Tom & Gage

Bristol Dragway, Thunder Valley Nationals, June 2014: The Johnson Team together at Bristol International ‘Thunder Valley Nationals’ NHRA race. The Funny Car division was won by Tommy, Jr. driving Terry Chandler’s ‘Make a Wish’ entry out of the Don Schumacher stable. While Jr. is a ‘super star in drag racing’, the elder Johnson has plenty of history and wins on his side of the tally card too.  (Photo from DSR)

On June 14th 1960, Tri State Dragway opened for the first time at the Clark County Fairgrounds in north east Missouri. It is 15 miles straight north to Iowa, 18 miles east to Keokuk, Iowa, and one more mile across the Mississippi River to Illinois. Hence the name, Tri State Dragway was used.

This writer cannot remember all the details, but in addition to winning Top Eliminator at the end of the day, and attracting far more fans and racers than we ever imagined, a rumor started at that race which became folk lore for years. A sheriff from Lee County Iowa came to the track looking for a young enthusiast who apparently rode his bicycle to the northern Missouri track. And for all the years Tri State operated, that young man was reported to be Tommy Johnson!

“Not me,” Sr. told me in 2011 after my writing started with DRO. Well it made a great story, and whether true or not, Sr. was a fixture at the track, although he did not yet own a race car. Tommy could always be counted on to assist. He was talented with knowledge about protests and seemed to be in the middle of most.

Tri State Dragway, Kahoka, Mo. Mid-‘60s: The earliest photo, we could find, of the elder Johnson behind the wheel, was this shot of Tommy wielding his Ed Bruegge built Crossley Station Wagon clone of Ed’s famous ‘Possum Chaser’. Johnson told us the wild wheel stand, shown here, caused him to sell the short wheel base car and build the first of several Chevrolet Camaros he campaigned during the next ten years.

Sr.’s first car was a 1948 Crossley Station Wagon which he and Sarah drove to Kahoka on a regular basis. Tommy enlisted Ed Bruegge to help him modify his wagon into an A/Gas car similar to Ed’s original ‘Possum Chaser’. Bruegge admitted to this writer that he moved the engine further back in the 88 inch wheel base car, and that it was too much.