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Exclusive interview with Brian Johnson
We spoke to UK Top Fuel Bike racer Brian Johnson shortly after the 2001 AMA/Prostar World Finals at Gainesville, which was his last event before retiring from riding the bike although he plans to remain in close contact with the sport either as tuning adviser to the purchaser of his bike, or as a photographer and videographer.
The interview was conducted on the telephone in December 2001.
Eurodragster: So how did you get on at Gainesville?
Brian Johnson: We got there with no problems. The bike arrived right on time thanks to Spectrum Cargo, we had to unload it in 85-degree temperatures and no shade! There was no transit damage to the bike at all. The staff at Gainesville were more than helpful, they treated us like family.
Eurodragster: You didn't have an easy time of it in qualifying.
Brian Johnson: That's right. The bike sounded OK the first time we started it. We'd fattened it up but I went a bit over the top and only ran a 6.48 on the first qualifier. But we were qualified, that's the main thing. On the next run we were shut down after the burnout because of a fuel leak. On the next run, the motor just stopped dead after the burnout. A manifold deflector plate had cracked and fell into the manifold. But we were still qualified!
Eurodragster: Eliminations didn't go quite how you would have liked.
Brian Johnson: In the first round I thought "Don't go mad". So Ronnie Webb chose that round to run his best-ever pass, he strapped a 6.19 on my 6.33. There was only about a foot to eighteen inches in it at the finish line. Ronnie wasn't sure but I knew I was behind. That's racing! I was disappointed not to win but you have to be mature about it. I felt a bit wistful packing the bike away and waving the container goodbye.
Eurodragster: So sum up your weekend?
Brian Johnson: When all is said and done we enjoyed ourselves. We saw all of our old mates. I'm only sorry that I never ran the five, although we've got nothing to be ashamed of in our career. I hope that someone buys the bike, though, because I think it's a consistent high five- or low six-second runner. We really do not want it to go to waste.
Eurodragster: That answers the next question then, the bike is still available?
Brian Johnson: There's been some interest in the bike but nothing firm. I think that in the current financial climate people are looking very carefully at their pennies. Now what I would say is that if you want to do it, do it!
Eurodragster: Hopefully there will be some interested parties reading this interview, what do they get for their money?
Brian Johnson: The bike is for sale with every single part I have. That includes spares, tools, unfinished parts like a spare billet head, spare cylinder block castings, even the laptop computer with all of our run data. If they want help then I'll help with tuning advice for a year free of charge. There is more information on my web site.
Eurodragster: So that's really it then. No last-minute change of mind?
Brian Johnson: I'd love to do it until I can't do it any more, but it's only Anne and I funding it. Obviously I'm sad to have given up, but I ache in places I didn't know I had! I can't work as hard and long as I want to. It's time for me to stop riding anyway because my leathers don't fit any more! The bike will go quicker with someone skinnier than me on it, it only weighs 1020 pounds after a run and that's with me on it.
Eurodragster: A lot of fans who read our interview with you last year appreciated your description of the Top Fuel Bike experience, since it's rare for a racer to verbalise the sensation. Have you anything to add to what you said then?
Brian Johnson: It's wonderfully scary! Especially when you are on a good pass, you get to sixty feet with the front wheel up and the slick biting, at the eighth you think "Am I here already?". Then, and this is the bit which people don't always realise, it's only two seconds to cover the next two hundred yards.
Eurodragster: "Wonderfully scary" sums it up brilliantly!
Brian Johnson: The feeling of two hundred miles an hour on a bike is surpassed by nothing on Earth. You can't see anything but a dinner plate-sized area of focus in the middle of your vision. But you are in tune with everything which is happening and you react very quickly. And you have to make the right call: there are times when things will get worse if you get off the throttle. I once had my helmet's chin strap come loose at two hundred and eight miles an hour, and then the helmet came off. I was getting sandblasted, but I could see.
Eurodragster: How fast is enough, do you think?
Brian Johnson: I found two hundred miles an hour acceptable. But go two hundred and thirty and you start to think "Too fast". Common sense kicks in. But it's too late by then!
Eurodragster: Common sense or not, what can we do but thank you for all of those low times and high speeds over the years, and wish you a very long and happy retirement by the guardrail.
Brian Johnson: Thank you! I'd like to say Thank You to Neil Smith and Ian King for their support at Gainesville, plus of course my wife Anne. Without her I wouldn't have got this far.
Visit Brian Johnson's web site
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