Back In The Saddle – Former Pro Stock Legends In Dodge Challengers Dominate The NHRA Midwest Nats

While Dodge//SRT® driver Matt Hagan was ripping up the Funny Car field in his Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat at the NHRA Midwest Nationals just outside St. Louis in Madison, Illinois, a pair of Challengers and their legendary drivers made some big time history in their respective Sportsman categories. This past weekend’s racing showed the world once again that the dominance of Chrysler’s HEMI® V8 engine – in door slammer classes and in the right hands – is a force to be reckoned with. That was the case at the NHRA Midwest Nationals as Allen Johnson climbed into Geoff Turk’s ‘BLACKBIRD X’ Challenger and won the Factory X class while another former Pro Stock ace, Mark Pawuk, drove his 2021 Challenger to victory in the Factory Stock Showdown category. At one time, both of these former professional drivers were treated like rockstars by fans while doing numerous appearances and autograph sessions to appease million-dollar sponsors. Now, they’re out of retirement, going rounds and still winning races. 

For Allen Johnson, the 2012 NHRA Pro Stock World Champ, fate would bring him out of retirement and back into a fast HEMI-powered race car. Specifically, it was a pre-season test accident at Beech Bend Motorsports Park in BLACKBIRD X with Geoff Turk behind the wheel. He suffered what appeared to be minor injuries but later turned out to be massive as Turk had serious brain bleeds. He was banged up enough to have to hang up his helmet and Nomex driving suit for a while. While Turk and his crew (including his wife Jena Turk, Dave Zientara, and many others) feverously worked to repair the wounded BLACKBIRD X, Turk reached out to someone with some serious racing credentials who could take over the controls – Allen Johnson.

“After Geoff’s crash, he reached out to me. I knew him from before when my father (Roy) and I were racing in the Factory Stock Showdown class with a Drag Pak supplied by Jeff and Frank Teuton of Southland Dodge. When we heard about the new NHRA Factory X class, it piqued my and my dad’s interest,” said Johnson. “When Geoff (Turk) had his testing accident a while back and his doctors told him couldn’t drive a race car again, he began asking around for who would be a good driver to handle his BLACKBIRD X Challenger. Apparently, many folks recommended me, so I got the call and my father and I went to the test sessions after the car got rebuilt.”

With Allen Johnson, he was like a fish in water and after a few passes in the car, he was ready to do battle again on the quarter mile. “We had issues at the first NHRA Factory X race which was the US Nationals and lost round one. We then headed Charlotte, redeemed ourselves, and were runner-up. We figured out what the Challenger wanted and I also getting more comfortable in the car as the last time I raced was back in 2017 in my Pro Stock Dodge Dart,” noted Johnson. “While at St. Louis for the NHRA Midwest Nationals, we made some weight and chassis adjustments and the car ended up going over 200 miles per hour on a qualifying pass and the team collected $10,000 for being the first in the JESEL FX 200 MPH Club. I knew it was on a good run and when I turned off the track, Geoff (Turk) called me on the radio to let me know what it ran. I smiled and replied back to him, ‘It finally feels like a race car!’ and was laughing.”

During Sunday’s eliminations, Johnson, Turk and the rest of the crew went to work getting the BLACKBIRD X Challenger dialed in, and on the final Factory X run Johnson defeated Chris Holbrook’s Mustang with an awesome pass of 7.105 seconds at over 202 mph to score the class win. “I haven’t won a national event in a Sportsman class for decades but this win ranks right up there with all my NHRA Pro Stock Wally Trophies” smiled Johnson. 

While Johnson was doing his thing over on the new Factory X class, Mark Pawuk was cutting down the competition over in the Factory Stock Showdown ranks. As with Johnson, Pawuk is also a seasoned Pro Stock veteran with six NHRA national events to his credit. He came out of retirement a few years ago to get into drag racing part-time, and the Factory Stock Showdown class with its heads-up format suits his needs perfectly. Pawuk’s weekend in St. Louis began by snagging the number one qualifying spot with a 7.712-second run, marking the fourth time this season he’s been on pole. When it came to eliminations, Pawuk wasn’t taking any prisoners. By round two, he blistered the track with an incredible 7.583-second run at over 182 mph to rewrite the Factory Stock Showdown record books and pocket $1,000 for the Flexjet Factory Stock Showdown Bounty Program. With Pawuk in the zone and his Drag Pak running fast, he entered the final after five rounds. His crew dialed the car back slightly, and he defeated the COPO Camaro of Stephen Bell with a 7.665-second run to Bell’s 7.688. 

“It’s been a long time, and I finally got another Wally,” said Pawuk, who began the Pawuk Family Team in 2023. “That’s the reason I came back to the sport. It was a really great weekend for my entire team. We had a really great hot rod all day. It’s just unbelievable and pretty cool. It’s one the fans can relate to with all of the different manufacturers, especially Dodge. We’ve been working so hard with many folks like Ray Barton Racing Engines, David Barton and my son Kyle, who have all contributed to the success we’ve been having. It’s a team effort and I also have support from many friends, including Mike Valerio, as he’s been a big asset to my race program along with Enerco/Mr. Heater who have been my longest sponsor going back to my Pro Stock days.” 

NHRA Midwest Nationals

For Pawuk, his next outing with his Challenger Drag Pak competing in the Flexjet Factory Stock Showdown competition will be the NHRA Texas Fall Nationals at the Texas Motorplex outside of Dallas October 12-15. As for Allen Johnson, he and Geoff Turk are readying the afterburners on BLACKBIRD X for its next flight scheduled during the NHRA Nevada Nationals October 26-29. 

Don’t expect these two seasoned veterans to be slowing down anytime soon!