Alan Johnson is certainly one of the very best engineers, innovators and tuners in the history of drag racing. He was a star tuner in the NHRA Alcohol Dragster class long before he moved into the Top Fuel/Funny Car classes. His record of national event wins and World Championships places him among the best nitro tuners in the sport’s history. He is also a fairly private individual, rarely giving the press interviews or issuing quotes. DRO was fortunate that he decided to give us this exclusive interview, which was conducted at his shop in Northern California. DRO Editor Jeff Burk submitted his questions and West Coast Editor Darr Hawthorne added a few of his own.
: You’re constantly the subject of rumors that you’re doing something illegal to achieve the performance advantage your dragster has often enjoyed over the competition. What is your reaction to that?
AJ: (Laughing) When did those rumors get started?
: After beating so many racers, maybe it was easier for them to say, “Well, they cheated.”
AJ: I see. Well, first off, the people who are quick to assume we’re cheating, I would like them to express how it’s possible to cheat in Top Fuel. How hard can you cheat in Top Fuel? There’s no way to cheat. How can you cheat? I have no idea how you would cheat. What would you do? How would you cheat? Would we be getting a different tire from someone else? I run the same stuff (made in my shop). Everything in here is sold to my customers. They’re exactly the same parts as I run in the U.S. Army car. No difference.
: Is the U.S. Army car your R&D department?
AJ: Not particularly. There are some times when we’ll make something in our shop and try on our race car, but typically those things are things that aren’t for sale, things that we build ourselves. Over time those things may become available, but a test car? Eh, not really.
: Is there anything that you do on Monday test days that would help give you a development advantage?
AJ: The thing is, there is no one part out there that gives you an advantage in Top Fuel.
: It’s a combination of all those things?
AJ: No, it’s the way you tune your car on Sunday. Because if you notice, how many times have we been number one qualifier this year? I can’t tell you, a couple, maybe two? There are cars that are just as fast as ours. It’s how you run it on Sunday that makes a difference. I mean, everyone’s fast in qualifying. But can you make four good runs on Sunday and win the race? That’s hard to do.