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Exclusive interview with Brian Johnson
We spoke to UK Top Fuel Bike racer Brian Johnson upon his return from the 2000 AMA/Prostar World Finals at Gainesville, where he had qualified number one with a personal best ET of 6.101 and looked set to plough through the field until a drive belt broke in his semi-final against eventual event runner-up Chris Hand.
The interview was conducted on the telephone. Many thanks to Brian Johnson for his time, and to his friend and webmaster Neil Smith for helping to arrange the interview.
Eurodragster: You were going great guns until the belt failure in the semi. What exactly went wrong?
Brian Johnson: A primary belt broke a second and a half into the run. It happened so quickly - I felt it before I heard it. I knew it had gone wrong and that the race was over so I shut it off, looked down to see if there was any fluid leaking, and rolled on down the track. I still crossed the finish line at a hundred miles an hour! It was a shame to lose the race to a belt, but I can take that rather than losing through something I did wrong. A broken belt can happen to anyone. Looking at the data, that run could have been a 6.3 - although it's too easy to say "Could have been this, could have been that" - and on previous form we should have beaten Chris Hand but we didn't.
Eurodragster: Any damage?
Brian Johnson: Maybe a couple of valves, the revs hit fourteen thousand for an instant after the belt broke. But nothing serious.
Eurodragster: You put in some pretty astounding performances over the course of the weekend.
Brian Johnson: The 6.101 was a new Personal Best ET, and I got within a few miles an hour of my best speed. On the 6.101 run, I ran the first eighth in 4.02 seconds at 194.60 miles an hour. It gets your attention! You don't know you've gone 232, but you know it's fast. I love it!
Eurodragster: And we love to watch it! But from where you are there must be so much to do and so much to think about.
Brian Johnson: It is so OTT, there isn't a word for it. They are so powerful for such a small engine. By the eighth, your vision starts to go and you can't see where you are - you sense it. It's like the warp effect in Star Trek - the centre of your field of vision is in focus but everything else just becomes a streak rushing past you. At three-quarter track it just starts to feel too quick and you have to make a judgement about what you're doing - it depends upon whether you're qualifying or racing. But there is so much going on that if you stop to think about it during a race then you lose.
Eurodragster: And presumably the guy in the other lane is thinking the same way.
Brian Johnson: Unless he has a better tune-up on the day, I never race the other guy - I race the track. If it's a 6.1 track then you don't put a 5.85 tune-up into it.
Eurodragster: Everyone says that the track at Gainesville is very good indeed.
Brian Johnson: It was very good, and the Prostar and NHRA staff kept it that way through the weekend. They are the best. That takes nothing away from Santa Pod and Shakespeare County over here because they do a great job too. Not everyone had a handle on the conditions at Gainesville, though. It was as if they were going for four-second passes on a six-second track, but you learn these tricks.
Eurodragster: And what is your trick? Do you have a Gainesville set-up in a little notebook somewhere?
Brian Johnson: Not really. I tend to do my set-up on the day. I make an experienced guess erring on the soft side then I can step it up. It's a lot easier than starting too hard and then not knowing how much to take out.
Eurodragster: It's pretty obvious from Ian King's, Cannon's and Ken Cooper's comments on Ian's web site that the Europeans had a great time out there.
Brian Johnson: Cannon really enjoyed himself. In his race he had an entire bike length over Gary Clark off the start line. What a racer! If he hadn't had problems then he would have made a real race of it, maybe even won. I think he'll be going back! Ian ran a personal best in the 6.6s, he is beginning to get closer to the pace. And Jean-Yves thoroughly enjoyed it, he'll be back too. All of the Europeans put in a great showing. The Yanks can be beaten. But you can't do it if you don't go, and even if you don't qualify you'll still enjoy it. The rain on Sunday got us all down but when all is said and done, everyone had a really great weekend.
On the subject of our weekend, if anyone has any video footage of any of the Europeans running at Gainesville then I would be very keen to borrow it. I can guarantee its safety and return, please get in touch.
Eurodragster: How did the US racers take your performances?
Brian Johnson: In truth, they didn't like it. They had trouble hooking up to the track. They put on a brave face but you know they are wondering how a European does it! They've got all their sponsors and their families and friends there, there are only a few of us and we go out and run quicker. I'm very satisfied with what we did, and you can be sure that they did their damnedest to beat us. I would really love for them to put their bikes in a container like we did and to come over and race us on a European track.
Eurodragster: Are you already taking bookings for a container next year?
Brian Johnson: We want to go. If anyone wants to help us to get there next year then please get in touch. We got a good deal from Spectrum Cargo this year. For eight hundred pounds each we got our bikes dropped right in the pits, three days early, and they collected for the return trip right on time. Eight hundred pounds for that level of service is chicken feed. All world freight is done in US dollars so the price could well have gone down by next season! Spectrum Cargo are in Feltham, anyone who wants anything shifted should call them.
Eurodragster: This time last week there was a lot of concern that you were retiring. We were very glad to hear that we'd got that one wrong.
Brian Johnson: I want to run two fives at Santa Pod, if I do then I will finish. I have to clear up a manifold imbalance and make some changes to the clutch and then maybe we could run a high five. But it is very easy to do all of that work and slow down. Going faster is difficult. I really want to do it in the UK because if I did then it would be ratified as an official world record. There have been a couple of five-second runs in the USA but they have been in exhibition - which means they aren't official - and in any case they weren't backed up. It'd be great to do it in England. Hopefully the work on the fuel and clutch will clinch it.
Eurodragster: And if you do it and then retire, presumably we'll still see you at the track?
Brian Johnson: Yes. I'd like to provide tuning advice. And hear my bike go down the track - I've never heard my bike go down the track!
Eurodragster: Well, we don't know what to say to that. We'd hate to see you retire, but then we'd love to see you run those fives. So let's wish you the very best of luck for the 2001 season and see what happens! Thanks very much, Brian.
Visit Brian Johnson's web site
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