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Johnson stops Beckman sweep bid, wins Funny Car title at NHRA Northwest Nationals

Funny car driver Tommy Johnson Jr. is hoisted by his crew Sunday. Johnson upset the favorite in the semifinals and won the finals on a holeshot.
Funny car driver Tommy Johnson Jr. is hoisted by his crew Sunday. Johnson upset the favorite in the semifinals and won the finals on a holeshot. Staff photographer

At this point, drag racer Tommy Johnson Jr. knows he isn’t performing at Jack Beckman’s ungodly performance level in the National Hot Rod Association.

His crew chief, John Collins, isn’t trying to be the innovative Funny Car tuner that Beckman’s brain trust, led by Jimmy Prock, has been.

“We don’t know how,” Johnson said.

What the longtime NHRA veteran does know how to do is put down consistent runs, especially when he is in a set-up groove.

Not only did Johnson, of Avon, Indiana, win the Funny Car race title at the 28th annual NHRA Northwest Nationals on a warm Sunday at Pacific Raceways in Kent, he ended the bid of Beckman, a fellow Don Schumacher Racing teammate, to sweep the western swing.

Oh, well.

Beckman might have had the weekend’s best car — he did post the quickest 1,000-foot run in NHRA history to close qualifying Saturday night (3.912 seconds) — but Johnson was the last man standing Sunday.

After upending Beckman in the Funny Car semifinals, Johnson held off Del Worsham, of Villa Park, California, in the finals to win on a holeshot — 4.073 ET to 4.042.

Other professional winners included J.R. Todd, of Indianapolis, in Top Fuel (defeated Shawn Langdon, 3.824 ET to 3.902) and Chris McGaha, of Odessa, Texas, in Pro Stock (defeated Jeg Coughlin, 6.507 ET to 6.532). Todd and McGaha won for the first time at the Seattle-area track.

But the biggest story was what happened to Beckman — the perpetually perky California native who could put a happy face on a sagging jack-o’-lantern.

Beckman had blistered the Funny Car field the past two weeks in Denver and Sonoma, California, to come in as the heavy favorite. And after taking the top qualifying mark Saturday, it only cemented his billing.

“How (well) they are running, we were in the staging lanes, and I said to (Beckman), ‘There is not a person in this place that thinks we are going to beat you,’” Johnson said. “But we sure were going to try.”

Midway through the semifinal showdown, Beckman held a considerable lead in his 2015 Dodge Charger. That is when it all began falling apart.

“We’ve had an almost flawless race car, and it dropped a cylinder right at the step of the throttle,” Beckman said. “I felt it. And I heard it. And there is nothing you can do about it.

“You just hope they have more problems than you — and they didn’t.”

Johnson roared past a slowing Beckman for a stunning upset, 4.070 ET to 4.166.

Or was it that stunning?

Johnson has now made the finals in three of the past four NHRA races. And after winning in the Top Fuel class in 1993, he also became the third driver to win the Seattle-area stop in both nitro-fuel classes, joining Ron Capps (1995, 1998) and Worsham (1999, 2011).

“Our car is so consistent,” Johnson said. “We are not going to beat ourselves.”

After Todd nabbed his first career Top Fuel top qualifying mark at Pacific Raceways in 2008, many figured he was the next up-and-coming driver in the sport.

Instead, he picked up part-time driving work for David Baca in 2009, even driving a Pro Modified car for the Al-Anabi team off and on after that. And last year, he ran a few races for Bob Vandergriff in Top Fuel before getting a phone call in April from team owner Connie Kalitta to become his full-time racer.

Todd surged to second in the points race last season. He picked up his first win of the season Sunday.

Afterward, his crew of 30 team members hit the pavement in a mosh-pit celebration at the starting line.

“Glad I am not at the starting line when there is a mosh pit going,” Todd said. “But my guys, they started their own … at the finish line. They tackled me and started piling on me. I will probably be bruised up tomorrow.”

When after a 30-year winless drought you start quoting lines from movies, you know you might be on a roll.

McGaha had never won on the NHRA until last week in Sonoma. And he did it again Sunday, roaring by Coughlin in the finals.

Afterward, he brought up a line from the movie “Major League.”

“At this point, it makes me think of (fictional Cleveland Indians manager) Lou Brown,” McGaha said. “(His quote was), ‘You won this one, and another one. You know what you call that? A winning streak.’”

Auburn’s Aaron Strong qualified 15th in Pro Stock, and lost to Coughlin in the first round of eliminations Sunday, 6.500 ET to 6.589.

But the signs were encouraging. His 209.01 mph was the best speed of the weekend.

“I’ve never been that happy losing in the first round,” said Strong, who will race later in Las Vegas and Pomona, California.

PIT STOPS

It wasn’t a good weekend for the Team Summit Pro Stock drivers. Defending Northwest Nationals champion Jason Line was upset in the first round, and Greg Anderson’s car did not get off the starting line in the quarterfinals. It was the second time on the western swing when neither got past the quarterfinals (the last time was Denver). … Puyallup’s Glen Paine Jr., a local roofing contractor, not only made his first national-event final Sunday in Super Gas — he won, defeating Vancouver’s Gene Heaton. … Longtime drag racer Jody Lang, of Puyallup, was gunning for his 26th national event victory — and sixth in the Seattle area. But he was tripped up by New York racer Dan Fletcher in the Super Stock finals. … Canadian driver Dale Giroux was involved in a high-speed accident in the Competition Eliminator semifinals when his car flipped over on its top. He got out, and was taken to Valley Medical Center in Renton for further evaluation.

Todd Milles: 253-597-8442

todd.milles@thenewstribune.com

@ManyHatsMilles

28th NHRA NORTHWEST NATIONALS WINNERS

At Pacific Raceways, Kent

Top Fuel: J.R. Todd, Indianapolis, d. Shawn Langdon, Avon, Ind., 3.824 ET to 3.902 ET.

Funny Car: Tommy Johnson Jr., Avon, Ind., d. Del Worsham, Villa Park. Calif., 4.073 ET to 4.042 ET.

Pro Stock: Chris McGaha, Odessa, Texas, d. Jeg Coughlin Jr., Delaware, Ohio, 6.507 ET to 6.532 ET.

Alcohol dragster: Megan McKernan, Sierra Madre, Calif. d. Garrett Bateman, Albany, Ore., red light foul.

Alcohol Funny Car: Annie Whitely, Grand Junction, Colo.. d. Shane Westerfield, Anaheim, 5:546 ET to 13.848 ET.

Competition Eliminator: Jeff Lane, North Bend, d. Ryan Warter, Olalla, 8.017 ET to 8.568 ET.

Super Stock: Dan Fletcher, Churchville, N.Y., d. Jody Lang, Puyallup, 8.017 ET to 8.568 ET.

Stock Eliminator: Steve Wann, Modesto, Calif., d. Brian Thompson, Federal Way, 10.172 ET to 13.032 ET.

Super Comp: Tommy Phillips, Forney, Texas, d. Nick Drzayich, Auburn, 8.882 ET to 8.889 ET.

Super Gas: Glen Paine Jr., Puyallup, d. Gene Heaton, Vancouver, 9.888 ET to 9.884 ET.

Super Street: Josh Dalrymple, Sunnyside, d. Fred Hoffman, Shoreline, 10.869 ET to 16.245 ET.

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