TWO NORTHWEST DRAG RACING LEGENDS MADE THEIR FINAL PASS
“Gentleman” Hank Johnson. 1942-2017
It is with great sadness that we report that another Northwest Drag Racing legend has passed. Hank Johnson’s racing career saw him drive Top Fuel Dragsters, Nitro Funny Cars and he ended his career driving a Top Alcohol Funny Car. In the early days, Hank Johnson was teamed with Jim Dailey with the Dailey and Johnson front motored Top Fuel Dragster. Hank Johnson, near lane, scored his first career win when he defeated John Wiebe in the 1971 Top Fuel final at the now defunct Ontario Motor Speedway. It was the last all-front-engine Top Fuel final in history. Hank Johnson was sponsored for most of his racing career by a Seattle based Auto Parts chain called Mr. Auto Supply. Hank Johnson was the first driver to record a 5-second run at Woodburn Dragstrip at the 1977 Winston World Championship Series and was the event winner. Prayers go out to the Johnson family and friends.
The Drag Racing Community has lost a dear friend with the passing of Steve McGee. Our deepest sympathies go out to the entire McGee family.
Steve was inducted into the Northwest Division Hall of Fame in January of this year. We were lucky enough to be there when he reminisced with the Division 6 audience that Saturday evening about his days in Top Fuel and Alcohol Funny Car racing in the Pacific Northwest.
Steve McGee, who ultimately left the sport to become a café owner in Pendleton, Ore., ordered regularly from a racing menu of dragstrips and car classes throughout his career from the 1970s to the ’90s. He set West Coast records from Boise to Pomona, competing in the C Gas and A Gas categories, jumping to Top Fuel dragster, and making a real mark in the Northwest as an Alcohol Funny Car dominator.
That was a quantum leap from his teenage days, when McGee tore up the back roads near Pendleton, as aggressive as an ornery steer from the town’s famous rodeos, in hi 1949 Mercury Lead Sled. He entered that battleship with the 331-cubic-inch Chrysler Hemi engine in his first drag race and wisely dialed down to a 283-ci Chevy-powered 1940 Ford his dad helped him buy. He set both ends of the C Gas national record in that car.
After five years racing that, he opted to build for the A Gas class a 1933 Willys – this time going whole-hog with a hunkin’ 480-ci Hemi. With that, he was the man to beat across the Northwest and Western Canada for the next five seasons.
Eventually he caught the nitro bug and entered the Top Fuel ranks in the mid-1970s. In his first race, at Eugene, Ore., McGee defeated Gary Beck and Jeb Allen, both established headliners. Hard to forget from those days was the record-setting tuner-driver’s Black Beauty wedge dragster, a rare design. Unfortunately, costs then were just as burdensome, proportionately, as they are today. So McGee joined forces with buddy Norm Christiansen.
They switched to the Alcohol Funny Car division and put together a Chevy Monza that brought the lion’s share of trophies in the Northwest for another five years. In 1978, Jeff Yardley bought into the operation – which became M.C.Y. Racing – and introduced the computer age to McGee’s efforts. Back before Hot Rod Fuller had his DiGiorno sponsorship and Leah Pritchett coaxed drag-racing-enthusiast entrepreneur John Schnatter away from his Papa John’s Pizza empire and back to the dragstrip, McGee delivered in a quick Z-28 Camaro for sponsor Tom Devlin and his SunShine Pizza Exchange, out of Wilsonville, Ore. (Photo courtesy of Jim Doyle)
The media loved that sponsor. A Drag Racing magazine article from 1985 used all the same catch phrases modern journalists have done with Pritchett: a headline that screamed, “He Delivers!” and a subhead that read, “All Steve McGee Ever Needed Was A Little Bit Of Dough.” He was, by comparison, underfunded.
But no matter how anyone sliced it, McGee gave “Bad Brad” Anderson and the Northwest’s iconic Austins, the top guns of the day, an honest run for their money.
One of his proudest accomplishments was his performances in the mid-1990s with his AA/Gas class car on the Super Chevy Tour. In 1996, he won every round of racing and recorded low elapsed times and tops speeds. The history books point to 64 rounds – a record that has been challenged since but never broken.