Like father like son: Chris Johnston is a second generation NHRA National Champion who pilots a fourth generation Firebird, that he calls the Funky Chicken.
BREMERTON, WA – DragChamp takes a trip to the West Coast to learn all about Washington based racer, Chris Johnston. He was introduced to the sport at a young age by his father, Troy Johnston. Chris first sat behind the wheel 15 years ago and has been turning on win lights ever since. At only 30 years old, he’s accomplished what some racers will spend their whole careers chasing: a national championship.
The Johnston family is no stranger to success at the Auto Club NHRA Finals. Troy earned the 2017 NHRA Sportsman National Championship and Chris is the reigning NHRA Pro National Champion. He’s only been able to race once in 2020, when a major wheelstand ended his day in the quarterfinal round. Although, I’m sure it won’t be long before he’s back in the winner’s circle.
Chris shares more of his story in the following Q&A.
Which class or classes do you compete in and which racetracks? Provide a little history of your racing career.
I mainly compete off the bottom bulb in classes like Pro, No Box, and Footbrake. I also run the box class off the bottom. Bremerton Raceway is is my local track, home of the Bremerton Bombers! That is where I started racing in my 1972 Plymouth Cuda. I actually started my racing with a delay box but grew to love the bottom bulb racing.
Please list your racing accomplishments.
Track Champion, Divisional Champion, and NHRA National Champion. I have won some “big money” bracket races on the left coast as well.
I want to hear all about the Funky Chicken…can you elaborate?
It is a 1998 Pontiac Firebird. I wanted a nickname with some comedic value and she gets down…so that’s why I call her the Funky Chicken.
I purchased it from the original builders of the car, Kevin and Roger Gage, in February 2019. They are another father and son team who really know how to build a top notch quality and detailed machine. The car is street legal so it looks a lot like a stocker, but it’s really an ideal bracket machine.
A 400 cubic inch small block Chevy with a hand shifted TH400 gets the front tires off the ground while the sticky Mickey’s keep it planted. It is such a fun car to drive because it can drag the bumper and it’s deadly consistent. The 60 foot is in the low 1.30s while it runs 6.50s in the eighth mile and 10.30s at around 130 mph on the long track.
How was the trip to Pomona? How many hours of travel?
My good friends Jeremy and Ron Sears hauled the Funky Chicken down to Pomona. We left early and took our time, even stopping at Six Flags, where I was able to get Jeremy on a couple of roller coasters. It is about a 20 hour drive for us.
Can you describe the overall feeling you had at Pomona?
It helped that I had been there when my father won the Sportsman national title two years before. Being able to watch him win the championship is still one of my proudest moments in racing. When it was my chance, I went into Pomona with a clear head. The overall feeling was just to go out there, have fun, and do my thing. I knew what was on the line, but you can’t let that distract you from your normal routine.
What was the most memorable part of your trip?
It is going to be hard to top driving up the return road after I had won. All the people in the stands are cheering you on and all of my friends were waiting for me to pull up! I can’t thank those guys enough.
Does your success in Pomona change the way you look at the 2020 season?
I wouldn’t say it has changed my outlook, but it has reassured me in my ability to be able to race. I’m coming into the 2020 confident with the seat time that I finally have in my new car. I like to look more towards the future of what I can achieve versus what I already have.
What’s on your racing bucket list? What goals do you have?
I want to win to make the Race of Champions in both Pro and Super Pro next year. Otherwise, I just want to keep winning in that car because the more I win, the more laps I get to make!
Tell us what you do for a living?
I currently am self employed at Crisp Performance Electrical. I wire anything from race cars to boats.
In your opinion, the hardest part of drag racing is…?
Racing within your knowledge and means. I see too many people get in over their head and become helpless.
Do you say anything to yourself just before you stage the car?
I usually take a deep breath and if I’m not feeling pumped up enough, I might let a growl out or something!
Who do you hate to see in the other lane and why?
As of last year, it was a man by the name of Rob Lindley. Rob and I have raced a million times before, but last year he absolutely destroyed me. It did not matter what I did, he was always better. I’m coming for you, Rob! [laughs]
Other than racing, what do you do in your free time?
I enjoy spending time with my closest friends. We always end up in some kind of shenanigans and it’s a blast!
What do you enjoy most at the racetrack?
The competition and the friends. 98% of all of my friends now are people that I have met at the drag strip. It’s always nice to share a common interest with people.
Do you love to win or hate to lose?
Can I choose both? I hate to lose when it was my own doing. I am perfectly okay with just being beat.
What motivates you to keep racing?
The passion to continue to better myself as a racer.
Are you better at the starting line or finish line?
I’m not sure…I’m still trying to improve on both ends.
Are you superstitious? Can you give an example?
I will not pick a penny up if it is not heads up. I did have one race where after I won first round I went into my truck to check my phone. When i closed the door it didn’t close all the way, so i had to open it back up and close it again. I repeated that process after each round, so six more times!
If money were no object, what would your racing operation look like?
If money is no object then I will have a whole fleet of cars. Starting off with four identical dragsters that I will give out to my friends. They can maintain them and I will pay, as long as they make sure to give me my cut (haha).
For myself, I would have a black 1970 Cuda in Super Stock and a matching small tire Cuda for Stock. They would go into my black stacker trailer that would be hauled by my black toterhome. There is also going to be a chopper in there so that when I get busted early I can still go cruise.
How often do you use a practice tree?
Not as much as I should. Honestly, I need to get a practice tree. Sounds like Chris should check out our friends at Portatree Timing Systems.
What are you really good at?
Jack of all trades, master of none. [laughs]
Who has made the biggest impact on your racing success?
Obviously my father, because he is the man that got me started in racing, and I have always looked up to him. After that, I can think of a few names that contributed to helping me grow my racer IQ, such as Brad Plourd, Mark Faul, and Steve Kelly. I knew the basics but racing with these men taught me a lot! Bracket racing is more than simply going from point A to point B. There are so many different ways to approach each round and they taught me that, so thanks guys!
Where do you spend most of your time on the internet?
If by internet, you mean Xbox, then yes, I do enjoy playing Xbox!
Name one thing most people don’t know about you?
It is impossible for me to not cry during the movie, Big Fish.
Would you rather hang out with a crowd or have a quiet evening at home?
Quiet evening at home for sure. The older I get, the less I want to be around crowds of rude and annoying people.
What is your favorite sport? Favorite team?
Football. Seattle Seahawks. GO HAWKS!!!
What’s your favorite thing to eat?
I could live out the rest of my life on Mexican food…all of it. If I can’t have that, I’ll have steak or cheeseburgers.
What is your favorite music? Any particular artist?
I like so many different types of music that it is hard to narrow down. When you hit shuffle on my phone, you better prepared for some diversity.
What is your daily driver?
2003 GMC Sierra, that is of course, black.
Do you have a favorite movie or TV show?
Letterkenny is by far my favorite show out there right now. Those Canadians have some of the best humor.
Chris would like to thank his parents, Troy and Kelly, for all their help and support. He states that he wouldn’t be where he is today if it wasn’t for them, and he is forever grateful. Everyone here at DragChamp wishes Chris the best of luck this season!
Jessica was born into a family of drag racers and fell in love with the sport at a young age. She began competing at 13 and has been hooked ever since! She even met her husband at the World Footbrake Challenge VII. Jessica works full time as an Ultrasound Technologist but spends almost every weekend chasing win lights at IHRA and NHRA bracket races.