By Darren Reese
Athletes at the pinnacle of their sport know no offseason.
That certainly holds true for Allen Johnson, who is coming off his first-ever championship in the NHRA Pro Stock Division last season.
The Greeneville native has found little down time since wrapping up the title in the season-ending race at Pomona, California back in November.
From good-will efforts, to sponsor obligations, to preparing to defend his title in 2013, Johnson has found this offseason to be the busiest of his career.
He returned last week from a five-day testing session at the Bradenton Motorsports Park in Florida.
"The race literally never ends," said Johnson, as he took time after a local public appearance to offer a glimpse of what the past two months have been like for him.
"It's like a business. Mopar and Chrysler have had a lot of stuff going on for us to do because of the championship. We have media obligations. We have to get ready for next year. There is just so much to be done. And this year, there was probably three or four times as many things as in years past."
The 53-year-old Johnson is coming off by far his most successful season at drag racing's highest level.
He won seven events in 2012, nearly doubling the nine career victories he entered the season with. He made 11 final-round appearances and recorded 10 No. 1 qualifying positions. He set career bests in both time and speed.
Despite the fact that he's been on the circuit for the better part of two decades now, he admits that he feels a little pressure to back up last year's successes.
"Going into this next season, it's a different feeling than I have ever had," Johnson said. "It's almost like I am...I don't know...a little bit scared that we can't back it up."
"But in another way, I know that we have already put that season behind us and it's back to work as usual. But, yes, it's a little bit of a different feeling."
But in truth, the work never actually stopped. Johnson's father and engine builder, Roy, and the Johnson and Johnson Racing Team have been hard at work with their sights set on 2013 even before they had a chance to fully enjoy the realization of a dream several decades in the making.
The demands for Johnson's time have been coming from a variety of places, from Dodge engineers, Goodyear tires, the team's own show, and from other parts manufacturers wanting him to test new products.
That's why the team has been to Florida for two testing sessions and will go through another one in the week leading up to the February 14-17 season opener at Pomona.
"We know when we go each day what we will be testing," Johnson said. "We go to make comparison from what we were running against what this new thing is. And you usually have to go through it several times to prove it. Because we are only talking about thousandths of a second."
And then there are the obligations off the track.
Johnson will head to Chrystler headquarters in Detroit next week for an employee appreciation day
But despite all of this, Johnson has taken time out of his hectic schedule for the things that are most important to him in life - family and charities.
Late last year, he visited the Children's National Medical Center in Washington D.C. There, he met Hayden Boerum, a 5-year-old who suffers from a rare blood disease, histiocytosis.
Johnson immediately asked NHRA fans to visit the National Marrow Donor Program and learn about they can make a difference for kids like Hayden.
And just this past week, he stopped by Green Valley Developmental Center to sign autographs and take pictures for the residents there.
"This championship has allowed me to be in this spotlight, so why not use it to help causes that are really important," he said. "You know, we can use the media outlets and the racing championships help tees people out. I am really humbled to be able to do this."
Johnson has also spent time watching his grandkids play basketball, and he and wife, Pam, made a trip to Florida for a little rest and relaxation.