Volume X, Issue 7, Page 96

I’ve only seen the car and Cannonball race at the venerable Cordova Dragway Park in northwestern Illinois, although he races all over the Midwest. But seeing it race at Cordova was all I needed to make me realize I wanted to learn more about the man and his car.

Cannonball doesn’t have a 50-foot enclosed trailer full of spares or “long nose Pete” motor home for a tow rig. No sir, he tows his race car on an open trailer behind a well-traveled and used S-10 Chevy pick-up equipped with a camper shell.

His is a no-frills racing operation, a true nostalgia racing operation in every sense of the words. It’s generally just Carl and a few of his friends loading up the truck and trailer and heading to a racetrack; no “fly in” tuner or crew for these guys.

Carl is no kid, he has been racing since the ‘50’s and at the age of 70 shows no signs of easing off the pedal. He is the 1958 U.S. Nationals class winner in the A/SR class when that event was held in Oklahoma City and he won the 1960 World Series of Drag Racing A/Altered class winner when the World Series was a seriously important race on the level of a NHRA national event.  “Cannonball” Johnson has serious creds as a racer and tuner. 

Carl’s day job is as machinist at his engine shop (Sterling Engines) in Rockford, Ill. If you call the shop, Carl answers the phone. On weekends you’ll find him more often than not sitting behind and slightly above a 408 cubic inch supercharged, nitro-burning AA fuel altered at a Midwest dragstrip.

Every once in a great while in today’s high tech world of drag racing you come across a race car and a driver that are more than just a car and driver, they are time machines, and I don’t mean as in Dr. Who’s Tardis or an ET machine. I mean that when you see them in action, the car and driver transport you back to a place in time that you thought you’d never visit again. That was exactly what happened to me when I first spent some time with Carl “Cannonball” Johnson and his hand-built iron Hemi-powered 23-T AA fuel altered.
Words and photos by Jeff Burk - 7/8/2008