THE KURT CHRONICLES: Kurt Johnson ACDelco News & Notes for the Colonel's Truck Accessories NHRA Nationals NEXT RACE: Colonel's Truck Accessories NHRA Nationals Brainerd International Raceway, Brainerd, Minn., August 18-20 TV: TNN, Aug. 20,...
THE KURT CHRONICLES: Kurt Johnson ACDelco News & Notes for the Colonel's Truck Accessories NHRA Nationals
Colonel's Truck Accessories NHRA Nationals
Brainerd International Raceway, Brainerd, Minn., August 18-20
TV: TNN, Aug. 20, 4:30-6 p.m. (ET)
THE TIDE TURNS
Like the currents that ebb and flow beneath the Golden Gate Bridge near Sears Point Raceway, the tide has turned for Kurt Johnson and his ACDelco Camaro. Johnson emerged from the three-race Western Swing as the top points earner among all NHRA drivers in the three professional classes that competed in Denver, Seattle, and Sonoma, Calif.
With victories in Denver and Sonoma and a semi-final finish in Sonoma, Johnson racked up 310 points on his month-long trek. He outscored Funny Car driver John Force (268 points), Top Fuel pilots Doug Kalitta and Larry Dixon (245 and 224 points respectively), and Pro Stock points leader Jeg Coughlin Jr. (222 points). Kurt started the Western Swing ranked sixth in the Pro Stock standings; he left California in fourth place, just three points behind his father Warren.
Ironically, Johnson's two victories came at tracks that are polar opposites. In the mile-high altitude of Denver, the problem is a lack of power; at sea-level Sears Point, the challenge is applying an overabundance of horsepower to the problematic pavement. Johnson solved both puzzles with adroit chassis tuning.
The Fram Autolite Nationals at Sears Point Raceway may prove to be the turning point in Johnson's 2000 campaign. Going into a crucial semi-final round match with Coughlin, Kurt knew that he had to take drastic measures to defeat Jeg's faster machine. K.J. and crew chief Jeff Perley made the decision to radically change the rear suspension. Their adjustments produced the intended results, and Kurt took the victory by less than 1/100th of a second.
"We've been gun-shy with this car," Kurt said. "We test all the time to find out what this chassis wants, but we haven't made a lot of suspension changes on race day because we were afraid to shake the tires. We had no idea whether the car was even going to go down the track in the semi-final round, but we knew that we needed more traction. I just did what I've learned to do in the last 20 years - and it worked. We can't be afraid to make a big change when the car needs a big change."
Those years of experience have also taught Johnson to savor his success while he can. "Nothing lasts forever," he observed. "Jeg had his hot streak, Ron Krisher had his, and now it's our turn. We're going to try to keep the momentum going. We've got the power to run with the best of them, but we need to make the right decisions on the setup every time the track and weather change."
Johnson has learned his lessons well in the school of hard racing knocks. "Last year we started the season with two wins, a runner-up, and three semi-final finishes in the first six races," he recalled. "I thought 1999 was going to be my championship year. Then the car started shaking and things just fell apart. Now we're finally putting it back together. If we could string together the first, second, and third parts of the season, I really think I could win the whole thing. We won ten rounds in the last three races, so that proves that we can do it."
THE PRODIGAL RACER RETURNS
Kurt Johnson will return to the land of his birth for the 16th event on the NHRA schedule, the Colonel's Truck Accessories NHRA Nationals in Brainerd, Minn., on August 18-20. Kurt was born in Virginia, Minn., and raised in the frozen North. In 1982 he emigrated with his family to the warmer climes of Georgia in pursuit of year-round racing weather.
Johnson enjoyed a triumphant homecoming in 1997 when he won the Colonel's Truck Accessories NHRA Nationals, defeating Jim Yates in the final round. In his seven career starts at BIR, Kurt has one victory and three semi-final round finishes. His best qualifying performance was last year, when he qualified second behind his father Warren.
Kurt has vivid memories of his early racing days in Minnesota. "I went with Dad to Brainerd in the '60s when the track was called Donnybrooke Speedway, and we've raced there since NHRA first ran national events at the track," he recalled.
"Not much has changed over the years. I consider Brainerd a high-altitude track. The surface is smooth but the concrete is a little coarse, so the elapsed times aren't usually as quick as we expect them to be.
"When I go back to Minnesota, I see friends and relatives I haven't talked with for years, but I still have to take care of business," Kurt added. "Sometimes at the end of the day, when the race car's tucked away in the transporter, we reminisce about old times. The difference is that they come to the races to enjoy themselves, while I'm there to do my job."
And what is the greatest challenge facing Johnson when he returns to his native land? "Coming up with tickets for all of the friends and relatives," he replied with a laugh.
<pre> KURT JOHNSON BRAINERD INTL. RACEWAY RESULTS: Year Qualified Result 1993 3 Semi Final 1994 7 First Round 1995 5 Second Round 1996 10 First Round 1997 3 Winner (over Yates) 1998 9 Semi-Final 1999 2 Semi-Final
POINTS RACE: (After 14 of 23 events) Driver Wins Points 1. Jeg Coughlin Jr. 6 1,195 2. Ron Krisher 2 953 3. Warren Johnson 1 896 4. Kurt Johnson 2 893 5. Troy Coughlin 0 772