July 17, 2013 Updated: July 17, 2013 at 8:05 pm
Allen Johnson holds a special place for Morrison's Bandimere Speedway, and for good reason.
"My first taste of any success was in Denver at the Mopar Mile-High Nationals," the reigning NHRA Pro Stock world champion said Wednesday. "I won the first round and almost won another. That was back in 1996."
Three years later, the 53-year-old Greeneville, Tenn., racer won his first race and gradually ascended the ranks as an elite pro stock drag racer at the wheel of his Mopar-backed Dodge Avenger. Prior to his breakthrough in 2012 as world champion, Johnson raced to victory at his sponsor's event in 2007 and 2009-10 and will seek yet more success in Bandimere when this year's Mopar Mile-High Nationals start their three-day run Friday.
"Winning makes you want to win," Johnson said. "And winning teaches you how to win. It teaches you maybe not to go for the jugular in every single run. It makes you step back and take a look at the situation and work smarter instead of harder."
As a result of his success, Johnson hit the media circuit like never before, conducting radio and television interviews early Wednesday, followed by appearances at private and public functions that had him struggling to remember the day of the week.
But he doesn't lose sight of his purpose and said reaching the pinnacle of the drag racing world hasn't changed him one bit.
"That's our responsibility of being a champion, and I enjoy it," Johnson said. "That's part of it. I'm still the same old country boy. I'll get in there and duke it out every single race."
Johnson only has to look down at his right hand to see another reminder of the struggles, near-misses and triumphs that led to racing to the pinnacle of his sport - a world championship ring.
And he's hoping to wear it beyond this year if he has anything to say about it.
"I wear it every day, and I'll continue until I get dethroned," Johnson said. "Hopefully, I won't take it off for another year. When I look at it, the biggest thing is what we've accomplished as a family. My dad (Roy), my team and others have worked a lot of years for it."
Spending a few days back in the Rocky Mountains brings back plenty of cherished memories for Johnson. Besides his victories on the track, Johnson spends the year looking forward to starting his Western run living the mountain life.
Retiring in Colorado? Not so fast.
"I've lived in Tennessee all my life, but this place has always been one of my favorites," Johnson said. "If I was going to move somewhere, this would be a place I'd consider."
34TH MOPAR MILE-HIGH NATIONALS
Where: Bandimere Speedway, Morrison
TV: 8 p.m. Saturday and 4 p.m. Sunday, ESPN2 (delayed tape).
Qualifying: Friday, 5:15 p.m. and 7:15 p.m. and Saturday, 1:45 p.m. and 4:45 p.m.
Final eliminations: Sunday, 11 a.m.
Tickets: 800-664-8946 or bandimere.com