Steve Johnson will be the first to admit that his 2015 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Pro Stock Motorcycle season has not started the way he had hoped.

The Irondale, Ala., resident has also never managed to solve Atlanta Dragway, struggling at the track closest to his hometown. Those two factors may not seem to be the best combination heading into this weekend’s 35th annual Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Southern Nationals at Atlanta Dragway, but Johnson’s upbeat attitude heading into the race seems to tell a different story.

Johnson is eager to get back on his Steve Johnson Racing Suzuki this weekend, believing that his early-season struggles are about to be a thing of the past.

“I’m motivating myself to make good decisions this weekend,” Johnson said. “Ultimately, that’s why we don’t do well, if I make bad decisions. I’m just motivated. We’re going to do the best we can with what we’ve got. We’ve never done well in Atlanta.

“It’s just a matter of not being prepared, but it’s exciting because I know what my problems are. I know what my problems are, and I’m trying to tackle them every day. I know it will get better, but I just want the answer to come now.”

Spencer Massey (Top Fuel), Robert Hight (Funny Car), Jeg Coughlin Jr. (Pro Stock), and Eddie Krawiec (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were last year’s winners of the event that will once again be televised on ESPN2. The race is the third of 16 races in Pro Stock Motorcycle and marks the perfect opportunity for Johnson to get his 2015 campaign on track.

Entering the season with promise, Johnson, who has six career wins, hasn’t found the sweet spot on his Suzuki, losing in the first round in Gainesville to open the year and not qualifying in Charlotte. That’s certainly not the start he has wanted, but the good news for Johnson is that there is still plenty of time to rectify the situation.

An extended break of nearly a month since the last event has also been helpful because Johnson and his team, led by crew chief Tim Kulungian, have worked hard to iron out the kinks during the layoff.

“The more time off, the better it is for us,” Johnson said. “It allows us more testing time at the shop with our dyno, and it allows us to refine everything we have, from the bike to the trailer. It’s been great since the last race, and things have really gone well. There are just a lot of things that are challenging to our team. We feel like we’re close to finding what works, we just need to get some more runs on the bike.”

Solving Atlanta Dragway is next on the priority list. Johnson has advanced to 20 final rounds in his Pro Stock Motorcycle career, but none have taken place in Atlanta — something Johnson clearly wants to change this weekend.

It won’t be easy against a talented field that returned to Georgia’s House of Speed last season following a year off in 2013. Three-time world champ Krawiec picked up right where he left off, scoring his third win at the facility. Four-time and defending world champ Andrew Hines is looking for his first Georgia victory since 2010, and other standouts include Angelle Sampey, a three-time world champ who has four victories at the track, two-time world champ Matt Smith, Hector Arana Jr., 2009 world champ Hector Arana Sr., and Gainesville winner Karen Stoffer.

Despite the longtime struggles at the track, Johnson is always eager to return. His passion for the sport, exemplified by a series of radio spots airing nationwide that he helped put together this season, remains apparent as well, which could be helpful this weekend.

“Atlanta is a great race because it’s close to home, and I get to promote it in the local media,” said Johnson, whose shop and residence sits just minutes east of downtown Birmingham, Ala. “With it being close to home, it’s a chance for me to promote our sport in our hometown, and everyone always wants some type of local recognition. Just to go out and qualify and go a couple rounds would really be special this weekend.”

In Top Fuel, Massey claimed his first victory at Atlanta Dragway last season when he defeated Doug Kalitta, who won the most recent event in Houston, in the final round. Massey won earlier this season in Gainesville, and teammate Antron Brown has three Atlanta wins. Three-time world champ Larry Dixon has the most Top Fuel wins at Atlanta Dragway with four, and eight-time and defending world champ Tony Schumacher has yet to visit the winner’s circle in Atlanta. Others to watch are Richie Crampton, J.R. Todd, Brittany Force, Clay Millican, and 2012 Atlanta winner Steve Torrence.

The 16-time Funny Car world champ, John Force, is the winningest active driver in any Pro category in Atlanta with seven career victories. His teammate Hight has had much recent success at Atlanta with three wins since 2008, including his victory last season, and other competitors in pursuit of the Funny Car event crown are current points leader and two-time winner this season Ron Capps, Courtney Force, reigning world champ Matt Hagan, Jack Beckman, 1991 winner Del Worsham, Alexis DeJoria, two-time world champ Cruz Pedregon, three-time race winner Tony Pedregon, and Tim Wilkerson.

In Pro Stock, Greg Anderson, who posted a win in Gainesville this year, leads all active drivers with five victories at Atlanta Dragway. He advanced to the final one year ago, losing to Coughlin in a close race. He will face off against a host of challengers, including Allen Johnson and Larry Morgan, who are the two active Pro Stock drivers other than Anderson to win at Atlanta Dragway, defending world champ Erica Enders, who has won two national events in a row, rookie Drew Skillman, Shane Gray, Jonathan Gray, Vincent Nobile, and V. Gaines.

The NHRA J&A Service Pro Mod Drag Racing Series will make its third stop of the 2015 season at Atlanta Dragway. The race also will feature thrilling action in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series.

As always, fans will have the opportunity to interact with their favorite drivers as they’re granted an exclusive pit pass to the most powerful and sensory-filled motorsports attraction on the planet. This unique opportunity in motorsports gives fans direct access to the teams, allowing them to see firsthand the highly skilled mechanics service their hot rods between rounds, and get autographs from their favorite NHRA drivers.

Mello Yello Series qualifying begins Friday, May 15, with sessions at 3:45 and 6:15 p.m. The final two qualifying sessions will take place Saturday, May 16, at 12:45 and 3:15 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sunday, May 17.


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