Brainerd: Kurt Johnson preview

Kurt Johnson Hopes for a Smooth Ride in Brainerd ACDelco Cavalier driver looks to win in routine fashion after eventful final-round run in '03 Sugar Hill, Ga., August 9, 2004 - As the NHRA's POWERade Drag Racing Series returns to action this...

Kurt Johnson Hopes for a Smooth Ride in Brainerd
ACDelco Cavalier driver looks to win in routine fashion after eventful final-round run in '03

Sugar Hill, Ga., August 9, 2004 - As the NHRA's POWERade Drag Racing Series returns to action this weekend in Brainerd, MN, Pro Stock standout Kurt Johnson cannot help but look back on his unusual experience from a year ago, where he overcame a series of unusual challenges to power his way to a runner-up finish. As they return for this year's running of the Lucas Oil Nationals, Johnson and his ACDelco Racing team are ready to enjoy a normal weekend of racing, ending, of course, with their Cavalier in the Brainerd International Raceway winner's circle.

"We went through a bunch of hills and valleys last year," recalled Johnson. "Even though we overcame just about everything and made it to the final round, we look back on last year's Brainerd race as one we should have won. However, that experience has simply made us more determined heading into this year's race, and the ACDelco crew is planning on completing the winning picture this weekend."

Johnson's 2003 adventures had started on Thursday, when, as part of General Motors Service and Parts Operations' Employee Day in Grand Blanc, MI, he joined band members Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley to unveil the ACDelco/KISS Cavalier he would drive later in the season. Immediately after, he headed to Detroit to catch a late afternoon flight to Minneapolis, but soon found himself stranded by the massive power outage that blanketed the Northeast, which forced him to spend the night in the airport.

Arriving at Brainerd International Raceway moments before the first qualifying session, Johnson soon found his problems were not yet behind him. On his second attempt on Friday evening, a fastener fell out of his race car's dashboard, allowing it to fly up and obstruct his view when he hit the throttle. Undeterred, Johnson fought through the run to post the quickest elapsed time and top speed of the weekend and claim the No. 1 qualifying position.

Incredibly, yet another problem surfaced on race day. Since his arrival in Minnesota, Johnson had been dealing with a severe pain in his lower back, the result of his restless night on the floor of the airport terminal. On Sunday, however, this affliction extended into his left leg, making it difficult for him to drive. Once again, he responded to the challenge by focusing on the task at hand, and left on every driver he faced in eliminations, missing what would have been a fairy tale win by three thousandths of a second. That single omission is something the team looks to correct this weekend, as the second-generation racer looks to score his third national event win in his home state.

"We had our worst run of the entire weekend in the final, and it cost us by three thousandths of a second," said Johnson. "But that was last year, and we're focused on what lies ahead. Fortunately, we can take our notes and apply it to the track this year, which should have our ACDelco Cavalier in pretty good shape.

"We've been a little off in the last few races, which you somewhat expect after the strong stretch we had been on for the last couple years. But we're hungry to get back to the top, and have been working hard on a few things since the last race, incorporating some new parts to pick up the pace. The preliminary indications have us excited to get back on track.

"Finally, having been born in Minnesota, this will be somewhat of a homecoming. But, to be honest, although it will be nice to have some family and friends in the stands cheering for us, we're not here for a reunion. We're here to win."

Facts on Kurt Johnson and the ACDelco Racing Team entering the Lucas Oil Nationals:

* KJ in Brainerd: This will be Kurt's 12th appearance at Brainerd International Raceway, where he has two wins in three final round appearances, and an 21-9 elimination round record.

* One year ago: Kurt captured the 22nd No. 1 qualifying performance of his career with his 6.876-second, 201.01 mph run, and powered to his seventh final round of the 2003 season.

* BIR Record Holder: Kurt holds the Brainerd International Raceway top speed record at 201.101 mph, which he set in qualifying one year ago.

* Winning percentage: Kurt's .645 elimination round winning percentage (372-207) ranks 10th among all active NHRA professional drivers.

* National event wins: Kurt's 28 national event victories ties him for 14th on the all-time NHRA professional win list, and tie him for fourth on the all-time Pro Stock win list. Kurt's most recent win came at this year's Checker Schuck's Kragen Nationals in Phoenix, AZ.

* Career best elapsed time: 6.716 seconds, Englishtown, NJ. 2003

* Career best top speed: 206.61 mph, Englishtown, NJ. 2003

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Series NHRA
Drivers Kurt Johnson