Author: Johnson, Steve
Date published: May 20, 2011
I just love the title of these columns, On the Run; that's my life in a nutshell. I travel so much that I have enough points for a free ride to the moon. How bad is it? It's what I have to do to race. On the plus side, I can leave our shop at 8 a.m. and make the 8:25 flight. If I'm stuck in a security line, I can call the gate and tell them. I'm like Tom Hanks in The Terminal. When I walk through Birmingham-Shuttlesworth Int'l Airport, people behind the fast-food counters wave to me, and the TSA guys call me by name. There's something just wrong about that.
I'd like to list my "stops" since the first of the year, but if I name every one, that'll be the end of the column. Let's see, I'll start, uh, locally with the Aaron's 499 at Talladega Superspeedway. I love seeing other types of racing, but just as important as the competition is the opportunity to see how they do things in NASCARland. I'm not telling any secrets by saying that they do some things better than we do in drag racing, but we do some important things better than they do. It's interesting to watch their PR people pitching stories to the media. It's just as much fun to watch teams prep for the race. When it comes to making lists and checking them twice, those guys are at the top of the, uh, list.
Let's keep it local for another minute or so. The recent tornados that have been so devastating to our friends and neighbors in Alabama have really hit home. We're grateful that all of that devastation left our shop completely untouched, but that's obviously not the case with our friends. We're doing what we can to help and sincerely appreciate all of the calls and emails we've received asking about our situation. We want to assure our fans and friends that we're OK, but our friends and neighbors need your help. If you can, please make a donation through the American Red Cross or the Salvation Army. Both organizations have specific funds set up for tornado relief.
I'm pretty sure that when you're reading this we'll be racing in Atlanta. Through the American Red Cross, our motorcycle and team uniforms will be decked out in red and white and with the appropriate logos for the Atlanta event. It's important that we don't drop the ball in terms of offering help to the tornado victims, and this is our little way of making sure that message stays front and center.
OK, back to the Travels of Steve. I've been to Houston at least twice - it could have been more, but hey, who remembers? - and both times I ended up at Baytown Ford, first for friend Craig "the Dealbeater's" wedding and during race week for a personal appearance with Bob Tasca III, Robert Hight, and Roy Hill's team. As you probably expected, fans ignored the two Funny Car guys and gathered around me. Yes, I am a notorious exaggerator, if such a word exists. Really, those guys were great to work with.
The other thing you probably know about me is that I can't get enough two-wheel action. That's why I flew to California to go dirt-bike riding at a place called Jawbone Canyon with my buddy Rusty and a bunch of California buddies. There's one thing you can do on a dirt bike that you can't do in drag racing, and that's bump into the other guys while you're racing on the track or down a trail. You've got to be really good to do that without crashing, which explains why I'm often lying on the trail in a crumpled heap. You know those ads where they say "Professional rider; do not try this yourself?" I need to pay more attention to those.
We also made a stop in Iowa to meet with Hot Cams. After the meeting, I got a close-up look at the first Ossa motorcycle to be seen in the United States in 35 years. Hard-core bikers reading this know these motorcycles, and, believe me, they are cool, as was the new 458 Ferrari I got to try out. If only they'd have let me keep 'em.
Did I forget to mention our stop in Florida for the Gatornationals? I admit it, I am trying to forget that one; a first-round loss didn't exactly make my weekend. But we did better in Houston and cracked into the top 10 standings, so thanks to Tim Kulungian, Rick Elmore, and Jennifer Stegall, things are looking up just a bit.
We had an IndyCar race at Barber Motorsports Park in Alabama, and in all my years of racing, I don't think I've ever seen a facility more well-groomed than that road course. It was beautiful, and what most people don't know is that Mr. Barber designed the track primarily for motorcycle use. Prior to the start of the race, I was fortunate to spend time with Roger Penske and Chip Ganassi. I was very appreciative of their willingness to discuss sponsor acquisition and activation because without major sponsorship backing, there is no racing, and, unfortunately, few know that better than I do. Don't ask; just know that we're continuing that nonstop search.
I spent Easter with Larry Dixon's family in Indianapolis. I'm Luke Dixon's godfather and tight with sister Alanna and brother Donovan. I know now the deal includes cheap rates on babysitting, but it truly is an honor that's beyond description. We all had a killer dinner at their uncle Tony Pedregon's house. When the kids got going on their Easter egg hunt, it was a hoot. I also made it to Brandon Bernstein's daughter's firstyear birthday party. I don't have kids of my own yet, so I love interacting with the little people. They're never afraid to blurt out exactly what they're thinking, which is more than can be said about a lot of adults, but that's another matter entirely.
Bob Frey blew me away in Houston when he said it was my 300th race in Pro Stock Motorcycle. In all honesty, I never kept track of how many events I'd competed in. I just kept going because it was a great way to meet girls and stay off the streets. After 17 years, I finally won our first race and supported the win with a T-shirt that read "What it takes to win your first race." Now, we're at 300 races and 25 years. I guess that's the making of a new T-shirt and hopefully a championship year.
Steve Johnson is the rider of the Steve Johnson Racing Suzuki Pro Stock Motorcycle.