Michael Johnson Associate Editor
January 1, 2004
Photos By: Steve Turner
The car still wears its original paint, with graphics laid down by Joey Huston. Joe noticed Joey's painting prowess while at a car show in Branson, Missouri. Joe rolled his car out of the trailer and Joey went to work. For 2004, Joe may have the car reclearcoated, but the paint scheme will remain the same. The body of this coupe remains close to stock, save for a cowl hood and the requisite Weld Racing big 'n' littles with Mickey Thompson shoes out back.

Horse Sense: Brian Booze won the '02 Edelbrock Hot Street championship in Joe Johnston's coupe by just 70 points over defending champion Billy Laskowsky. For 2003, Billy moved up to Super Street Outlaw. Interestingly, this car may be following in Billy's footsteps.

We had planned to run a feature on this car more than a year ago when it was tearing up NMRA's Hot Street class and taking the championship over '01 champion Billy Laskowsky. However, car owner Joe Johnston, crew chief Tommy Zdancewitz of TRZ Motorsports, and championship driver Brian Booze are busy men, and we couldn't pin them down long enough to get any info out of them. So the photos just hung out until we were able to get the story back on schedule for this issue. Staying busy is a trait this trio holds on to. At the time of this writing, Joe was in Hawaii on business and to celebrate his 25th wedding anniversary, Brian had a new baby at home, and Tommy Z was at TRZ Motorsports suspending some of the fastest drag cars in the country.

So how did this trio get together? Well, Joe owned this car and was building it for Hot Street. He contacted Kuntz and Company for an engine combo for the '02 NMRA season. He also needed a driver for the Bradenton race as he didn't have time to test the car prior to the opener. Jim Kuntz recommended he contact Brian Booze, a perennial NMCA Pro Nostalgia champion in his own '62 Galaxie nicknamed "Pale Rider." Brian won back-to-back Pro Nostalgia champion-ships in 2000 and 2001.

Of course, with the financial backing and a proven driver, the only component left to make it a trio was a crew chief. That's where Tommy Z came in. Tommy had done most of the chassis work on the car, and he and Joe became good friends. Joe asked Tommy if he wanted to go racing with them and he agreed. Joe now had himself a well-qualified crew chief.

Initially, Joe figured Brian would campaign the car at Bradenton, and then he would take over the reins. Content with watching Brian drive the car, Joe found out that NMRA points go with the driver, not the car. He and Brian agreed that Brian should drive the car the entire season.

When we took these photos at the '02 NMRA World Finals at Bowling Green, Kentucky, the engine was a Kuntz and Company 400. For 2003, that combo received titanium rods and a few other performance tweaks. However, a mechanical problem set the team back until midyear, which meant they were out of the hunt for repeating as Hot Street champions. Not to worry, the car now boasts a Super Street Outlaw turbo/Powerglide combination between the rails for a possible run at Super Street Outlaw for 2004.

Helping Joe make that decision was the way the car performed with Brian behind the wheel. Brian qualified in the fourth spot at Bradenton, just a tenth off the time of top-qualifier Billy Laskowsky. He went a few rounds and posted 9.40s throughout the weekend. At the next event at Reynolds, Georgia, Brian qualified fifth and ended up in the finals where he was unable to stop Billy Laskowsky. Consistent 9.40s and the occasional 9.30 pass finally gave Brian his first NMRA victory at Columbus, beating Shane Long, Kurt Neighbor, and Ed "The Frog" Kowalczyk in the process.

Brian followed up that victory with another strong showing at Maple Grove, qualifying third and barely missing a final-round appearance at the hands of Scott Budisalich. At Atco, New Jersey, Brian was set to blow his fellow Hot Streeters off the map with a top-spot, 9.23/149-mph blast. However, instead of a second victory, the finals resulted in mechanical problems. At the NMRA finals at Bowling Green, Kentucky, Brian qualified second, but his weekend ended in the third round at the hands of Who Killed Kenny Compton.

But all was not lost, as Brian did in the NMRA what he had done in the NMCA-win a championship. That's right, in the trio's first full season they won a Hot Street championship by combining strong qualifying efforts, going rounds, and getting a victory and setting a record along the way.

We took it for granted that we would again see the three men at the front of the pack in 2003, but that didn't happen. During the winter of 2002, the car was taken apart and readied for a new engine combo. Tommy installed ladder bars on the car, but the trio was still putting the car together at the Bradenton opener. A mechanical problem threw the team for a loop until they discovered the fix after Columbus. By that time, a repeat was out of reach.