The Greeneville drag racer retired at the end of the 2017 season as one of the top drivers in NHRA Pro Stock history with 27 career wins, 37 No. 1 qualifying efforts and the 2012 World Championship.
His 27 victories rank ninth on the all-time Pro Stock win list and his 59 final-round appearances in 399 career starts are eighth all-time. His final season on the Pro Stock tour, he made the NHRA’s Countdown for the Championship playoffs and finished eighth in the point standings.
Now, he’s making the adjustment to no longer getting ready for the upcoming season.
“It’s way different. It’s harder to shut down something than to start it up,” Johnson said. “This is our offseason anyway, but it’s a hard thing that has been your life’s work and you’ve poured your blood, sweat and tears into.”
The 58-year-old has plenty to keep him busy as the owner of Greeneville Oil, one of the top fuel distributors and convenience store operators in the area with 40-plus stores, as well as owning a fitness gym and rental property.
Still, Johnson said there is plenty he will miss about being on the racing tour, especially the camaraderie with his fellow racers. They showed their appreciation for Johnson, with everyone in the Pro Stock class wearing t-shirts that read “AJ’s Final Stage” at his final race in Pomona, Calif.
“That was real special,” Johnson said. “I think Erica (Enders) spearheaded that and she’s a great friend, but for all the competitors to do that, it was the first time I’ve seen in my 22 years out there. I’m going to miss all my friends and my fans.”
There is also the exhilaration of a career-best time of 6.463 seconds down the 1,000-feet track and a best speed of 214.42 mph in his J&J Racing Dodge Dart. Over his career, he won such major events as the NHRA Gatornationals in Gainesville, Fla., and made Bandimere Speedway near Denver his personal playground. He won seven times and made 10 consecutive final-round appearances at the Colorado track with the NHRA Mopar Mile-High Nationals sponsored by his longtime car sponsor.
His accomplishments came with the family team which his father Roy served as engine builder and his mother Revonda and wife Pam gave their unrelenting support.
“It has been awesome. The whole family has gotten to be together almost every weekend,” he said. “That’s going to be hard to keep up even though we live within a mile of each other. Racing has drawn our family close and there is a lot to be said for that.”
Johnson was always a fan favorite, carrying the banner for Dodge and Mopar throughout his career. On the track, his only regrets were never winning the U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis and the Thunder Valley Nationals at his home Bristol Dragway.
Still, he made history at Bristol, losing in the 2012 final to Mike Edwards in the closest drag race in NHRA history. But Bristol is where Johnson started racing and where he won a first major race in the Sportsman ranks. After his retirement celebration, Johnson rode with fans on the BMS Express school bus around Bristol Dragway and the rest of the Speedway in Lights route.
He’s enjoying retirement so far, even with the idea of not being at the track.
“I’ve plenty to keep me busy,” he said. “I’ve got great people to help me with the stores, but I’m there a lot more than I have been in a while. I’ve got a couple of horses and farm equipment I’m fiddling with. I will usually work in the office until lunch or up about 1:30, and then I will go and work on the other stuff that helps me relax. So far, it has been fun.”