In Johnny Pluchino’s first full season in PDRA Liberty’s Gears Extreme Pro Stock competition, he won four of six races on the PDRA tour, claiming enough points to secure the 2020 world championship. He drove the same Strutmasters.com ’13 Ford Mustang that his father, John Pluchino, drove to win the championship in 2016.
Pluchino kicked off the 2020 season with his first-ever win in a Pro Stock car at the East Coast Nationals presented by FuelTech at GALOT Motorsports Park. It’s where he first realized he might have a shot at the championship.
“I was on top of the world,” Pluchino said. “After the first race, that was it. We were winning the championship. That was it. It was over. I was like, ‘We won the first race. We’re good. We got this. Let’s just keep it up. We have really good horsepower. I won the last two years in 632, we’re good.’ That’s what I thought after that race.”
The two-time PDRA Pro Outlaw 632 world champion was humbled at the very next race, the Carolina Showdown presented by ProCharger at Darlington Dragway, where JR Carr put together a wire-to-wire victory. Pluchino went .006 red when he faced Carr in the semifinals, as Carr was almost a tenth quicker than Pluchino in the first round.
“We went to Darlington and JR Carr was so fast that I thought we were done,” Pluchino said. “I went from the first race saying, ‘We’re good,’ to leaving Darlington and saying, ‘We’re done.’”
After Darlington, the Pluchinos went testing with their Kaase-powered Mustang and in just two runs left testing with a car they felt could contend for the championship.
Pluchino went on to win the next two races, defeating Carr in the final round of the Proline Racing Mid-Atlantic Showdown presented by Frederick Line-X at Virginia Motorsports Park. He then beat Carr on a holeshot in the semifinals of the Summer Shootout presented by Callies at VMP before using another holeshot advantage to knock down Chris Powers in the final round.
“If you want to win, you have to do your job [on the starting line] at those times and it doesn’t just mean leaving with the guy and if you outrun him, you win,” Pluchino said. “It means on those close rounds where you’re going to be within a hundredth or two of the other guy, you have to let the clutch out first. To do it against extremely tough competitors, and to do it multiple times, was rewarding.”
The stars aligned just as Pluchino needed to at the fifth of six races on tour, DragWars presented by Modern Racing at GALOT. Carr went out in the first round, while Pluchino cruised to his third consecutive victory. The points were calculated, and a couple days after the race Pluchino was declared the 2020 PDRA Liberty’s Gears Extreme Pro Stock world champion.
“Once it was announced and it was official, it was an amazing feeling,” Pluchino said, “especially if I look back at the mindset I had. Maybe it was 15 years ago, I’d say, ‘Man, I wish one day that we would be able to get a car together and qualify with these Mountain Motor Pro Stock guys.’ Now I’m running against the some of the same drivers and crew chiefs that I was watching race in the mid-2000s. I’m able to say my rookie season as a Pro Stock racer I was able to lead the championship chase and collect it.”
Pluchino went red in the opening round of eliminations at the Proline Racing Brian Olson Memorial World Finals at VMP, but he ended the season with the quickest car he had all year, qualifying No. 2 with a 4.02.
Looking ahead at 2021, Pluchino will continue to pursue the goals he and his father set when the elder Pluchino began his Mountain Motor Pro Stock career in 2007.
“I think that at the end of my racing career, I’m going to look at what my dad and I accomplished together as the most special part of it all,” Pluchino said. “For us to go out there, compete against teams who are put together because they are the best in the business, and for us to go out there against them and do what we have done, it’s incredible. I would find it special if we could just run with them. To carry the number one multiple seasons – and we’re not done yet – it’s a pretty great feeling.”
The 2021 PDRA season will begin April 8-10 at GALOT Motorsports Park in Benson, N.C.