If Wheaties, as they say, is the Breakfast of Champions, then they should be buying stock in Alan Johnson Racing.
Johnson is the absolute master at creating champions.
And Johnson’s 16th National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) national championship was one for the ages — tying him with the legendary John Force for the most NHRA national championships in the sports’ history.
This time Johnson did it alongside Force, as the consultant to Brittany Force’s Top Fuel team, making Brittany Force only the second woman in history, after Shirley Muldowney in 1982, to drive off with a Top Fuel world title.
Johnson’s run to the record books comes in as the No. 6 sports story of 2017 in a vote of the Lee Central Coast Newspapers sports team.
Johnson, a Santa Maria native and Righetti High and Cal Poly graduate, has won his 16 world titles as either a team owner, manager, crew chief or consultant with seven different drivers — his younger brother Blaine (four straight in Top Alcohol from 1990 through 1993), Gary Scelzi (three in Top Fuel in 1997-98 and 2000), Tony Schumacher (five straight from 2004-08), Larry Dixon (2010), Del Worsham (2011), Shawn Langdon (2013) and now Brittany Force.
"This championship was two years in the making, just trying to develop the whole team, getting everyone moving in the right direction," said Johnson during an interview Wednesday night. "It took a little work — we won seven races over the two years, three in 2016 and four in 2017."
Brittany Force made those most of her 2017 wins, with three of them coming in the season-ending Countdown to the Championship.
"That's a big part of it, that's when the wins really count," said Johnson. "My position was to make sure that we have more than just a fast car. We have to make sure the whole team works. I had to give Brittany the confidence she needed so she would see that she was able to win. It takes more than just a good car."
Torrence was the odds-on favorite heading into the NHRA’s six-race Countdown to the Championship.
Force sat in sixth place in the season standings as the Countdown began at the Carolina Nationals in Charlotte.
But Force got hot at the right time and began chipping away at Torrence’s lead.
Force won three of the six Countdown races, making it to the final round of eliminations in five of the six.
"Brittany was pretty consistent in the Countdown," said Johnson. "You have the first 18 races of the season to kind of perfect the whole package — the car's tuneup, the teamwork, to work on the weak spots so you can peak in the playoffs."
Force made it to the final round of eliminations at the Countdown opening race in Charlotte then came back to defeat Torrence in the final round for the race win at the Dodge NHRA Nationals in Reading, PA.
Torrence won the third Countdown race, the Midwest Nationals outside St. Louis, wiping out the gains Force made in Charlotte and Reading.
Force followed by winning the race at the Texas Fall Nationals, eliminating Torrence in the semifinal round and setting up a two-race showdown for the championship.
Force made it to the final round of the Toyota Nationals in Las Vegas while Torrence went out in the second round of eliminations. That cut Torrence’s lead to just 20 points heading into the season-ending Auto Club Finals.
“The ultimate scenario is for Brittany and Steve to make it to the final round at Pomona and the winner of that race is the champion — it’s that simple,” said Johnson after the Toyota Nationals.
Johnson got half his wish — Force did make it to the final round in Pomona where she defeated Langdon for the race win.
But she wrapped up her first-ever championship earlier in the day when she eliminated Richie Crampton and 2016 world champion Antron Brown eliminated Torrence in the quarterfinals.
“I can’t believe we are here. It just seems like a dream — a dream come true,” said Force after the final round. “We struggled at times. We had our ups and downs but all the credit in the world goes to Alan Johnson and (crew chief) Brian Husen. They kept pushing me. They kept me fighting. They always had my back. They’re the ones that made this possible.”
“This championship is right up there with our best. It’s really been a fun year. We made a lot of good runs at the end,” said Johnson after Force wrapped up the national championship at the Auto Club Finals in Pomona in November. “We fought the (Steve) Torrence team to the end. Brittany and our crew worked real hard. Steve’s team had some unfortunate runs near the end of the year and Brittany took advantage.
"We figured — give us a couple years and we'd be able to challenge for a championship and we got it done."
Thursday: The local sports world remembers a local icon.