Tommy Johnson Jr. and Trey Bayne talk "Racing 101" with media at Bristol Motor Speedway/Dragway
Veteran NHRA Funny Car driver Tommy Johnson Jr. and rookie Super Late Model driver Trey Bayne gave Tri-Cities media members a day to remember Wednesday as the two drivers provided them a peek behind the scenes with a quick "Racing 101" discussion and then took them out on the track for laps at both Bristol Motor Speedway and Bristol Dragway.
Bayne will be competing in the Super Late Model division in next weekend's Short Track U.S. Nationals at Bristol Motor Speedway (May 31-June 1), while Johnson Jr. will try to win his third NHRA Wally trophy at Bristol Dragway during the NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals on Father's Day weekend, June 14-16.
Both drivers thrilled media members by giving them rides around the historic oval and down the legendary quarter-mile dragstrip.
Bayne, who is the younger brother of 2011 Daytona 500 winner Trevor Bayne, was excited to take his first laps around The Last Great Colosseum, even if it was in a street car.
"It's so cool here, this place is awesome," said Bayne, who told the media he has learned to get feedback from the car when he's making laps and it has accelerated his learning curve in the sport. "Every track that I've raced at this season has been my first time there and it will be the same here at Bristol. I've been practicing at Bristol on the simulator so that has helped. I'm really looking forward to getting out here in my race car next weekend. It's going to be a lot of fun."
Bayne, who drives the No. 21 JacoberBayne Motorsports Super Late Model machine, is in his second season of stock car racing. Last year he earned his first victory competing in Late Model Stock at nearby Kingsport Speedway and in the process earned the Rookie of the Year title in the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series.
"It felt great to get that win," Bayne said. "I started out slow and over the course of several races kept getting better finishes and finally got the win. Then I had a bunch of top-five finishes at the end of the year. It was a fun year and a great way to get started in the sport."
Meanwhile Johnson Jr. has a great season going in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series and sits fourth in the Funny Car standings with a runner-up and three semifinal finishes in his Make-A-Wish Funny Car. He is looking forward to returning to Bristol where he's had some success, including an IHRA victory in the late 1980s in Alcohol Funny Car in addition to his two NHRA victories here (2014 and 2016).
"I love this track; it's the atmosphere and the setting here that's so different than everywhere we race," Johnson Jr. said. "I've done well on Father's Day weekend a lot during my career and I have some great memories sharing those trophies I won here at Bristol with my dad, because it's also his birthday around that weekend, so we've had some great celebrations here. I haven't won yet this year and I would be OK waiting till we get to Bristol to get my first win. This place is really special to me."
Johnson Jr. told the media the keys to running well at Thunder Valley comes with working closely with his crew chief and making the proper adjustments for the conditions they are presented with.
"You really have to pay attention to the track temperature because it can get a little warm here in the summer." Johnson said. "And the altitude here is a bit higher than most tracks so you have to take that into consideration. It's the third race of a stretch of four in a row so it can be demanding on the teams. The best thing here is the night racing, in this setting with as loud as the cars are and the way they echo in the valley after each run and the bright flames come off the header pipes, there's nothing else like it."
Johnson, who has made laps in a variety of race cars on ovals during his career but has never competed in an oval race or series, says he really enjoyed taking on the high banks at The World's Fastest Half-Mile.
"I tell you what, making laps around the oval gives you a great appreciation for what these NASCAR drivers go through during the Night Race," Johnson Jr. said. "I know how I feel after making 20 laps, so I can't imagine what they must be feeling after 500 laps around this place. When you see the high banking it's so cool. I had a lot of fun driving the car on it and I kept getting faster and faster but I decided I should shut it down because the last thing I need is to put it into the wall."
After a week off, Johnson Jr. and the NHRA circuit heads to Chicago and then to Topeka, Kan., before arriving at Thunder Valley on Father's Day weekend.
"It was a fun day today, giving the media a glimpse at how we approach racing and showing Trey a little bit about drag racing," Johnson Jr. said. "I think we may have a new drag racing fan in Trey. He seemed to really enjoy it and I gave him a few pointers and he was a quick learner. He did well out there making runs and told me he might have to talk to his dad about getting a dragster."
Bayne produced several stellar reaction times and looked like an old pro on the dragstrip after making about a half-dozen runs thanks to Johnson's coaching.
"That was so much fun getting to make some runs on the dragstrip," Bayne said. "Once I got the tree figured out I was doing better and also figured out how to hold and release the brake at the start. I can't believe I beat Tommy on one of the runs but I think he just took it easy on me. It's very addicting, that's for sure."
To purchase tickets to the Short Track U.S. Nationals or the NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals, please contact the Bristol Motor Speedway ticket office at 866-415-4158 or buy your tickets online at www.bristolmotorspeedway.com.