Hard to believe, but just last year, Team 4 was billed as the Unknowns. And when talking to Full Throttle owner Ron Johnston, you get the feeling that he would prefer to drive under the radar. Of course, that all changed on opening night when they upset Orange Crush in the first round and went on to the finals against Reckoning.
Now as Team 4 enters its second season, they show no signs of slowing down or encountering any sort of sophomore slump. In fact, while all the other teams are shuffling around and making numerous roster changes, Full Throttle is fielding the exact same lineup as last season. It’s Johnston, Levi Turnbaugh, Pete Millette Junior, and Jay Van Allen with support from demo veterans like Guppy Cleveland, Toad Paradowski, Phil Johnston, Andy Fleischmann, and many others. Johnston said, “They are a big reason we were where we were last year. They strip and help build so the only thing left is for us to drive them.”
Driver Turnbaugh feels that the fact that the team has stayed intact “will give us an edge as we are a true team.” He added, “I like racing on Team 4 because I’m with Ron and we do well together both on and off the track.” In another sign of the team’s harmonious nature, Johnston delegated the selection of Full Throttle’s beauty car theme to Turnbaugh. Not surprisingly, the self-proclaimed “metal head” went with “Destroy Everything” by Hatebreed.
While a family like atmosphere prevails down at Camp D, one can’t help but be reminded of another sort of “family” when talking to Johnston. He’s a bit like the “Paulie” character in “Goodfellas” when it comes to his methods of managing his team and obtaining cars. Like Paulie, this card-carrying Union carpenter commands respect and seems to have connections all around the Joliet area.
Johnston noted that his grandfather helped found Carpenters 174 Union in Joliet and between his grandfather, dad, uncle, and Johnston; they have about 50 years of union experience under their tool belts.
Johnston’s family ties also factored into his decision to race demo cars. He recalled, “In 2003 my uncle Pete Millette Senior got very badly burned torching a demo car. He was racing for Damage Inc. at the time and he knew I had been itching to get in a car for two years so he sold me all his equipment and the rest is history.” Moving to the present day, Johnston was quick to thank Team Demo Owner Sherri Hackenast for her support of Full Throttle and the sport in general.
While Johnston is not hesitant about touting his family’s achievements, he is much cagier when it comes to scoring cars for the team. He said,“ this is something we try not to expose too much” but allowed that it is a matter of “getting there first and not waiting before it’s too late.” He’s already gotten a jump on a few hard-to-find vehicles including a 1973 Torino wagon and a 1973 Mercury Marquis.
There’s no denying that it costs some dough to run a demo team and Johnston seems to have mastered the art of making money off scrap. He said, “It’s all about how you scrap and move things to keep going. For instance, I go and I buy a Dodge Shadow for a hundred dollars and when I get done with it, I make $400.”
In a nod to the scrappy nature of the team, Turnbaugh said, “really we are fighting a battle that’s between junkyards with no backing from a junkyard at all. Like seeing a team show up with 18 cars is just crazy.” He added, “We are Vietnam fighting tanks with bow and arrows. But like Vietnam we are dug in hard and ready for anything.”
It probably comes as no surprise that field general Johnston ranks “meeting and beating Orange Crush” as last season’s biggest accomplishment. But the low point came on the third night when Full Throttle lost to Stranglehold in the first round. Johnston concedes that it “was very sad and we should have won.”
While Johnston is a diehard Cubs fan, he does not believe in waiting until next year. With the 2012 demolition derby season just around the corner, Johnston’s goal is to “stay focused on the championship and not lose first round at all.”