DENVER, Colo., July 22, 2001 - Warren Johnson made motorsports history today by capturing his 86th career victory at the 22nd annual Mile-High Nationals at Bandimere Speedway. The win moves him ahead of the great Bob Glidden into first place on the NHRA's all-time list for victories by a Pro Stock driver.
"This win is a testament to our entire program," said Johnson. "There are no guarantees in this sport, you're only as good as your last race. An hour from now, we'll put our nose to the grindstone, try and figure out how we won this race, and how we're going to attack Seattle, Sonoma and the rest of the season."
Coming into this race, it had been 10 years since the five-time Winston champion had won at this scenic mountainside facility. The Pro Stock senior statesman made sure he was ready for this season's mile-high challenge and tested for three days here prior to the event.
"It's probably been three or four years since we last tested at this place," said Johnson. "We felt it was in our own best interest to get our Grand Am up here ahead of time, that way if there was a curveball thrown our way we'd be able to handle it."
The "Professor" came out of the blocks strong during the crucial Friday-night qualifying session driving the GM Goodwrench Service Plus Pontiac Grand Am to the No. 3 starting position, posting a track-record top speed of 189.71 mph.
During Sunday's eliminations Johnson defeated Mark Pawuk in round one, Vieri Gaines in round two and Mike Edwards in round three, before facing son Kurt in the final round.
Johnson posted performance numbers during the first three sessions of 7.310ET/189.02MPH, 7.335ET/188.60MPH and 7.352ET/188.31MPH. In the finals, WJ's Grand Am launched first and held off Kurt's Cavalier, crossing the finish line in 7.347 seconds at 188.28 mph. Kurt crossed the stripe in 7.335 seconds at 188.73 mph.
"Sure it means something to get the win against Kurt," said Johnson. "He stumbled in the middle of the season, but has kept his nose to the grindstone and is beginning o come on."
In addition to his 86th career victory, Johnson picked up his third-career win at Bandimere Speedway and his fifth victory of the season in five final rounds. It also marked the seventh win of the season for Grand Am, the most of any of the competing Pro Stock brands in 2001.
With second-place Jim Yates losing in round two to Mike Edwards, Warren Johnson expands his point lead to 112 points.
"It's better to be in the points lead than to try and catch up," said Johnson. "At the same time we can't rest on our laurels. We have to remember how we got here and then expand on that. Hopefully that'll be productive for the balanced of the season.
"I've never considered myself a driver. Making these things run and the mechanical end of it is what I enjoy. The driving just went with the territory. We've been adequate, nothing outstanding but that's just the way it is."
Funny Car driver Bob Gilbertson drove his FMTV Pontiac Firebird to the final round before losing to points leader John Force. Gilbertson's Pontiac ran consistent numbers all afternoon during the first three sessions but slowed to a 8.834 elapsed time in the championship heat. Force won the race with a 5.225 second run at 288.39 mph.
"I had a clear view ahead of me and then it started to go away," said Gilbertson. "It put some cylinders out and began going sideways. I kissed the wall just barely on the left rear corner of the car. It's unfortunate because we ran well today, and Force was vulnerable but my team did an excellent job."
Whit Bazemore and Bruce Sarver drove their Firebirds into the second round before exiting Funny Car eliminations. Bazemore was the No. 1 qualifier coming into today's contest and Sarver started from the No. 3 position. Bazemore fell to Dean Skuza while Sarver lost to Ron Capps.
"Our Pontiac Firebird went down the track on every lap doing pretty much what we had it tuned to do," explained Sarver. "We had it tuned up to run anywhere from 4.99 to 5-flat on that run. After seeing the cars in front of us smoke the tires, we choked it down for that area where other cars were having problems. We made it through there but the car wasn't carrying enough momentum to get over the transition and it spun the tires. Ron (Capps) just flat outran us.
"The good news is that we moved into second place in the points. It's a tough battle there for that second position with us, Whit (Bazemore) and Del (Worsham) all within a handful of points of each other. We have a handle on this racecar it's just a matter of getting a little luck to go our way."
In the Sportsman categories, Ernie Penner of Pembina, N.D., won in Super Stock in a '99 Firebird defeating the '98 Grand Am of Michael Tueffel.
The next stop on the NHRA Winston Drag Racing tour is the 14th annual ProLong Northwest Nationals on July 27 - 29 at Seattle International Raceway in Seattle, Wash.