Brainerd: GM Racing preview

Warren Johnson Has A Brand New Pontiac GTO Six-Time NHRA Champ Will Race GTO This Weekend At BIR BRAINERD, Minn., August 9, 2005 - Since returning to his race shop in Sugar Hill, Ga., following a strong performance on the just...

Warren Johnson Has A Brand New Pontiac GTO
Six-Time NHRA Champ Will Race GTO This Weekend At BIR

BRAINERD, Minn., August 9, 2005 - Since returning to his race shop in Sugar Hill, Ga., following a strong performance on the just completed three-race Western Swing, GM Performance Parts Pontiac driver Warren Johnson has been hard at work preparing his new GTO for this weekend's Lucas Oil Nationals at Brainerd International Raceway. Putting in 18-hour days is nothing new or unusual for the six-time NHRA Pro Stock champion, it's just a way of life for the 62-year-old veteran competitor in a never-ending quest for excellence on the racetrack.

Adjusting to the unpredictable conditions of competing in north central Minnesota in late summer, especially with a new racecar at 1,200 feet of altitude, is never an easy task, but Johnson is a native of the region and has more than 30 years of racing experience to call upon.

"It's (Brainerd) always been just a little bit different," said Johnson. "You take the atmospheric conditions that you're dealt and you can usually predict within less than a hundredth of a second what you should run. We've always been off both at Columbus and Brainerd. Whether it was the track condition that was causing it before, or what, we have never been able to run the number we feel we should be able to. With the track being resurfaced a couple of years ago, and having at least one good winter for it to age, the track should be plenty adequate. Now it's just a matter of adapting to the atmospheric conditions.

"The racetrack really doesn't matter. Probably the only one I wouldn't want to introduce a new car on is Denver because it is so significantly different as far as horsepower level that you're dealing with and that may throw you a curveball. Any other track, though, is probably pretty safe to introduce a new car on."

Taking advantage of every available minute, team members from WJ Enterprises quickly descended upon the Jerry Haas-constructed GTO as soon as it arrived at Johnson's shop last Monday. The current timetable is to do some preliminary testing on the GM Performance Parts Pontiac later this week before making the final trek north to Minnesota.

"Jerry had the car here Monday afternoon," said Johnson. "It's' a typical new racecar, it takes about two weeks worth of reworking it so that you can make it into a real racecar. We'll probably go to St. Louis on the way to Brainerd and test it on Wednesday. Once you get the mechanical part of it so that everything is correct, usually it doesn't take but a day at the racetrack, at least to get it so that it launches straight and runs the middle of the track without wandering around too much. It has to be mechanically sound first before you bring it out, and then it's just a matter of working out the shocks, springs, and weight distribution after that.

"We took our new Grand Am, made four hits on it before Pomona, and qualified No. 2 with it right off the bat - it wasn't that far off. I don't see this GTO being much different because it's basically the same chassis other than the fact a few things are moved around because the body envelope is different. If the aero numbers are correct from the wind-tunnel tests that have been done, at least on the plug, it should definitely be faster downtrack."

Together with son Kurt, the Johnson-and-Johnson team combined for two wins, a runner-up and a raceday pole during the recent Western Swing (including the elder Johnson's 95th career victory at Denver), and both drivers are now in the thick of the 2005 championship hunt.

"Not too bad overall," said Johnson. "We won two of the three races, nobody swept it, so we're looking to be in pretty good shape. We're in the same basic position as when we left on the Western Swing, so we didn't hardly lose any ground. Overall it was a decent swing for us."

With 15 races of the 23-event POWERade schedule already in the bank, Johnson enters the Lucas Oil Nationals in second place in the Pro Stock standings, just 50 points behind first-place Greg Anderson in a championship battle that has already seen 11 lead changes. So far this season, Johnson has driven the GM Performance Parts Pontiac to three national-event victories at Houston, Bristol and Denver, posted two runners-up at Pomona (Calif.) and Englishtown (N.J.) and has been No. 1 qualifier five times (Houston, Las Vegas, Atlanta, Columbus, Chicago). Johnson is hoping to pick up his first victory at Brainerd since 1996, a race he's won four times (1984, 1993, 1995-96).

"Certainly we are where we want to be," said Johnson. "Obviously we would like to be way out in front of the pack, but with the number of good cars that you have out there, any one of the 16 cars that qualify almost has an equivalent chance of winning because top to bottom in qualifying is so close."

