Las Vegas II: Kurt Johnson pre-race interview

Sugar Hill, GA, October 27, 2008 -- With two races remaining in the 2008 POWERade Drag Racing season, ACDelco Cobalt racer Kurt Johnson remains firmly in contention for this year's Pro Stock Championship. Entering this weekend's ACDelco Las Vegas...

Sugar Hill, GA, October 27, 2008 -- With two races remaining in the 2008 POWERade Drag Racing season, ACDelco Cobalt racer Kurt Johnson remains firmly in contention for this year's Pro Stock Championship. Entering this weekend's ACDelco Las Vegas NHRA Nationals, he is 74 points out of the lead with three wins in five final round appearances, a solid showing on all accounts.

As he prepared to head to the Nevada desert, Johnson took time to offer his perspective on his season, his team and his outlook for the crucial final two events:

How would you assess your 2008 performance to date?

KJ: I would say fair, simply because we always expect more. We've won three races and gone to five finals, but also had some gremlins that probably cost us a few more. It just seems that with the level of competition in Pro Stock, you have to be perfect on every run, and the teams that aren't are the ones on the trailer and not in the winner's circle. I guess you could say we've been perfect three times, or at the very least, perfect enough. But we're never satisfied unless we win our share.

Having said that, it has been far from a normal season.

KJ: Every season is strange in one way or another, but this one has had its share of crazy moments. It started in Houston when we had the GM Performance Parts car (driven by his father and teammate Warren Johnson) blow a motor and crash right in front of us, something you don't normally see in Pro Stock. On top of that, we had a couple crewmembers join and leave the team unexpectedly during the year, forcing us to scramble to find a solution. Finally, we had the issues with the starter gear in Charlotte. You always try to do things by the book, but sometimes you have complications. It's how you handle those difficult times that shows what you're really made of, and I think we've done okay.

This really has been a total team effort, hasn't it?

KJ: Absolutely. It takes good people to get the job done out here, people who realize the commitment necessary to succeed. This is a 24/7/365 job, and the ones that get it realize that. We're fortunate to have a group like that, from Justin Belfance and Brian Strait on my ACDelco crew, Mike Smith who works with me in the engine room as well as at the track and has jumped in to help with driving the transporter, Adam Drzayich and Bobby Wunderlich on Dad's crew to Randy Davis, Randy Chambers, Ronnie Seeger and Greg Pitts back at our shop in Sugar Hill as well as Arlene and my wife Kathy who handle everything in the office. They always give 110%. It's all about putting the right pegs in the right holes at the right time, and they are the ones who help make that happen.

Speaking of your crew, they're a story unto themselves.

KJ: I'm lucky to be working with two great guys. Justin Belfance (right, accepting Full Throttle award in Pomona with KJ), my car chief, has been with me for three years, and has worked his way to where he is now my go-to-guy. He's an intense competitor with an incredible attention to detail. Working pretty much by himself over the winter, he did a great job getting our brand-new ACDelco Cobalt ready to run, and it went right down the track the first time out. During the season, he's had to deal with working with and training different people without missing a beat in his job. He doesn't always get the credit he deserves, but he continually gives me a perfect race car to drive and is a big part of our success.

As for Brian Strait (left with KJ, learning how to pack the parachutes in Denver) , what can you say about "the Coach" who juggles his life around to jump in at the middle of the season and help out for what was supposed to be three races and then stays on board for the rest of the season when you need him to? I've known him since high school, and he's always been there for me. He's worked hard and done a great job -- I can't say enough about what he's done for us. Besides, where else can you find someone who can change the four-link, pack the chutes and do everything a back-half guy does and then make snow at his regular job? It just doesn't get any better than that.

What would you say are your team's strong points?

KJ: As I said before, this is a good group that works well together. As to their strong points, it's a combination of preparation, focus, determination, attitude, devotion, and their ability to adapt to change. They listen well, respond to what is asked of them and do what needs to be done.

You're more than just a driver, building your engines and making all the calls on the tune-up. Does that add more pressure in a championship chase than if you were simply driving the car as a few of your competitors are?

KJ: I don't really know -- I've never been just a driver. (laughs) Sure it does, but I'd be bored otherwise. I like being involved with every aspect of running the car, knowing what it's going to do, working with the crew to see how we can make it better. I enjoy the challenge, and somehow don't think I could be satisfied just sitting and playing video games between rounds, or whatever a hired driver does.

Does it make a difference that one of these two crucial races happens to be your sponsor's race?

KJ: Obviously, I want to do well in front of everyone from ACDelco. After all, they are the reason we're able to be out here, so we're always pumped up for their races. There are a lot of great people from ACDelco that we talk to during the year, and this is often the only opportunity we get to see them in person, so naturally we want to put on a good show and reward them for their support. We try to win every race, so I don't know where the extra motivation comes from. I guess it just naturally occurs when the name on the billboard by the tree matches the one on the side of your car.

How has the addition of the Justin Humphreys engine leasing deal affected you?

KJ: It's been a little extra work, and even though he won his first race with us, it hasn't been that simple. You just don't drop an engine into someone else's combination and expect it to work right away. Everything is different on these cars, and it all seems to matter. It might look blue, but it's a different shade of blue. We might have been scratching our heads at first, but they are great people, so we know it's going to work. Besides, it never hurts to have an extra set of eyes, which is one of the biggest benefits of having them on board. You can never have enough information.

What would winning the championship mean to you?

KJ: It means that I have to give a speech in front of a large group of people. (laughs) To be honest, I really don't know. Right now, we are so focused on trying to win the championship that I haven't bothered to think about what it would mean to win. Check back with me in a couple weeks, and hopefully I'll be able to tell you.

Fair enough. With that in mind, what is your outlook for these last two races?

KJ: My outlook is always positive. Even if the rods are hanging out of the bottom, I will look on the positive side, seeing how we can fix it and make it better. I'm pumped up. I'm looking to go into Las Vegas and clean house, and after that seeing what we can do to end up on top after the Finals in Pomona. We have two races left, and we're going to do everything we can to win. It's that simple. It all starts later this week, and I can guarantee that the ACDelco Cobalt crew is going to be ready for whatever is thrown at us. All I can say is we are the Pros Who Know.

-credit: j2r

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Series NHRA
Drivers Kurt Johnson , Warren Johnson , Justin Humphreys , Justin Belfance , Mike Smit