United Arab Emirates, the UK, Finland, Sweden and Germany.
“I follow all drag racing around the world and knew the names, so I was looking forward to meeting the people I have read about on the internet,” he said. “I’d raced in five other countries so I was looking forward to seeing how drag racing in Australia compared to my other experiences.”
Johnson explained that the differences between racing across the world are mainly procedural – the language of two cars accelerating down a drag strip is universal.
“Sure there are a few things that are different but mainly that is registration and procedures,” he said. “The on track action and the competition has been the same throughout the world. The level of competition in Australia was some of the best I have seen outside of the US for sure.”
The veteran racer did note that much more pre-planning is needed by teams to ensure they have the resources ready to go racing.
“One of the things I noticed for the racers that is missing from the US is the availability of parts,” he said. “We think nothing of just running somewhere to get what we need or calling up and having parts the next day. Everyone in Australia has to plan ahead or have a much larger inventory of spares than we do.”
While he was in the southern hemisphere last, Johnson was able to do some limited sightseeing and what he saw, he liked.
“The people were the best thing for sure. Everyone was very friendly and helpful,” he said. “I didn’t have a lot of extra time to take in the country but was able to sneak out for a day and take in a few sights of Sydney on my second trip. I wouldn’t have a problem living in Australia.”
He might be used to driving Top Fuel dragsters at 500kmh, but the Rapisarda team wasn’t about to let Johnson do the steering of their hire cars.
“Everyone drives on the wrong side of the road. That was only weird for a couple of days and then it became normal,” he said. “Still, nobody was offering up their keys to me to take the wheel when we went anywhere. “I’ve actually driven on the left side before in New Zealand and England so I don’t know what they were worried about.
“The one thing I did notice is in the US we have signs alongside the road that warn drivers to beware of deer as you drive. It was funny to see signs in Australia warning drivers to be alert for kangaroos while driving. I haven’t seen too many of them in the US.”
Johnson will be part of the eight car Top Fuel field set for the Australian Nationals at Sydney Dragway which also includes former national champions Darren Morgan, Phil Lamattina, Steve Read and Martin Stamatis plus Damien Harris, Terry Sainty and John Lamattina.
The Australian Nationals runs from Friday to Sunday.