Pre-event Notes:

. The most recent NHRA Manufacturer's Cup standings released on August 5, show Pontiac in first place with 2,240 points. Dodge is second with 1,600 points and Chevrolet is third with 1,220. GM-branded Pro Stock cars (Chevrolet and Pontiac) have won 14 races this year, advanced to 27 final rounds, captured 13 poles, run low e.t. of the meet 14 times and set top speed 13 times.

. Greg Anderson captured his fourth win of the season at the Fram Autolite Nationals at Infineon Raceway on July 31, adding the celebrated name of GTO to the legacy of great Pontiacs that have won an NHRA Pro Stock national event. Anderson defeated the red-hot Kurt Johnson in an all-GM final to give the GTO its first of what promises to be many victories for the legendary nameplate in NHRA Pro Stock competition. It was also the 154th all-time win for Pontiac in the category, the most by any manufacturer in the history of the sport.

. Of the 154 wins in a Pontiac by a Pro Stock driver, Warren Johnson leads the pack with 43, Greg Anderson is second with 33 and Jim Yates is third with 24.

. Although Kurt Johnson came up just a blink of an eye shy of making his own trek to the winner's circle at Sonoma, the ACDelco Chevy Cobalt driver nailed down career round win number 400 with his semifinal victory over Dave Connolly. Johnson joins Bob Glidden and Warren Johnson as the only NHRA Pro Stock drivers to reach that milestone.

. Anderson leads the POWERade Pro Stock standings in a Pontiac GTO with 1,147 points. Warren Johnson is in second place in a Pontiac with 1,097 points. ACDelco Chevy Cobalt driver Kurt Johnson has moved all the way to third place and is within 94 points of the top of the leader board. Jason Line (Pontiac) is fourth with 1,032 points and Dave Connolly (Chevy Cobalt) with 1,002 points. Ron Krisher (Chevy Cobalt) is sixth with 755 points, Greg Stanfield (Chevrolet) is eighth with 724 and Jim Yates (Pontiac) is in 10th place with 701.

. Maybe there is something in the water, or maybe it's just the rugged winter terrain, but the first four drivers in the NHRA Pro Stock standings all hail from a geographical triangle in the same part of northern Minnesota, with each point separated by approximately 60 miles. Warren and Kurt Johnson, who are second and third in the standings are originally from Virginia, Minn. Leader Greg Anderson was born and grew up in Duluth, Minn., and fourth-place Jason Lane is from the town of Wright, Minn.

. Among active Pro Stock drivers, Warren Johnson and Bruce Allen are tied for the most victories at Brainerd International Raceway with four. Johnson scored his wins in 1984, 1993, and 1995-96, and Allen visited the winner's circle in 1987, 1989, 1990 and 2001. Kurt Johnson is a two-time winner at BIR (1997, 2000) while Greg Anderson (2003), Dave Connolly (2004) and Jim Yates (1994) have won once.

. Anderson holds the BIR track-record elapsed time set last year at 6.742 seconds in a Pontiac. Steve Johns holds the top speed record, also set last year at 205.38 mph in a Chevrolet.

. Cruz Pedregon is the only current Chevy Monte Carlo Funny Car drivers to have previously won at BIR (1992). Tim Wilkerson was the No. 1 qualifier in a Chevy Monte Carlo in 2004 and set a track-record elapsed time of 4.812 seconds.

. There are currently four Chevy Monte Carlo Funny Car drivers in the top 10 of the POWERade points standings. Tommy Johnson Jr. is in fifth place with 837 points, Cruz Pedregon is eighth with 778 points, Del Worsham is ninth 723 and Tony Pedregon is 10th with 707 points. Robert Hight is in first place with 1,024 points.

Qualifying for the Lucas Oil Nationals can be seen on ESPN2 on Saturday, August 13, beginning at 6 p.m. Eastern. Final eliminations will be telecast on ESPN2 on Sunday, August 14, starting at 7 p.m. Eastern.

-gm racing-

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About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers Kurt Johnson , Warren Johnson , Tony Pedregon , Del Worsham , Greg Anderson , Ron Krisher , Bob Glidden , Cruz Pedregon , Greg Stanfield , Bruce Allen , Tim Wilkerson , Jerry Haas , Jason Lane , Robert Hight , Dave Connolly , Steve J , Tommy Johnson Jr.